While visiting a family in Canada a few years ago, I was charmed by the nightly news, which included a rather long segment of a cow blocking a road. I laughed in the first 30 seconds as everyone in the room did. But after 5 minutes expanded into 10 minutes of reporting, I had to leave the room. “So boring,” I thought. “And so unnecessary. Canadian TV thinks of this as news?”
Yet, I also noticed in the newspapers, long sections of bios of those who had fought and died in the military. And in-depth coverage of flower shows and children doing cleanup work in a creek while others were knitting blankets with their “mums” and sending them off to the poor. The news wasn’t about killings and shootings. There were a few, and they were covered. But the papers and TV reportage always included things that bolstered the social fabric of their nation. I felt sad and envious. Why wasn’t my nation like that any more?
Now a Canadian anthropologist, named Wade Adams, has explained it all to me in, of all places, Rolling Stone magazine. His article “The Unraveling of America” kindly and with measured firmness has given us the insights we all need into the brutal question “What happened to my America?”
Adams reminds us that we Americans once “saved the world.” While nations were being attacked and overcome in Europe and Asia and everywhere we looked, we were launching two Liberty ships a day to fight that brutal war. Adams reminds us that ‘The industrial might of the US and the blood of millions of Russian soldiers saved civilization.”
Please note dear reader: America was organized then in such a way that even people at the top had to pull their own weight. This was at a time when marginal tax rates of the wealthy were 90%. We had money in the governmental bank. Our social relations were strong. Neighbor knew neighbor. Neighbor helped neighbor. Gradually we chiseled that away. Monopoly was no longer a game. Conquest and control became our empire’s drive. The rich wanted to get richer and the country’s security had to protect their rise and their oil wells and their favorite markets. The strength of social relations started to unwind. We were/are constantly at war essentially defending the rich. “Donald Trump’s election was not a cause of decline, “says Wade Adams, “but an indication of collapse.”
Our noble claim of individualism had gone too far. Unions were battered and were shrunk to a shell. We ended safety nets for the poor and the suffering. “Let’s look away from them because their agony is their own fault.” We crippled our environment to such an extent that now it is starting to cripple and burn us
Everything became more expensive – health care was each person’s own problem. Housing was no longer affordable for the working class. We didn’t want to fund schools adequately. Work was farmed out to other countries. Leaders of the people were killed. We argued over women’s rights and women’s bodies. We beat and murdered black people and other people of color. We took away their rights and chained their bodies in prisons built and run by corporations. The center got tighter and tighter and the rest of
us were flung out to fend for ourselves. Meanwhile, as a nation we had no friends, because we believed we needed no friends.
As former Secretary of Defense James Mattis said recently, “Nations with allies, thrive. Nations without allies, wither.”
I am not troubled by my country losing its primo status if it means we can now face inward and rebuild what we have lost. It would take a great deal of leadership with a social conscience and a viable plan to save our nation from total collapse. But I wonder if we can do it.