Even when I was a kid, I knew I was lucky. I had a middle-class family in a prosperous country. Sally Fields used to come on the teevee soliciting funds for all those poor, starving kids in other countries where families were lucky if they had a bit of cloth to throw over a stick for a house, and I’d be quite grateful my country wasn’t like that. Poorest kids I knew still had roofs over their heads and got a few good meals a week. And we knew America was the greatest country on earth. Almost everybody wanted to be like us.
I used to feel sorry for those folks who lived in countries that weren’t number one in everything.
Rome used to be great, too, the greatest on earth, and it fell. When I learned about it, I couldn’t imagine it. What would it have been like, to live in a nation that was sliding down to oblivion? Weren’t the people sad, maybe even despairing? Did they know? Did they realize what was happening to them? I didn’t think it would happen to America, not very soon anyway, but I knew it could happen, and I just hoped it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime. I loved my country. I wanted the best for it. Selfish reasons, too: I’d never wanted to live in a decayed civilization, amongst the ruins of greatness, without a chance to become anything amazing. It’s really hard to write works of enduring literature when you haven’t got any paper and everybody in your country’s so poor they couldn’t afford to buy your book even if you managed to write it.
Those were my silly childish thoughts. Then I grew up, and for a little while, in the heyday of the ’90s, it looked like America, despite some occasional stumbles, didn’t really have to worry about falling from its perch. We were great, and we’d continue being great. We could certainly be greater. I’d learned about homelessness and grinding poverty, and some of our cities were falling apart, and the Republicans were getting awfully weird, and we spent a fuck of a lot of money on the military while screwing the poor and the public schools, but still. We weren’t doing all that badly.
Then it got worse. And worse. We voted a jackass into office (never mind Florida, it never should’ve been so close anyway). Terrorists slipped through our defenses, and the jackass and his merry band of fuckwits used that as carte blanche to invade the wrong damned country and basically bomb all the brown people they could. They turned this from a nation of laws that didn’t always live up to its rhetoric but at least acted ashamed when it didn’t into a nation that proudly tortured people. And the middle class melted away, and the infrastructure crumbled, and even crazier fuckwits started getting bold enough to dazzle a bunch of flaming morons into voting for them, and here we are today, rubbing shoulders with third-world nationhood.
Seriously. We are.
Take air travel: The United States, the report notes, now has the worst air-traffic congestion on the planet, with one-quarter of flights arriving more than 15 minutes late. One reason is that U.S. air-traffic control still relies on 1950s-era ground radar technology, even as the rest of the world has been shifting to satellite tracking (the FAA has begun the transition to a satellite-based system, though it’s moving slowly and future funding is a big question). According to recent World Economic Forum rankings, even Malaysia and Panama now boast better air infrastructure.
For fuck’s sake.
And check out what came across my Twitter feed only yesterday: we are the only industrialized nation to have a World Heritage Site we can’t be bothered to preserve. Every other country on the list has probably got a plausible excuse: tiny and poor, tiny and war-torn, tiny and trying too hard to deal with extreme natural disasters and religious fuckery and trying to build themselves up to a reasonable standard of living to be much fussed with things like World Heritage Sites. What’s our excuse? We have Republicans who think preserving things like the Everglades takes too much money out of super-rich pockets. We still have gobs and oodles of money, more than enough to pay for things like preserving priceless treasures and repairing that aged infrastructure and ensuring people get an education and health care and have decent jobs, but we’ve elected absolute idiots and let them give all the money to a disgustingly bloated military and greedy asshats who sit on millions and billions of dollars and scream like two year-olds denied a toy when someone tries to extract so much as a penny from their tight fists for the common good.
We’re 37th in the world in health care, or at least we were in 2000 – I shudder to think where we are now, after eight years of Bush and before our inadequate but good-as-we’re-gonna-get-at-this-point new health care law fully kicks in. Square between Costa Rica and Slovenia, we are. Best in the world? Which world? Certainly not the second world – maybe best in the third world, I think we can comfortably claim that, but we’d best not get too comfortable with that idea, because Cuba’s only two rungs below us on that particular ladder.
Oh, and here’s a nifty little fact: the United States of America gets its ass kicked in income equality by the likes of Iran and Nigeria. Oh, yes, we are so great and glorious, we are kicking Haiti’s ass! Eat it, the exactly two developed nations who do worse than we do! USA! USA!
And while we slide down into the scrap-heap of has-been empires, we’ve got Republicans running around beating their chests and screaming we’re the absolute best at everything there ever was. Best at what, exactly? Burning ignorance? Failed leadership? Shitting on science after sending men to the moon? Yeah. Sure. I’ll grant you that. We’re certainly top contenders in those categories.
What pisses me off is that I know we’re better than this. Yes, this country is full of willfully ignorant fucktards intent on launching us back into the dark ages, but we used to keep them on the hopeless fringes of our political system. We didn’t give them the power and authority they needed to run this country into the ground. We made a mistake. And we’re going to have to rectify that, remove the dangerous halfwits from office and never ever let them have power again, if we don’t want to end up on the bottom of the heap.
I don’t want to live in a former first world country, people. Neither do you. And neither does that greedy little shithead on Wall Street, but he could give a rat’s ass considering he’s got the money to move. So it’s up to us.
America deserves better. We’re gonna have to vote smarter and work harder to ensure she climbs back towards the top. And then, once we’ve stopped falling down, we’ve got to help the rest of the world up.
We were a beacon once. We can be that again.