How Bad is it – Really?

Listening to the heated debate raging in this divided country, the rest of the world must think Americans are spoiled.

It’s a debate that presents a distorted view of American society. Donald Trump, for example, talks about the “carnage” in American streets, calls us “losers” and rails against the media. To listen to him, you might think today’s America is a hell hole.

But the truth is Americans suffer far less than most human beings in this “vale of tears.”

Americans live in a bubble, a relatively safe, relatively comfortable bubble. And this privileged existence is to a large extent underwritten by other countries (through the global financial system, lopsided commodities agreements, deals with corrupt dictators…. and so on.)

Yes, the gun violence in cities like Chicago is tragic – and unacceptable. Yes, it’s a shame so many Americans live in “poverty.” Yes, I sympathize with the single mothers who must work two jobs to feed their kids.

But this kind of suffering pales beside the starvation in parts of Africa, the sweatshops in places like Bangladesh and China…And remember those scenes from “Slum Dog Millionaire”?

“Poverty” in America is far, far different from poverty in Africa, India, Nepal – even Jamaica, where I grew up. I haven’t seen a home in America that has the bare earth for its floor, as I did so often in Jamaica.

Have you ever been to the Dungle (Dung Hill?) in West Kingston? As a reporter for the Gleaner, I have. And I have seen nothing like that here in America.

Yes, there are homeless Americans. But how many are homeless by choice? Well meaning activists are partly to blame for the homeless problem. They agitated for release of the mentally disabled who were being detained for their own safety. And now those former mental patients wander the streets at will.

Much of the suffering in America is self-inflicted. What causes the most misery in American homes? I would blame drug use.

What makes so many people unfit for a decent job? Skipping school, for one thing.

To those who buckle down, listen to their teacher, do their homework and stay in school, there is opportunity out there. You may not get to choose the job you like – being a rock star (or a coal miner), for example. But if you will accept what’s available, there’s probably a job waiting for you.

It may not be steps from your home of course. You might have to hit the road. Believe me, there’s a vacancy somewhere in this vast country. But it’s not going to come looking for you.

Of course America is not perfect. Far from it.

An entrenched elite has figured out how to game the system so a few unscrupulous parasites can pocket the bulk of the society’s wealth.

But it’s up to us to make our society better. And we are free to do just that.

Americans do not have a dictator like so many other countries. We can speak freely. And we have a free press.

It’s up to each of us to say our piece, do our bit, hustle our buns. Nobody promised us a rose garden. But we can dig a few yam holes if we have the will.

And we can do our best to grow our own rose gardens.

More on global poverty