As the United States drifts ever further from Western values, ordinary people’s daily lives are plagued by problems ranging from health care to education. Simultaneously, the country is seen as a leader of the West, writes Aino Vasankari, foreign affairs editor of Iltalehti.
The United States tends to present itself as a Western leader with an enormous economy; as a land of opportunity; as a country in which everyone has the right to choose. But what is the American dream really made of?
In light of statistics and political decisions, this dream consists of violence, oppression of minorities, poor literacy, insecurity, stark income inequalities and dysfunctional health care.
Strangely enough, the material of this dream fits the definition of a developing country like a glove. The only difference is that the countries typically defined as such are striving to develop, but the United States is driving into the past at full speed.
It’s difficult to believe, then, that the country was truly ranked sixth in 2021 in the “best countries” comparison. Particularly since one of the factors weighing on the scales was quality of life.
On Tuesday [Nov. 8], the U.S. voted in the midterm elections. A concretely better quality of life, however, cannot be achieved in one election — nor will there be a fast-pass to the repair shop.
The poverty rate in the U.S. is remarkably high. In a 2019 comparison of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, the nation ranked third highest, behind only Hungary and Costa Rica. Even neighboring Mexico fares better in this comparison.
Among rich countries, its income inequality also sits atop the pile.
This year, accelerating inflation has been one of the biggest election themes, as the rising cost of living squeezes citizens. According to a Quinnipiac University poll published in November, more than 60% are dissatisfied with the economic decisions President Joe Biden is making.
Although Americans spend the most money on health care among all OECD countries, people are not well, life expectancy is shorter and infant mortality is comparatively high. The United States is one of the only developed economies that doesn’t offer comprehensive health care services to its citizens.
In the U.S., the number of deaths among pregnant women has also largely risen during the 2000s. Restrictions on abortion rights typically increase deaths of pregnant women, so the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision in June can be expected to have an impact on these numbers as well. Abortion rights have become a major election issue, alongside inflation.
Abortion rights are just one of those Western values on whose memorial the United States may soon stand.
One of the greatest questions regarding values is the issue of a functioning democracy. An alarming number of candidates up for election believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and 60% of Americans have election deniers on their ballot.
Other human rights are also on the decline in the United States. Texas wants to restrict the right to gender reassignment surgery, Florida’s governor signed a law to limit gender identity education and many states want to prevent trans youth from participating in school sports.
Whether the U.S. likes it or not, these laws restricting minority rights make this Western superpower more like its Eastern adversary. Rather than trampling on the rights of trans youth, the country’s schools should focus on the basics: The U.S. has poor literacy and math skills, despite being known for its top universities.
Only 79% of the adult population in the U.S. is literate, with 54% having literacy below a sixth-grade level. Motivation to study could be in the cards, as in some places spanking has made a return to the punitive repertoire.
In addition to inflation and abortion rights, crime and safety issues were at the top of the agenda in these elections.
By election night, there had already been 589 mass shootings this year, according to Gun Violence Archive statistics. Over 312 days, that comes out to about 1.9 mass shootings per day. Not all instances of mass shootings counted resulted in fatalities.
There has been a clear increase in the number of mass shootings. In 2014, there were less than half as many mass shootings as in this past year.
Yet in Texas, where one of this year’s most devastating shootings took place, it’s still easier to own multiple weapons designed to kill than to acquire a dildo or vibrator that, when used consensually, will not cause harm or death.
All in all, the United States most resembles a schoolyard bully. It isn’t very wise to hang out in the same company or let those of such an ilk direct opinions and decisions, but for some reason a popular and confident figure gets others to follow along despite the questionable nature of their actions.