What Happened to America's Golden Goose?

 Was there ever a doubt that America’s the best? We were so great that, like a kid with a cool, new playroom, we shared everything with the world, from our land to our jeans. Opportunity was an easy girl in high heels with time to kill. But times have changed. What golden goose is up for the taking these days? None, which leads people to wonder, Is America no longer the Promised Land?

New Census data shows that 49.1 million people, about 16 percent of our population, are living in poverty. A new formula calculates that poverty rates slightly improved yet it is too early to crack the Veuve. While Obama’s stimulus plan expanded the food stamp program and Earned Income Tax Credit allowing 10 million people to step over the poverty line, what’s going to happen when the money runs out? With unemployment rates stagnant, health care costs slamming the seniors, child rearing related costs smothering the middle class and the government needing to balance their checkbook, it seems like this figure could be as stable as a wet band-aid on a broken arm.

America was built — proudly, mind you — through struggle, hardship, war, poverty and risk. Our great-grandparents lived that way so we wouldn’t have to. So, why are we back here again?

We sit around as dining room quarterbacks solving world problems as we eat steak. The solutions are obvious. Why can’t Washington just fix it? The short answer: They don’t care about us. There may be a buried seed of compassion in there but once politicians are in office their main objective is to get re-elected. They can’t do that if they are pissing off 50 percent of their constituency. So they wade around in lukewarm bedpans tossing out slanty smiles in their red ties praying for Two More Years.

I don’t know a lot of politics. I know what issues I am passionate about but I can’t sit here and pretend I can talk the talk. I had to Google what the whole Occupy movement was really about. (I am on a TV fast.) So don’t ask me for financial advice. (Darling Husband is offering an emphatic “no” to that.)

But I can offer insight in the Human Condition, which, unless a natural disaster strikes and despite what they would lead you to believe, is at the bottom of Political To-Do list. If they gave a damn about us, would there be even one child in “the greatest country in the world” that went to bed hungry? Would there be homeless teenagers? Would there be illiterate adults? Would there be neglected Veterans? Would there be unemployed people that live with the daily terror that they cannot support their family?

When I talk about this, people back away, “You sound like a Socialist!”

I never did well in high school government classes, so I can’t label my beliefs. I certainly believe that our babies shouldn’t starve. I believe that if we don’t make education a top priority the future for our children in a global economy is pathetic. I believe that soldiers that risk their lives to serve and protect deserve our unconditional support and care. (Did you know 18 veterans commit suicide everyday?)

I realize we were built on Capitalistic ideals, but look where that has gotten us. What is the true cost of that? Most people can’t afford to live here — or at least live as expected.

If politicians truly cared about our well-being, they would kick Big Insurance, Big Banking, Big Agriculture and Big Business out of bed. These buggers have been the doted upon mistresses for way too long. When is the last time you Occupied your local Credit Union? Were fearful that your local farmer was knowingly killing you with toxic pesticides?

Politicians care deeply about how we are perceived from the outside. We, as citizens, are the trophy wives that are expected to look happy and beautiful (and silent) when out in public, but at home we lock ourselves in the closet with gin and tissues.

If they truly cared, they would pull in the billions of dollars spent overseas to invest it in us. You don’t need an MBA to know what happens to companies that don’t reinvest their profits into making their products better. They can’t compete and get scooped up for pennies on the dollar.

There was a time that we could be the Shining Knight galloping around the world helping and saving. But it is out of balance now. We can’t afford it, fiscally or emotionally.

Bottom line: We need to take care of ourselves.

We’ve lost sight of what’s important, which is each other. Remember after 9/11 that feeling of comradery? The hope and energy from Obama’s campaign? (Just focus on that part.) If we felt that bonded all of the time, think about the real change we could achieve rather than expecting fat cats to do it for us.

People are so angry and frustrated now. Rightfully so. But when we allow anger to consume us it is paralyzing. People don’t know how to self-soothe, so they turn to booze, drugs, sugar and other addictive means to self-medicate and numb the pain. Anger leads to apathy and that is the most dangerous zone. When people have nothing left to lose, and don’t care, that exposes the darkest side of human nature.

We may have surface pride “USA!! USA!!” But our pride has lost its depth. We have no pride in our bodies: We are one of the fattest and unhealthy nations. We have no pride in our land: We rip down precious forests to build Wal-Marts, the air is disgusting, water is brown and anywhere you look are scattered cans, wrappers and cigarette butts. We have no pride in our minds: Why should I learn that when I can have a computer do it for me? There is no pride in taking care of others: When is the last time you even smiled at a stranger let alone donate money or time to a shelter?

It has become a total “What about me?” society. That’s the No. 1 reason banks and the government have failed us. Everyone is so self-consumed with what is best for them that the whole infrastructure is collapsing.

We need to get back to basics. Live simply. Have integrity. Be kind. Don’t spend more than you have. Respect the Earth, each other and yourself.

And hopefully the government will follow our lead.

I am not anti-American. I am just anti-what America has become.

(Maggie Knowles is a columnist for The Portland Daily Sun. Her column appears Wednesdays. Email her at maggie@portlanddailysun.me.)

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