Michael N. Searles

WHAT’S WRONG WITH US?
 

 

A simple response to the question, “What’s wrong with us” is nothing. Most Americans believe we are just, virtuous, and moral. This condition has been described as a moral superiority problem. Musician Mac Davis in 1980 wrote and recorded the humorous song “It’s Hard to Be Humble.” The first verse begins with, “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble; When you’re perfect in every way; I can’t wait to look in the mirror, ‘Cause I get better lookin’ each day.” The song continues with the same puffery for a number of verses and ends with “Lord, it’s hard to be humble, But I’m doing the best that I can.” Most mental health professionals say it is important to have a healthy self-concept. Thinking well of ourselves leads to better mental health and our treatment of others. However, thinking too highly of ourselves can lead down a false and troubling path. We Americans say we are able to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and each generation will do better than the previous one. However, in nearly every other highincome country, people have both become richer over the last three decades and enjoy substantially longer lifespans. Yet, while average incomes in the United States have risen, much of the economic gain has gone to the affluent. Our lifespan has risen only three years since 1990 a marked slowdown compared to other developed countries. Americans feel great pride as the leading democracy. While that may have been true some years ago, Norway now has that title. Norway has the highest citizen engagement of around 78% compared to the United States 58%, and Norway gains that recognition by its responsiveness to the needs of its citizens. The US is responsive to corporate interests and currently ranks number fifteen among the world’s democracies. As a country, are not as healthy as our fellow nations. Prices for drugs, medical procedures and doctors’ visits are substantially higher in the United States than in other countries. While Americans pay almost twice as much for medical care as citizens of other western nations, our health suffers by comparison. A person will receive better health care in Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, France, Switzerland, and Canada than in the United States. We lock up more of our citizens than any other wealthy country with a disproportionate amount being blacks and Latinos. We fear and loath taxes and the rich take advantage of that sentiment. When Americans hear “higher taxes,” they automatically respond, “Taxes are too doggone high.” Yet in the 1950s and 1960s when the economy was booming, the wealthiest Americans paid a top income tax rate or 91%. Rich folks in those two decades did not suffer and did not feel deprived, but it is always good politics to say, “We’re lowering taxes.” When the rich paid less, the rest of us paid more, and the country suffered. Today, the top rate is 37% with the richest 1% paying an effective federal income tax rate of 27.2%

We are not at the top of the hill and easily ranked with Third- World Countries in the areas of criminal justice, gun violence, healthcare, infrastructure, and inequality. There is a dramatic disconnect between how Americans see themselves and how the world sees us. Sometimes we say we are the greatest and other times we want to make America great again. We often wear rose-colored glasses and refuse to admit our shortcomings. How many Americans would say we live in the greatest country in the world and everyone wants to live in our nation? We are given that impression by the number of migrants who come to our southern border hoping to gain admission. The lives of many people who live in the southern hemisphere are desperate, but that does not mean the United States has the level of health and prosperity that we should have as a leading western nation. We in America live in a world of our own making where we believe our country is the best the world has to offer. We, like the proverbial three monkeys, refuse to see, speak or hear any evil and turn a blind eye to social inequities. As we live our lives from day to day, we should remember not to think too highly of ourselves and that “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

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