We were once a nation noted for its achievements. We are now a nation that gets nothing done, unable to make even the slightest movement forward despite multiple national crises — a desperately broken health care system, a horrifying opioid epidemic, sickening gun-related mass murders, the threat of nuclear war, and massive storms resulting from man-made climate change. In the face of such monumental challenges, when bold action is needed, we see none. It is a profound failure of leadership, a stinging indictment of modern American politics and American political leaders.
Everyone in America could have decent, affordable health care. Millions of Americans suffer, and many die because they do not. It is a moral stain on the nation. And yet Republicans propose plans that would result in fewer people having access to care, and Democrats offer no decent solutions to improve upon the failures of Obamacare. Time and again, our leadership fails us.
The opioid crisis may be the most far-reaching effect of our failed leadership. Millions of Americans are so hopeless about their prospects for the future, and so disinterested in the dregs of the American dream that remain for them, that they choose instead to tune out through the painless oblivion of heroin and prescription narcotics. An entire generation may be lost and beyond repair. The fix only begins with better and more comprehensive treatment, but even that appears to be beyond us. What is really needed is the hope and meaning created by a supportive society that values and attempts to ensure general safety, affordable education, affordable health care, and secure, good-paying jobs.
The causes of burgeoning gun violence are not mysterious. It is the natural result when huge numbers of people are armed with weapons of mass destruction, and at the same time, systematically scared, threatened, and demoralized by our so-called leaders, and their spirit crushed by a modern corporate culture that values profits but not people. With the pressures so great, eruptions of violence become almost happenstance. And it could be fixed. The equation is simple — fewer people with overpowering weapons and/or fewer people who are disgruntled or upset. But nothing happens, and we wait for the next gunshots to ring out, hoping against hope that they are not directed against us or our family members.
Admittedly, North Korea is ruled by an unstable, threatening, despot. But there is absolutely no good reason for us to be fanning the flames of nuclear war by childishly antagonizing such a person. Unfortunately, we have little more than a playground bully playing president, lobbing tweet-bombs periodically at the incendiary situation. What greater failure can we point to other than that our political system is unable to produce anyone that the population can stomach to vote for more than this president?
And just to round out this happiest of pictures, our country is now being bludgeoned by a series of record-setting storms that many climate scientists, the experts that study such things, say are caused by the over-production of carbon dioxide occurring with continued fossil fuel use. Yet even with the overwhelming evidence reported by such scientists, the actual harm caused by these storms, and the absolutely horrifying risks associated with further climate change, America does nothing.
Our leadership’s inability and refusal to act on such matters is a very real threat to our personal and national health and safety. The question is why what was once considered the greatest nation in the world is no longer able or willing to act to fix its most serious problems?
This is not a mystery, either. It is because our campaign finance system enables and encourages our wealthiest individuals and industries to pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns, corrupting everything to the point that we no longer have a government by and for its own people. Instead, the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries write health policy. Wall Street creates economic policy. The NRA determines gun policy. And the fossil fuel industry creates energy and environmental policy.
Modern politicians have proven that they don’t have the backbone to stand up to such a system, the basic moral or ethical fiber to resist it, or both. The worst of them go so much further, though, capitalizing and thriving on and within the corrupt system. Hence, the majority of Americans view their own government with disgust and disdain.
But more to the point, our gravest issues go unaddressed and Americans die unnecessarily for lack of health care or because of gun violence, a generation of young people destroys itself through opioid abuse, there is serious threat of nuclear war, and disastrous storms destroy our coastlines. We get thoughts and prayers instead of real action. Until we have politicians who uphold basic standards of ethical and moral behavior, a sensible campaign finance system, or both, the carnage will continue.
Matthew Hahn is a family physician who blogs at his self-titled site, Matthew Hahn, MD. He is the author of Distracted: How Regulations Are Destroying the Practice of Medicine and Preventing True Health-Care Reform.
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