American politicians tell us the United States was founded on the principles of freedom, justice and equality. We sing songs with phrases such as “land of liberty” and “home of the free and the brave.” Our pledge of allegiance ends with “with liberty and justice for all.”
American policymakers boast about our developed economy, record high stock markets and the focus on family values. They talk about America as the global leader.
Leaders in what?
We are home to eight of the top 10 richest people in the world, according to Forbes. We rank fourth in the world for food production. Political leaders celebrate our having the lowest tax rate than any other country in Europe, with the exception of Ireland. In short, American politicians want the world to know that we live in a country where everyone is equal and afforded the same opportunities. They talk about American greatness.
But the reality of the America I live in is quite different. It is a place where many people are hungry, where 9 per cent of children under five live in extreme poverty, where people die young and struggle every day. To these people, the American dream is as far from reality as winning the lottery.
Donald Trump’s government boasts of around one million fewer people relying on food stamps under his tenure. Yet over 41 million Americans go to bed hungry on any given night, and 13 million of them are children. These children might believe in the American dream, but the pain of hunger is real. Hunger is unjust, and unrecognised by political leadership.
In contrast to our wealth, America is also a place were 1.6 million people live in houses without running water or a sewage system. Of those who do have access to drinking water, 77 million drink water that may be contaminated. The town of Flint, Michigan, has been in the headlines, but the problem is systemic across the country. Most people affected are unaware the water they drink may be unsafe.
American policy makers brag about our country’s focus on our children and family values. But according to OECD, America has the fifth highest infant mortality rate, and it is higher than most European countries.
Trump has won a loyal voter base by arguing for protectionist and isolationist trade policies. He has already stopped the Trans Pacific Partnership and threatened to rip up Nafta. Our low tax rate is presented as the reason for our top ranking in terms of global competition. We are slapping high tariffs on foreign competition, and ploughing more resources into sectors like coal and mining, which employ fewer people than the renewable energy sector. Our administration advocates tax cuts for everyone – yet it is the wealthiest who will win the most, including our President and his staff – and the middle class will not see the benefits.
The debate around corporation tax misses the fact that the average life expectancy of the richest Americans is nearly 15 years longer than the bottom 1 per cent.
For those at the lowest end of the scale, 15 years can span three Presidential elections. We can understand why these people have less hope of change, for them or their children.
This is the America I live in. We have the wealth, innovation and education to solve these problems. We have the capacity to be leaders in the indicators mentioned above. But the political reality is to celebrate indicators of American greatness which apply to the few, not to the many. The America I live in is profiting at the expense of its citizens. This is not what American greatness should be.