The Divided States of America
A war against the financially privileged 1%. 47% of our fellow citizens on food stamps. 92 million of them out of work. A real unemployment rate nearing 20%. Have-nots protesting in city parks against Wall Street fat cats or in city streets for supersized wages to serve dollar burgers and tacos. The land of proverbial equal opportunity has never been more un-equal in its 250-year history.
Public schools turn out increasingly un-educated and un-qualified high school graduates. More than 60% are functionally illiterate and require one to two years of remediation before they can do college-level work. 40% drop out of high school. Most never get a GED. Fifteen-year old American students now consistently receive among the lowest scores in the world on global tests in math, science and reading.
In five short years, America’s first African American President, relying on divisive rhetoric and reinforcing failed policies that create dependency, has shepherded his country into a cavernous ditch from which many see no escape. How he transformed Hope into Hopelessness and how we can get out of this mess is what will be explored in this essay. A word of warning: by its conclusion, the reader may end up even more depressed.
Un-equal is the normal state in nature and life. Predators in the wild hunt down and devour weaker prey. Industrialized, scientifically advanced Western nations have higher standards of living than those in the third world. Some countries are blessed with vast supplies of oil, coal, gold and other natural resources. Others must import even basic foodstuffs.
Talent and brains, like natural resources, are unequally distributed. Out of hundreds of thousands of scientists and scholars, a handful of Nobel Laureates are chosen. Out of millions of bright young inventors, there is only one Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Elon Musk.
Are these examples of unfairness or of reality? Should we protest the unfairness of life to our children or encourage them to emulate the work ethic of those who have achieved great success? The President undermines America with his divisive rhetoric and does its citizens great harm. He would do better to reaffirm traditional American values and virtues instead of poisoning the unity that defines us.
It is an inescapable truth. Life is inherently unfair. Fate deals everyone a different hand. Children whose surname is Astor, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller or Kennedy are born with silver spoons in their mouths. They have glamorous lives and better opportunities in life than most folks. Is it unfair that some have more luck than others? Unlike most countries, success is not the exclusive property of wealthy aristocrats in America. Hard work can open doors for even the poorest among us as it did for President Abraham Lincoln, Justice Clarence Thomas, Oprah Winfrey and Sam Walton.
America has always been the land of Rags to Riches. Why doesn’t the Commander-in-Chief extol factual history, not invent a distorted, divisive narrative? To what ideological purpose does he blindly pursue this destructive course? Horatio Alger’s stories extolling hard work and virtue would serve the country better.
The Constitution guarantees equal opportunity to every American citizen. It cannot guarantee equal outcomes. This can be favorably influenced by environmental factors but to a large extent is determined by the cultural values of hard work, education, and family values.
Asians and Ashkenazi Jews are two groups that have been uniquely blessed by their ancient cultures that, with ingrained social behaviors that venerate education and scholarship. Both have strong ties to traditional family values, marriage and religion and the lowest rates of drug addiction, promiscuity and illegitimacy.
Social behavior can even impact intelligence. Illegitimacy is associated with increased risk factors such as drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases that negatively affect brain development in the unborn. It is also associated with a higher rate of prematurity, toxic organic brain damage, low birth weight, failure to thrive and frequent illness. It is clinically possible to demonstrate a lower IQ in such an infant at routine 9-month and 18-month wellness checks. Because this finding reflects impaired infant brain development, it is unlikely to be corrected in adolescence or adulthood.
Rather than pillory the 1%, President Obama should direct his criticism at his Democrat colleagues. They instituted the policies of the Great Society that have corrupted American culture and created this rampant inequality. He should encourage a return to the traditional American values of faith and family espoused by the successful, promote their work ethic and instill the need for continence and temperance.
Hard work and virtue are the keys to success. There are no shortcuts. As steward of this great nation, President Obama needs to put aside his inflammatory partisan rhetoric. The country needs a healing message of unity. Our survival depends on it.
About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.