When contemplating the future, it is good to be an optimist, but better to be a realist. The United States is on a track to financial ruin and social upheaval. Rather than pretending that the U.S. will forever be a land of peace and prosperity, we should admit we have serious problems that demand solutions.
The US has a $16 trillion national debt, not including an estimated $84 trillion in unfunded liabilities to programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The $16 trillion debt is over 100 percent of gross domestic product. In other words, our debt exceeds the worth of the economy’s entire yearly output. In the last three years of the Obama administration, 16.5 million more people are on food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a 59 percent increase. Over 100 million, about every one in three, Americans are enrolled in at least one federal welfare program. Incredibly, the average employee of the federal government makes 60 percent more than the average employee in the private sector.
Our education system has also failed young Americans. The nation’s test scores rank 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. With these rankings, our schools lag well behind Asian competitors such as China, Singapore, and South Korea.
Our military is overstretched in unnecessary wars, having participated in conflicts such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan alone, more than 31,000 military personal have died; over 137,000 civilians have died; 7.8 million Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis are now refugees; and these wars will cost between $3.2 and $4 trillion. In summary, the United States is facing overwhelming challenges in the economy, education, and the military.
In theory, elections are an opportunity to change course. But in reality, policy changes no matter who is elected. For example, in this election year, both Republicans and Democrats will attempt to make the case that if you vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, America will see brighter days ahead. Both candidates and both parties will argue that undoing the opposite party’s policies will ease the suffering of millions of Americans and make life happier. Many Americans accept this nonsense. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking that our problems lie with a political party. Certainly, politicians are to blame for many of Americans problems. But we are too quick to blame politicians and forget that representative government is a reflection of the people’s values. The fact that we have lousy politicians leading us toward bad economics, bad education, and bad military policy is the fault of each of us. As voters, we must assume responsibility for the conduct of the politics we elect. But unfortunately, as a society, we have become apathetic about politics, and thus have held politicians to no standards. We complain about the current state of America, but should we be so surprised?
Americans today are apathetic for two main reasons. First, Americans today have barely any intellectual curiosity. A study conducted by National Endowment of for the Arts presents a chilling set of statistics. Americans of all ages spend on average two hours per day watching TV, but only seven minutes per day reading. Reading is not the only way to demonstrate intellectual curiosity, but frequency of reading is strongly correlated with intellectual curiosity. With few Americans eager to learn, it is hardly a surprise that many Americans have little interest in following political debates or current events. Without following political issues or current events, we cannot expect our society to investigate and question politicians’ actions. Instead, we can expect acquiescence to whatever politicians decide. History is quite clear that politicians with no accountability think of themselves first and the people last.
The second major reason Americans today have become apathetic is Americans have lost a strong moral core. The importance of hard work and honesty are not encouraged in today’s society. A study analyzing the changing content of books from 1901 to 2000 concluded that the words “character, conscience, decency, dignity, ethics, morality, rectitude, righteousness, uprightness, and virtue” all have declined dramatically in publications.
Without championing these values, it should not be much of a surprise that fewer Americans demand these values in their politicians or in their children’s teachers. A more informed and morally upright America would lead to greater interest in our government’s actions. In turn, we might be able to run candidates who align with our values, rather than who are simply lesser evils.
The government should not force people to do what may be good for them. But as an individual, it is in your best interest to stay informed, maintain a strong character, and encourage your friends to do the same. Our problems may be economic, educational, or military-related in name, but behind these challenges is a greater obstacle of the weakened American mindset.