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Jan 23

America’s Pluses

In Brief— America can boast not only natural beauty but many positive attributes: the people are generally law-abiding, friendly and generous, both domestically and globally. Though troubled by the problems faced by most governments, it is considered a model for good governance and an engaged citizenry. A large, powerful and multi-cultural country, it remains a magnet to the oppressed and an example to the world.

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 A Sampler of Pluses—

Some readers have suggested that I address what’s good about America as a change from my often critical observations about aspects of American society. For those who agree as well as those who share my views about the flaws in American society, this is in response to that suggestion.

  • Despite the gross inequality of society documented by, among others, Wilkinson and Pickett in their book The Spirit Level, America has many good and generally law-abiding people, citizens and not, whether financially comfortable or not. Many of those people volunteer their time or their money to those less fortunate than themselves. That’s commendable, particularly since the governments, both federal and state, provide less than is needed to the financially challenged for a decent life. America’s volunteers recognize this and act accordingly, often without ulterior motives.
  •  The American people are generally considered by foreigners to be friendly and helpful. That this friendliness and helpfulness is considered to be superficial by many of those same foreigners seems to depend on the circumstances of the interaction. My own observations are that the renowned friendliness and openness of Americans may be in contrast to the guardedness or cultural reserve of many foreigners.
  • America provides foreign aid to many countries, notably those countries that have suffered disaster in one fashion or another. That other countries do likewise and give more per capita than America doesn’t detract from the generosity of the American people. That much of that foreign aid is military weaponry, just as other countries’ foreign aid is of a similar nature, must be admitted. That American foreign aid goes disproportionately to some favored nations is not unusual in our tribal and troubled world.
  • America’s birth and Constitution were the result of favorable conditions and enlightened men who sought to create a roadmap for democracy free of religious bias. The blight of slavery and a civil war were flaws in that plan and are widely acknowledged. The fact that some of America’s founding fathers were slave-owners shows that despite their noble ideas they were not without their own flaws. Although the Constitution itself is a flawed document in some ways, it is unarguable that it is a document worth copying even though some might dispute it.
  • Geographically diverse, America is a beautiful country despite the pollution and exploitation that sullies parts of it and the oceans that surround it. Other parts of the world have their own share of natural beauty and pollution, but that does not alter the fact of America’s physical beauty. There are individuals and organizations devoted to preserving that beauty, and generous folks contribute to those organizations in the recognition that they are making an effort to preserve that beauty for future generations.
  • America’s top earners—that is, the top1%—its corporate elite, bankers, Wall Street account executives and others in the group earn more money than those of any other country in the industrialized world. On average, they make at least 250 times the yearly income of the pay of the average worker. This, of course, is a mixed blessing. While this is good for high-income earners, it is bad for the middle and low income-earners as documented by Wilkinson and Pickett in The Spirit Level as well as by non-partisan government figures.
  • Notwithstanding the corruption that money has increasingly visited on the federal and state governments, the country still largely functions for what can arguably be called the betterment of the people. Despite the self-interest and greed that infects the system, it is still one of the best governing systems on the planet, particularly for a country of its size.
  • The vote, gradually being rendered meaningless by ignorance, political design and citizen discouragement is a dream to be emulated compared with some countries run by an authoritarian or dictatorial elite. There are some individuals and organizations in American society that fight to preserve that right for all regardless of race, age, sex, financial condition, location and status. The good people in American society who haven’t given up in despair recognize and support these efforts.
  • Americans have won more Nobel Prizes than any other country since the prize was first instituted. The elite in a number of countries send their sons and daughters to American universities because the prestige and quality of the country’s universities is superior to that in their own country.

These are the key components of what I see as good about America. Looking beneath these laudable elements, one can easily find the ills that I have written about and will continue writing about. The positive elements I have mentioned, variable as they may be now and in the future, can be considered a backdrop to the criticisms I write about. My views are perhaps idealistic, but they are written with the hope that America will live up to its promise.

The criticisms I have expressed are measured and often more generous than is deserved. Those criticisms are not just an honest assessment, but they are informed by history, logic, wide reading in a variety of sources and a personal philosophy that can be summed up with my belief that unless we all bail, the sinking ship will go down with us all. Unfortunately, the sinking ship is the planet Earth, our home.

I welcome additions and dissent. My assessment is necessarily limited and could be viewed by some as inadequate. If you agree or disagree, tell me why. I may agree with you or I may not, but I guarantee that any reasonable comment will get a reasoned response.

6 comments

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  1. Art Ulene

    You Devil, you. Well done. Accurate. Fair and balanced. Loved it……… Art

    1. Don Bay

      Thanks for your kind words. Fair and balanced is the way to go. The temptation to increase the balance factor was always there, so I hope I made clear that my approach is always that, as something of an idealist, I hope that America will live up to its promise.

  2. Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas

    nice article with only a few zingers. You my dear friend have opinions and opinions are good or bad depending on your opinion of them. (you have free will in determining your own opinions)
    Love you.
    Shelley

    1. Don Bay

      Yep, opinions are either good or bad depending on the views of the reader. My liberal views arise out of a variety of factors from my environment in growing up. Free will has nothing to do with the views I express. Environment and, to an unknown degree, my genetic inheritance influence my views. They are neither good nor bad unless you want to consider those views in relation to society. Obviously, I think my views would benefit society. Those who hold different views may disagree. And the planet keeps turning.

      By the way, my “zingers” are really minimal when looked at with an eye toward what a genuine balancing of the facts would have looked like. Fair and balanced in the context of this piece would have changed the high income part into a negative. Certainly, the high income earner feels his/her income is a plus. It all depends on point-of-view.

      Thanks for the kind words, Shelley.

  3. Dave Meyers

    So, the United States is a pretty good place, except where it isn’t. That’s a fair assessment, I suppose…..were it not true, I would argue.
    My Mother couldn’t cook worth a damn, but I ate her food anyway. I live in the U.S., so I deal with its flaws. You’ll notice that I didn’t say ‘accept’. I don’t like a lot of what I see, so I vote my conscience and my beliefs and hope for what I see as the best, but I wouldn’t live anywhere else….save Sweden, perhaps.

    1. Don Bay

      Indeed there are problems that need corrective attention, but I have hope that America will live up to its promise.

      You mention the vote. One of the problems with the vote is that America has what is essentially a two-party system: the voter can vote for the Republican or the Democrat. Refusal to vote automatically leaves it to the most engaged voters to determine who wins. Though the voter could vote for a third party candidate, that is counted as a vote thrown away since American third parties always manage to garner no more than a tiny fraction of all the votes cast. The two-party system means the voter is almost always voting for the least worst candidate.

      Those who are sufficiently interested in the subject can look up one possible alternative voting system: the Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system. This system at least gives the voter a choice and may even increase the voter’s enthusiasm for voting since America has a deplorable record when it comes to voting.

      Then there is the issue of whether America needs a law mandating that eligible individuals vote. But this is a subject for another piece. The important thing is…VOTE!

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