Our history books teach us America was once the best in the world at virtually everything. True or not, we have always clung to a belief in “American exceptionalism” – that we’re different, better, smarter, because God wants it to be that way. It’s blatant national narcissism. To seem rather than to be. And it’s slowly destroying our nation.
America’s current reality is sobering: Our expensive health system is one of the worst underperformers in the industrialized world (17th out of 37); Our education system is one of the worst (25th out of 37); Our mental health systems are fragmented and underfunded, with an opioid epidemic raging out of control in our rural communities. We also are the most violent country in the industrialized world (with gun homicide rates that are 25 times higher than our peers).
Gun violence has become a metaphor, a symptom of a much more insidious problem. We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that this, like so many other issues, is just going to magically go away, that the gun violence on our streets and mass shootings in houses of worship, night clubs, theaters, universities, schools and malls is just some kind of phase we’re going through.
All of these problems persist because we refuse to learn from what other countries have done to solve these same challenges. Remember, we’re different, better, smarter, we’re exceptional. Screw the facts!
I’ve taught my children magic isn’t real. I assure them we won’t get magically better at anything. Only hard work and doing whatever is required makes things better. Reality, choices, hard work, all once bedrock American core values, have now been replaced by ideology, wishful thinking and hope.
Our nation has perfected the art of making excuses. Take the gun debate. Americans have more guns per capita than any other country and own nearly half of the guns in the entire world, even though we’re only 5 percent of the population. Neither is necessarily a bad thing. Except then there’s also that pesky fact about being, by far, the most violent country in the world, with 33,000 Americans killed by guns every year. Cause and effect? Nah, it’s just a coincidence. Ignore the man behind the curtain. We got this.
Study after study has revealed that gun violence directly correlates with levels of education, poverty and access. And the small subset of mass shootings directly correlates with mental illness, isolation, despair and, you guessed it, access. Take it from someone who does “angry-young-man-with-low-self-esteem-and-mental-illness” for a living. We’ve parented 19 foster children, all of whom are poor, struggled with depression and despair and all of whom take powerful psychotropic medication. Seventeen of them would pass a background check and have legal access to guns. Do I have your attention now?
Unless our nation does something to fix what’s broken, it won’t magically go away. Our problems will continue to get worse unless the American people and our government acknowledge that we have serious structural, societal, socio-economic and regulatory problems.
We aren’t what we claim to be nor what we all hoped we were. We have to confront the brutal facts. Until we do, “Make America Great Again” will just be synonymous with “Make America Bleed Again.”