USA – The Broken Society


Martin Luther King said in A Testament of Hope that the “real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” questions is “the radical reconstruction of society itself.” The recent events in Ferguson show that there is a long way to go. Whatever the real truth about the case is or whether justice has not been served it shows the deep divisions in American society. As someone who has travelled more around the USA in the last 24 years than most Americans ever will and studied US history it is so blatantly obvious that things need to change.

There was a wave of hope that greeted Obama’s election but, although he has made some progress, the problems he has faced have been stifled by the two party system. It is incredible that in the 21st century the US continues to have only two political parties who vie for power and are so opposite in their thinking and philosophy. In the UK our system isn’t perfect but at least in our parliament there is range of views from 13 different political viewpoints. If the Conservative and Labour party hadn’t frightened the electorate into thinking that proportional representation was a bad thing for democracy then we would have an even more balanced parliament.

Americans think they live in ‘the land of the free’ but ironically much of the world has greater freedom and opportunity. On my travels around the US it is still amazing how restrictive the country is. Let’s take a few examples.

In the UK you can drink alcohol at 18, buy it on any day of the week and what restrictions there are in place are generally standard. In the US there is a standard age of 21 but with regards to purchasing you need a guide book. It varies from state to state and even counties. I remember staying in a motel one night and fancied a drink. The only way I could get one was to drive across the county line and there, literally on the other side of the line was a liquor store; with a steady stream of people just like me. Another time on a Sunday I was in a store in, I think, Tennessee and attempted buy alcohol free beer. When I got to the checkout I was told I ‘couldn’t buy alcohol on Sunday’. ‘There is no alcohol’ I replied. ‘But you can’t buy beer on Sunday’. Ironically there was more alcohol in the mouthwash I bought but that was OK!

In the UK we have an amazing institution called the National Health Service (NHS). It’s not faultless but it does mean we have access to free healthcare. I have had surgery 3 times in my life and witnessed at first hand the care and skill of those treating me and all at zero cost to me. My, sister who is a US citizen, recently underwent major surgery in CT, and was confronted with a bill of around $70,000. Fortunately she had healthcare partly paid by her employer and part from her salary.

I have read many arguments against Obamacare and what many Americans, usually republicans, call ‘socialized medicine’. Fundamentally it comes down to one thing, Money. Here is a typical argument.

Why should I pay my taxes for you to have free healthcare? If you don’t work and can’t afford to have health insurance get a job. If that doesn’t pay enough get a better one. If you give people something for nothing they will expect everything for free. If you want to read an article against socialized medicine try this.

It may be from 1960 but it is still the way some people think.

So what has this got to do with Ferguson? It is not just about black and white but more about rich and poor, those with opportunity and those who struggle to find it. Like the drinking laws America is living in the past while the rest of the developed world moves on. We do not have the crushing poverty that many in the US have; of all racial back grounds. There is more opportunity in many other countries to get help and move out of difficulty. For a country that was built on the desire for freedom and liberty to the outside world America is a small minded, selfish bully who should put her own house in order before sending troops and rhetoric into other countries.

Without the ‘radical reconstruction of society’ towards a more liberal, caring one then events like those in Ferguson will continue. The white population is not far from being a minority and there are only so many rules and walls that you can put up before the majority knock them down. Socialism is still a dirty word to many Americans as they see it as pre cursor to communism but a true liberal is a real socialist; one who fights inequality and injustice.

Thomas Paine said ‘The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.’ There are many who should do the same.


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