We’re wasting our time debating the “great issues.”
We Americans are heirs to a great fortune.
We’re the sons and daughters of a people who wrested their destiny from the most powerful empire on Earth.
In the span of a single lifetime, our ancestors spread over a vast continent, using only horse-and-wagon transportation.
Millions risked, and 750,000 lost, their lives to settle the questions of Union and slavery.
Our restless genius led the way in the spread of electricity, the invention of movies, airplanes and automobiles. We pioneered the concept of the National Park and built the Panama Canal where others had failed.
In the same era, our government recognized the power of unregulated monopolies and broke them up, prevailing against wealthy and powerful interests.
Not only was America’s help decisive in two world wars. After the second one, we turned our most ferocious enemies, Germany and Japan, into prosperous allies.
We responded to the Sputnik challenge by rocketing our men to the moon. We engaged the Soviet Union in a 40-year Cold War that ended with the breakup of a vast dictatorship.
Look at us now.
America doesn’t seem to know how to do it anymore.
#1 Health care. Ireland, which was a Third World nation not long ago, in 2005 adopted a public-and- private health care system that covers everyone. All health care systems have problems, but Ireland’s is rated highly by 90% of citizens. Meanwhile, in the US, tens of millions lack any health care insurance, and as a result, many sick people go untreated.
#2 Public transit. England, France, China, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan and many other nations have rapid rail systems. Except for the Acela, Amtrak chugs along, on creaky, borrowed freight routes, at 55 mph.
Uzbekistan has high speed rail that travels at 155 mph.
I say again, Uzbekistan.
#3 Immigration. For all the noise made about this “problem” Americans ignore one fundamental fact: We have illegal immigration because American businesses demand it. “Scholars of labor have long recognized that unauthorized migrants are ‘super-exploited’ – that is, that they are willing to work ‘longer hours and for less pay’ than ‘normal proletarians,’ ” notes anthropologist Sarah B. Horton.
The gushing river of illegal immigration would slow to a trickle if employers were penalized for hiring non-citizens. Few people indeed would sneak over the border if there were no job awaiting.
These three fundamental problems, which we seem unable to solve, all have one common component. Businesses don’t want them solved.
Health insurance in America is a huge industry, and any substantial reform would destroy their profit model. The airlines, already approaching monopoly power, don’t want rapid rail, and neither do the oil companies nor the highway construction lobby. And all sorts of businesses want cheap, compliant labor best supplied by immigration.
So let’s face it, America, we never were a Democracy, and we’re no longer a Republic. We’re a Corporacracy. We’ve got ourselves into a state where the will of the people no longer matters.
We’re a nation run by and for our corporations.
- 61% of Americans believe we’re “on the wrong track.” (Pollingreport.com)
- 73% of Americans are concerned or very concerned about global warming. (Quinnipac)
- 63% feel that illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship (Quinnipac)
- 60% want to forget about Obamacare repeal and “move on” (Quinnipac)
- 61% oppose building a wall on the Mexican border (CBS)
- 68% believe transgender folks should be allowed to serve in the military (Quinnipac)
- 60% say marijuana should be legal (Gallup)
- 92% would require background checks for all gun buyers (CNN)
- 65% favor more restrictions on imported goods (Bloomberg)
- 78% believe it impossible for Democrats and Republicans to work to benefit US (Bloomberg)
- 65% think energy policy ought to lean toward renewables. (Bloomberg)
- 58% favor a national health care system “even if it means higher taxes” (CNN)
Here I’m only citing issues on which there is a clear majority, well beyond the margin of error. So clearly, if we were a Democracy, or even a well-functioning Republic, this is the kind of America we’d live in:
–> All Americans would be covered by a health care plan, with government support where necessary.
–> The United States would be making rapid progress on minimizing use of fossil fuels and developing renewable energy.
–> Illegal immigrants would be allowed to apply for citizenship and there would be no border wall.
–> The military would accept transgender soldiers.
–> Marijuana would be legal everywhere.
–> All gun buyers would undergo background checks.
–> Free trade agreements would be reworked somewhat to favor American products, even if this raised prices in the US.
This is the America we apparently want, and to the extent we can’t get it, we live in a dysfunctional nation. Have we forgotten how to “get it done?” Or have the corporations thrown a monkey wrench into the political machinery?
It was exactly this frustration that led me to write the dystopian novel “Reverse Lightning.” Its basic premise is that America goes wrong because its powerful corporations suppress innovation.
The oil/coal companies’ grudge-match with renewables is just one example of how this is already happening in America.
All this leads to the question: Are we wasting our time debating the “great issues” of the day? Should we instead be grappling with the underlying problem: The overwhelming power of corporate money in politics?
This is a hard sell. It’s not an exciting argument. Unlike many “hot button” issues, it doesn’t get the blood pumping and the voices raised. But if we’re ever going to get this nation moving again, it’s a problem we must solve.
By Tim Mahoney
See a page of graphics defining all that’s covered by Irish health care.
How employers exploit illegal immigrants NY Times, Daniel Costa, Economic Policy Institute
“Ghost workers” and the exploitation of illegal workers Sarah B. Horton, Anthropology of Work Review