American Spiral of Shame?

Smart And Spicy


February 18, 2016

I'm sitting in a classroom in Vienna, Austria, in a German class I took years ago. Teacher asks: What does your country do for poor people? Everyone's from different countries; I'm last. All the others tell how their countries help, even those from poor countries. They look at me expectantly. We didn't do much for poor people then; I didn't know what to say. 10 people stared me down - the only American - with pity. I felt real shame.

Shame's fueling the 2016 Presidential election. Shame hurts; it comes from disappointment.

The antonym of shame gives clues: shame's opposite is pride and self-respect.

Name two words Donald Trump preys on: Pride. Self-Respect.

It's "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" going viral.

When Trump talks Mexicans and Muslims, his ostensible goal's less obvious. He reaches deep inside Americans, trawling our darkest terrors of collective what-if's: What if Isis comes here? What if we lose our basic freedoms? What if the worst happens?

Look at this list: Children doing well in school. Obesity crisis in young people. Productivity at work. Corporate greed. Women's equality. Quality of life. Wellness costs versus medical costs. Longevity.

How can the U.S. do so poorly compared to other countries?

At a sidewalk restaurant in New York, a couple talked about living in Canada. They glowed about education, health care, life quality. These visiting Americans couldn't wait to get back to Canada.

Here's Donald Trump's appeal: Americans want pride, the America we knew. He promises the past is our future.

We revel in movies about bad Wall Street; we see lower life-expectancy; we yawn. We're tired of Congress, yet ignore Republicans obstructing. Now they race to block the President's Supreme Court appointment. It's in the Constitution? So what?

How terribly inconvenient of Anthony Scalia to die while Barack Obama's still President.

The religious right's piety stumbles with consequences: children unwanted; 46.7 million people in poverty (2014 Census). How many people do you know supporting grown children? How many people do you know with collapsed lives?

We don't look elsewhere; we're smug. If we see what other countries do, can we learn? Not us.

The election's a real tragedy for Hillary, working hard for her moment, only to find a generation of women ready to vote for a woman, just maybe not her. Her supporter Madeleine Albright accuses young women of only liking Bernie for the hot studs he attracts. Really?

Then there's Jeb, , bred for now. Shunning connection with W, now suddenly in tears avowing love for his Iraq-war-leading brother. Jeb brags that W. kept us safe. Hasn't Barack Obama kept us safe for seven years too?

What about Mike Bloomberg, poised for coronation while promising to fund a campaign from personal billions?

This election's weird; Republican debates have been circus cars full of clowns; Democratic debates at least concerned real issues.

Michael Moore may not be your favorite cup of tea. A few things in "Where To Invade Next" may strike you as fanciful: Eight weeks of vacation? Five months of maternity leave (paid)? Free college? Companies happy with profit, glad to give employees time off to enjoy life so they won't get sick? Children at an ordinary school eating four-course healthy meals for lunch?

Can you imagine these things under Bernie Sanders? Under Hillary? What about Donald Trump? Would a businessman like Trump care more about employee happiness than profits? How about industry leaders making profits, then saying, "It's enough"? Anathema for American greed.

This makes Americans ashamed.

"We live in the best place in the world," I wrote in this column. After seeing Moore's movie, I spoke to a few friends.

"Nobody in the U.S. cares about people in trouble; nobody will help them," an English friend told me, "America comes across as a wonderful place to live if you're rich. Or as long as you never get ill. If you get ill and you're not rich, you've had it."

"I can't wait to retire in Costa Rica," an American friend said. I asked why, suspicious of what I presumed were rose-tinted reasons.

"Costa Rica's a green country. They give a damn about the air they breathe, the food they eat, the crops they grow.

I prefer what they do to what we're not doing: I like the focus on education and on the family.

"I love the U.S. But having done government work for years, I'm so saddened. I like the way the government is run there." She pointed to costs lower than here, and the slower pace of life. "I'm disgusted with what's happening here in education and the way our government is run.

"I really think we're gonna go down the tube before we die."

Another friend gave me hope: " How can one question the great exceptionalism of America? How can one question our underlying freedoms and values?" Then he mentioned the appalling need for Medicare and social security.

Do we care what other countries think of us? Do we care how we look? Everyone around the planet knows the words "American Dream". But - is it anymore? Marco Rubio insists yes. See this movie, then see what you think.


©Carole Bell 2016 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

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