I grew up in a time when Americans did not run around waving rubber fingers and screaming "We're number one" at every possible opportunity. Of course we believed America was No. 1. We felt we proved it every day in the way we lived and thrived, in the way our middle class grew stronger, in the way the world looked to us for moral authority because, in America, we didn't torture, kill or discriminate. At least, that was the illusion.
The truth, sadly, was that we did discriminate against any citizens we felt were different. If you were black or brown, Italian or Polish, mentally or physically handicapped, you felt that discrimination on a daily basis. Our moral authority rested on the cooperation of the media in not publicizing the extracurricular sex lives of politicians or the CIA-backed government overthrows and assassinations that seemed endemic in those "innocent" days. These things were just not discussed in polite society and respectable news organizations cooperated with government by covering up, not covering, these stories.
The other thing polite society didn't do was run around tooting its own horn when the toots being broadcast could be, to put it mildly, somewhat suspect. Americans seemingly have lost that sense of propriety. We now run around waving rubber fingers and screaming "We're number one" whether or not we can actually name anything at which we are still No. 1. It's not health care. Almost every first-world country has better and more accessible health care for its citizens. It's not education. Our students are lucky to be in the top 10 in science or math rankings. Children's health ... not No. 1. Enlightened day care and family friendly sick leave policies... not so much number one as nowhere in the top ten. Space race ... we rely on Russian rockets to get us to the space station.
I could go on, but you get the idea. As we approach the celebration of our nation's birth, we should really take a look at the road we've gone down in recent years and assess whether or not we've taken a very wrong turn.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gives America a D plus for its infrastructure and estimates it will take an investment of $3.6 trillion by 2020 to bring us up to minimally acceptable standards. Congress says we do not have that kind of money. We apparently blew a great deal of it building Iraq's infrastructure after we blew that infrastructure to pieces searching for WMDs that have mysteriously never been found. Now that same Congress that can't find money to rebuild America wants us to go back to Iraq and rebuild it again. Or bomb it again. Depends on where the insurgents are. But I'm sure if we bomb it again, we'll rebuild it again. And then their bridges will be safer to cross than ours.
Somewhere in the past few decades America has decided that it is more important to police the world than take care of its own problems. Interestingly, the nations we choose to police, the nations we choose to "free" from the heinous dictators in charge, are only those nations with oil. I've yet to hear a hue and cry for America to invade North Korea. And seriously, if you are looking for a crazed, repressive, repugnant little twerp to take out, how much further do you have to look than Kim Jong-un. And we probably wouldn't have to look hard in Africa to find some scuzzy leaders as repressive and evil as Kim.
But when the repressive dictator is our "friend," like the Saudis, we give them a pass. Women are treated as less than cattle in their country, but because they sell us their oil, we look the other way while they allow men to rape and murder women in the name of family honor.
While our bridges and roads crumble, while children go to bed hungry, while our schools struggle to fund the programs needed to propel us back into the number one spot in the world, while all this is going on, Congress wants to rebuild Iraq, not America.
I love this country. I want the best for it. So how about we stop rebuilding other countries and rebuild our own. It's time for that to again become America's No. 1 priority.
Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.