Seven Untrue Things Americans Believe
The following essay is an essay I wrote about my country – which I love – a few years back. It is simply commentary on American Culture and politics.
I have the good fortune (and the interesting experiences) of both living with and working with a number of people who are not Americans by birth; including my husband and the clients I work with who hail from all over the world.
I have noticed recurring themes that my fellow ‘mericans seem to adamantly believe and/or assume. Not only about this country but also the world. The only problem is these strongly held beliefs are untrue. That doesn’t make them insane, of course; just wrong.
With no further ado, time and again I find that American people believe.
1.) The USA is the best, most desirable place in the world, and everyone wants to live here. Everyone envies American Culture!
The USA is the best, most desirable place in the world, and everyone in the world, if they had a choice, would want to live here.
Absolutely untrue. Study after study, year after year, (not just recently) has shown that the happiest and most satisfied people in the world are NOT Americans. People in Sweden, Belgium, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway are all reported to be much happier than Americans, and much more satisfied with their lives/their countries. One source for this statement is here: www.marketwatch.com. There are many other sources that would underscore this point.
2.) Protecting our “American Way of Life”
When politicians and regular folk talk about “Protecting our American Way of Life”™ they are referring to our “freedoms,” our ability to worship the way that we wish to do so, dress the way we wish to do so, and so on.
Nope. In general this is code-speak for “The continued ability of the US to use up 24% amount of the world’s energy, although we only have 5% of the world’s population.” It also means that we “want to be ‘free’ enough to NOT pay enough taxes to have a sustainable infrastructure.” Note the link above; people in those “happy” countries actually pay more taxes than Americans do.
“You get what you pay for” is a pretty inescapable truism. It also refers to paying low prices for goods and services- both domestically and abroad- which of course keeps American wages low – and this is done, intentionally or no, on the “backs” of people in poverty, both American and otherwise. See: www.mindfully.org.
3.) America and Americans are the most giving people in the world.
America and Americans are the most giving people in the world – we help out other countries more so than any other country does.
Wrong in the first case, partially true in the second. From the American Governmental perspective, “Foreign Aid” is only about 1% of the federal budget (per Wikipedia – yes, I know that’s not the strongest source in the world, but I’ve seen that citation elsewhere as well.) To quote from www.globalissues.org, “USA’s aid, in terms of percentage of their GNP has almost always been lower than any other industrialized nation in the world, though paradoxically since 2000, their dollar amount has been the highest.”
The part that is partially true, is that as individuals – not as a country- Americans are fairly generous. But not to the level of “more than any other country.” Again, quoting from the site above, ” Americans privately give at least $34 billion overseas—more than twice the US official foreign aid of $15 billion at that time.” (2002 figures.)
However, some argue that those figures aren’t even from Americans – they say that these are remittances from foreign nationals living in the US. Americans should feel proud of the help that is being given as individuals/small groups of people to others; but should not make the assumption that cutting out foreign aid as a country will help solve the country’s financial problems- (an assertion I have seen repeated over and over…) it’s a drop in the bucket that wouldn’t even pay one hour’s interest on the national debt. For more on this topic see the link above, The US is rated very far down on this list.
4.) America has the best health care system in the world.
America has the best healthcare system in the world. Anyone who needs care can go and get it at an emergency room, whether they have money or not.
This is such an absurdly incorrect idea as to be sickening. No matter what measure you use, whether it is access to care, cost of care, patient outcomes, or any other – The USA is nowhere near the top. Yes, there is a federal law that if you show up at a hospital emergency room, and are in danger of losing your life, they have to treat you.
However, if you chop your hand off with a chainsaw, and don’t have health insurance – they will stop the bleeding and keep you from dying, but if you think they’ll sew your hand back on, guess again. Some charity hospitals might but the cold reality is that most just plain will not.
They are only federally required to keep you from dying. Period. Back to the original point re: “best” health care system, to quote from the link below, “The U.S. ranks last when it comes to providing safe care, and next to last on coordinated care.
U.S. patients with chronic conditions are the most likely to report being given the wrong medication or the wrong dose of their medication, and experiencing delays in being notified about an abnormal test result.” See: http://7thspace.com/…
Per this report linked to from CNN below, about 60% of bankruptcies in the US are due to medical bills. How is that humane, sane, or the mark of a civilized country – much less the “best” system in the world? http://www.cnn.com/… (hint: it isn’t)
Anyone who truly believes we have the “best” system in the world here, cannot possibly be making frequent use of this so-called system. As a cancer survivor, who has had other ongoing medical issues her whole life, Ms. Sanity knows what she’s talking about. I am less than 50 years old, I have a college degree, I have been working full time for more than thirty years, and yet there have been several times in my life where I’ve had to make a choice between buying food and buying medicine. How is that reasonable? Or acceptable? Oh yeah, wait, it’s all MY fault. See #7.
5.) “Big Government” is bad.
“The Government” (and/or Government employees/employment, and/or “bigger government”) is bad/useless, and private sector employees are always more useful/valuable/productive.
Granted, the above position is generally taken by conservatives and libertarians, but there seems to be an underlying theme of this belief among many, many Americans. The problem is that we can’t make useful or sensible or meaningful blanket statements like this. Government is meant to be about more than just invading other countries in this day and age.
Ms. Sanity cannot however disagree with the point of view some people espouse that “The government can only ethically operate with the amount of money that the governed consent to give to the government.” That bit is true. However, Americans would do well to look at what they are currently “getting back” for their investment into government.
