The Unraveling of America

In 1964, a year after President Kennedy was assassinated , as a 20 year old I decided to join the Peace Corps and I was fortunate to serve two years in Chile. Like many young people, I was proud to be an American and believed in President Kennedy’s challenge to do what I could to contribute to social and economic development in under-developed countries, as well as working toward the realization of human rights and liberties for all who lived in conditions of poverty, lack of opportunity and subjugation by those who would exploit them.

After two years in Chile, I realized that I had much to learn and little to offer other than my friendship and appreciation for the culture and traditions of the highly evolved Chilean people.

Subsequently I lived for nine years in Brazil and Colombia where my husband, an economist, worked with the Ford Foundation and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) while I focused on raising our two children and volunteered fostering children who were being adopted to keep them from languishing in over-populated orphanages.

One result of living for eleven years in Chile, Brazil and Colombia was that I became aware of the heavy hand of the police and military enforcing the will of governments who were backed by the very wealthy. Their goal of course, was to maintain their privileged status rather than investing in the common good by providing access to education, healthcare and improved sanitation and living conditions for the less fortunate. The police and the military were the instruments used to keep those people from exercising their voices and votes to improve their lives. Democracy was a facade, not a reality.

As a foreigner living in South America, I realized that torture was a tool used by both the police and the military to instill fear and keep active resistance in check. I took some comfort in believing that as an American, I was confident that torture was not something that would ever be used by our government or our military against our own or other people.

While living In Brazil I witnessed the hard working middle class lose ground and slip into poverty as they worked harder for less money as rampant inflation ate away any gains they hoped to make. The income inequality between the wealthy and the rest of the society was shocking. Again I took comfort in telling myself that in the United States, middle class values of hard work paid off by providing a safety net from poverty. Our middle class families could count on the fact that their efforts would be rewarded; that they would be able to own their homes and their children’s lives would be better than theirs due to access to higher education and opportunities for good paying jobs.

It took a lot to tarnish my rose colored glasses about America. My first dose of reality was when I realized that the military coup in Chile that left the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende dead, was engineered and supported by the United States military under orders of President Richard Nixon to protect the investments of US corporations in businesses such as copper mining in Chile. Chileans suffered the loss of their freedoms, their democracy and lost family members as they were rounded up and killed in soccer stadiums under the dictatorship of President General Pinochet. Pinochet was installed as president after the US backed coup ended the democratically elected presidency of Allende. This was done in spite of CIA reports that Allende’s government posed no threat to the spread of communism in Chile or the region. For the next several decades, human rights and civil liberties were blatantly violated and thousands of innocent people lost their lives and disappeared in what was a reversal of everything I thought the United States stood for as a moral leader in the free world. It took a long time to admit to myself that, if the United States could do what it did to innocent Chilean citizens, to maintain profits for US corporations, they could do it to us too.

Most people would not agree. To them I say, take a look at the feature titled “The Counted” in the US edition of The Guardian online. It is free and you can “favorite” it so that you can keep your eye on the mounting body of evidence of the unraveling of our democracy. “The Counted” is the daily account of Americans who have been killed by our own police. On the last day of the year 2015 when I checked, the number was 1130. This accounts for more Americans killed by our police than by ISIS and all other foreign terrorists combined.

I never thought I would live in an America that tortures and kills people but during the Bush/Cheney administration with waterboarding and other tortures used against political prisoners by our military, I realized that I was wrong. Each day when I look at “The Counted” and watch the number killed by our police rise, I realize I was wrong.

I never thought I’d live in an America where middle class values of hard work and investment in the next generation would result in the wealthy getting wealthier and the middle class slipping into poverty while their children inherit debt for an education that does not lead to opportunity because the best jobs are no longer available to them. Our corporations prefer to operate outside our deteriorating American communities rather than investing in them.

I never thought I’d live in an America where the elected representatives no longer represent the people who elected them, but rather the corporate interests that buy them and keep them in office. This is the result of our system of government being sold to the highest bidder thanks to the Supreme Court’s approval of Citizens United.

I never thought I’d live in an America that instead of raising the bar as a moral leader in the world it has become more like the countries I have lived in where the political system is so corrupt and there is little hope for a better future and people no longer believe the system is viable so they don’t bother to vote.

I never thought I’d live in an America where nothing legal or illegal is off the table to use as a tool for maintaining the interests of those whose greed is a bottomless pit that not even the imminent threat of the collapse of the global environment that sustains us can deter.

I never thought I’d come to regard the United State of America as evolving into The United Corporations of America where ego driven greed that fuels capitalism has replaced the value of a government of the people, by the people and for the people which was once the best hope for the future.

I know that America has never been the “City on the Hill” envisioned by my idealized image of it bit in our inattentiveness, lethargy and self-absorption we have allowed people with other intentions to subvert our democracy very nearly to the point of ruination? Will we rouse ourselves at last to elect a president at least, whose loyalties are really with us, the people of this country? In 2016 we will have that opportunity.

Jacqueline Neuman

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