Saturday, May 7, 2016

Hillary Clinton says, "America never stopped being great." If that’s the case, then why do over 9 million Americans think about killing themselves every year?

Above: "Weary," a painting by Edward Millman (1907-1964), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Donald Trump's campaign slogan is "Make America Great Again." Hillary Clinton has repeatedly attacked that slogan by saying, "America never stopped being great." President Obama seconded that notion, by saying "America's pretty darn great right now." 

But if America never stopped being great, why have 1.1 million Americans killed themselves since 1981, more than the number of Americans who died during World War I, World War II, and Vietnam combined? (Statistics from the CDC's Fatal Injury Reports, 1981-1998 and 1999-2014). And why do more than 9 million Americans think about killing themselves, every year? And why have suicides and deaths of despair greatly increased in recent years? Does that sound "pretty darn great" to you?

The truth is, the American economy and the American labor market are absolutely pathetic right now, as they have been for the past 8 years. Yes, the unemployment rate is down, but it is down thanks to a plethora of low-wage jobs - jobs with few if any benefits and no future for advancement. The rate is also down, to some degree, because a lot of people have given up looking for work and are no longer counted in the main unemployment figure.

 Above: "Despair," a lithograph by Nan Lurie (1910-1985). Lurie was an artist in the WPA, c. 1935-1942, but the exact date of "Despair" is unknown. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported "For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades." And there is a link between economic despair and suicides. For example, a suicide prevention coordinator in Montana, discussing his state's rising number of self-inflicted deaths, said "Probably the biggest reason is socio-economic. We have about 150,000 people in our state that don’t have access to any type of healthcare, which is a major issue. We have a lot of people living in poverty. Wages are not going up at the same pace as rising health costs, rising cost of living and inflation" ("Financial despair, addiction and the rise of suicide in white America," The Guardian, February 7, 2016). 

America has a number of other problems of course, like child homelessness, child obesity, and millions of children drinking lead-poisoned water from crumbing infrastructure. So, in light of all this--the suicides, the suicidal thoughts, the poisoned children, etc.--why do Clinton and Obama say, "America never stopped being great" and "America's pretty darn great right now"? There's a very simple answer: Because they're wealthy - and so are the people they hobnob with. If they lived in poverty, or if their children had been poisoned by lead, I doubt they would say, "Wow, America is awesome!!"

With wealth comes insulation. Insulation from all the things that tear people down, for example, expensive car repairs, student loan debt, debt collection harassment, regressive taxation, inadequate vacation time, mind-numbing jobs, and so on. Author Thomas Frank has accurately described the economic and political situation, with respect to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Establishment:

"Median household income has still not recovered the levels of 2007. Wages are going nowhere. Elite bankers are probably never going to be held accountable for what they did. America is burning. Listening to the leading figures of the Democratic Party establishment, however, you’d never know it. Cool contentment is the governing emotion in these circles. What they have in mind for 2016 is what we might call a campaign of militant complacency. They are dissociated from the mood of the nation, and they do not care... Hillary Clinton is more or less openly offering herself as the complacency candidate. The least inspiring frontrunner in many years, she is a dynastic heir who stands to receive the Democratic nomination largely because it’s her turn..."

Frank then summed up the Democratic Establishment as a "party of the high-achieving professional class that is always looking for a way to dismiss the economic concerns of ordinary people."

Greta Van Susteren of Fox News made a similar comment about the main stream media (much of which has been biased in favor of Clinton, essentially campaigning for her):

"The media didn’t 'get' the Donald Trump or Senator Bernie Sanders phenomena because so many in the media are way out of touch with the American people. They look at politics through their own eyes, and the eyes of their media colleagues and not the eyes of the American people... Add into the equation that for many in the media things are good. Wages are not stagnant, and, in TV, we get paid well... While America is busy thinking 'I am worried about paying my rent... I can’t make my car payment... I think my job is moving overseas... I need a job... my child is sick... my water heater needs to be replaced and I have no savings, etc.,' what is the media thinking about? In some instances, and I will leave out the names, I think they are too busy thinking about themselves."

So, for rich Americans like Clinton, Obama, and their wealthy friends and backers, and the media that shills for them, yes, America is great. But for those tens of millions of people who will never achieve the American Dream because some financial shackle is holding them in place, or dragging them down further, America is a living hell - a hell they often think about escaping, sometimes at end of a barrel.

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