The largest budget expenditure in the US is on the military. I’m not anti-military by any stretch of the imagination and I think that they should be paid well for what they do. But I also think we should question how or why in this day and age we need a military budget that is larger than the expenditures of the next forty or so countries combined.
Private sector employees and employers are not, in and of themselves, by their very nature, more virtuous or productive than government employees. The people screeching a la Norquist that we need to make the government so small we can drown it in a bathtub are deluded. Going back to frontier style society is not going to help anyone.
Roads and bridges and schools don’t maintain themselves. What are you going to do? Make them all toll roads? Charge parents for all schools?I have heard it said correctly that private sector employees in the US are generally paid with no rational regard to their usefulness to society. We cannot live for long without, say, the people who come and collect our trash. I can live eternally without the CEO of a health insurance organization, who will be paid say $60 million dollars this year, vs. the trash guy who will be doing very well if he takes home about $48k (the national median income, give or take.) How is this sensible?
6. ) Americans have the most rights, freedom and privacy on the planet.
Americans have the most civil (and other) rights, freedom and privacy on the planet.
Not by a long shot. The Patriot Act, (which, I might remind you, is still in force) severely curtailed any privacy and long-held rights vested in the people; notably “Habeas Corpus” – which had been around since the Magna Carta – it basically means that the government can’t hold you indefinitely without actually charging you with a crime. Now they can.
Some of the most appalling parts of the Patriot act were apparently fairly recently overturned/curtailed in court but not all of them. I can’t claim to understand it all (I am not a lawyer, after all.) It used to be if you were in trouble, the people charging you with something had to say what you were being charged with, and produce you in court.
This is no longer always the case, and it apparently applies to American citizens and to non-Americans alike. It is my understanding that the Patriot act also gave law enforcement agencies the right – without a warrant- to come into your home, search it, (sometimes referred to as a “sneak and peek,”) and they don’t even have to tell you that they did so!
For more recent information, see this link: http://leahy.senate.gov/… which includes a letter written by Senator Leahy that includes the fact that we now know that National Security Letters (a provision of the Patriot Act) were severely misused in recent years. Your internet activities,your telephone calls, your library books, all of these things can be monitored by the US Government even today should they want to do so.
In February of this year, under the Obama administration, the Patriot act was extended for another year. If you think this has nothing to do with you, or me, as law-abiding natural born citizens of the US, think again. See: http://www.aclu.org/… They can tap your phones, they can pretty much do whatever they want, if you become for some reason, a person of interest.
Last comment on this topic: Workers in other countries, I’m thinking of the UK, specifically, have far more legal rights than they do here. If you get fired in the UK because you refuse to sleep with your boss, it’s my understanding that there is a non-partisan, independent, watchdog tribunal – which has actual power – which will hear your case, and you can end up getting your job back, financial remuneration, or both. In the US, in most states, you are imply out of a job – unless you have the money to sue.
7.) Liberals want the government to take care of all of their needs, from the cradle to the grave.
Liberals/Progressives and their leaders just want the government to take care of all of their needs, from the “cradle to the grave,” they don’t believe in personal responsibility, they expect the government to somehow magically make everything fair, and they want the population to be controlled by the government. That’s how it is in Europe, and that’s what the Liberals want here too.
Ah, no. I do not, myself, want or expect the government to provide for my every need. From experience I already know (I did my first professional job at age 9) the satisfaction that comes from working and working hard, I learned early that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
I have known lots of well to do people and even more not very well to do people, and never once have I heard any of them say: I think the Government owes me a living, I wish there was a Robin Hood to steal from the rich so that I can sit around and do nothing.
In Europe, which of course varies greatly country to country, there is simply a stronger commitment to the provision of a strong social safety net. Generally speaking, there seems to be a more compassionate view of each other than there seems to be (again, very broadly) here in the US.
For some reason, in the USA, if a person or a family falls on hard times, many people seem to take the attitude that “it’s your own fault… you didn’t work hard enough/plan enough, etc.” When of course, like it or not, hard times/disaster can happen to anyone, rich or poor, etc. I have heard with my own ears the (oddly famous and listened to right-wing conservative blowhard) Rush Limbaugh say in these words: “look, folks, liberals don’t trust you individuals to do the right thing, that’s why they want to make all these laws to control you.”
That has not been my experience in the very liberal and progressive circles I’ve been working in for more than a decade now. What “the libruls” do not trust, is that just because an organization is not the government, that it will be responsible or behave ethically or treat people well or even follow the law.
There are far, far too many historical examples where corporations both large and small – took the little guys to the cleaners. Oh wait, Wall street Just did that… and you and I footed the bill, and will be doing so for generations.
Do the “libruls “expect the government to prevent that sort of crap? Irrespective of whether it’s done by Wall Street, Enron, or the coal mining operation down the road? Yes, they sure do. And they are not wrong, to do that. Life is not and never has been and can never be made fair. Anyone with one functioning brain cell is aware of that.
We need to start talking to each other because we need to get serious about what has been happening. We need to see and understand events very clearly. And consequently what, as a people, we wish to change.
Yes, life is changing, life is always changing, and the United States that existed in 1955 is no more. We could perhaps start by trying to be at least a little more compassionate toward our fellow Americans.
I’ll try not to get so riled up and mind-bendingly furious at what I hear from the right-wing. Even though it’s wrong, wrong, wrong, and horrible I will try and stay calm. It’s a start. What the hell else can we be doing, at this very late stage in the game?
I know there are a bunch of other untrue things that my fellow Americans tend to believe. What are your top seven that aren’t on my list?