World / Reporter's Journal

Michael Moore movie is a reminder of dubious American Dream

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-02-15 12:33

The "moon speech" by US President John F. Kennedy on Sept 12, 1962, at Rice University was ambitious and idealistic when he said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

However, when 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders laid out a vision for society to provide free college education, raise the minimum wage to $15, expand Social Security and address the widening income and wealth gap and the criminal justice system, he was labeled by his Republican and Democratic rivals as unrealistic or socialist.

Michael Moore's new documentary Where to Invade Next, which hit theaters across the US on Feb 12, reminds Americans that not only have many of these "unrealistic" and "socialist" ideals become a reality in European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, they are described by those in Scandinavia as ideas originated in the US.

The movie certainly struck a chord with the American audience as I watched in the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington on a freezing Saturday afternoon. Many of them applauded at the end, not to mention the laughter during the hilariously funny movie.

Long, paid vacations in Italy, a year of paid maternity leave in Scandinavia and a surprisingly cozy prison in Norway are just some of the contrasts with American society today.

So striking are the words from Italian and Finnish employers/capitalists who talk about the importance of treating their workers well and of having a society that is equal, unlike the one in the US.

Moore showed that for a little higher tax rate, the people from France to Scandinavia enjoy a much better life than the Americans. He explained that most Americans have no idea that a large chunk of the US taxpayers' money was spent on the military.

According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and National Priorities Project, 53.71 percent, or $598 billion, of the discretionary spending in 2015 was on the military, more than the combined spending on education, medical care and health, housing and community, energy and environment, transportation, science, food and agriculture, veterans' benefits and government.

Most of the 2016 Republican and Democratic candidates have not talked about this issue. Instead, many of them have argued for more spending on the US military by exaggerating threats across the world.

Having lived in New York and Washington for the last six years, I have always wondered why New Yorkers and Washingtonians don't complain about cell-phone service that is unavailable once inside the subway systems, considering communications are so important for everyone in the 21st century.

Some time ago, I told my American colleague that cell-phone service is never interrupted in the Shanghai or Beijing subway systems.

"Maybe Americans don't know you can have cell-phone service in the subway," the colleague said.

In a talk at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on Feb 10, Larry Summers, a former secretary of the Treasury under president Bill Clinton and a chief economic advisor for President Obama in 2009 and 2010, expressed deep concerns about the fruits of economic growth not being widely shared.

He asked the mostly SAIS students and faculty if any of them feel proud as Americans of Kennedy or LaGuardia airports in New York. Many flights at Kennedy are international, and Summers asked if any of those international airports connected aren't nicer than Kennedy.

Michael Moore movie is a reminder of dubious American Dream

"And we are supposed to be the greatest and richest country on earth," he said.

US highway systems and airports used to be the envy of the world after World War II, but they have become increasingly dilapidated compared with the rest of the world, which has invested heavily in infrastructure in recent decades.

A figure cited by both Summers last week and Bill Gates earlier is that China used more cement from 2011 to 2013 or 2011 to 2014 than the US used in the 20th century.

In her 2010 book Third World America, Arianna Huffington also argued that excessive spending on war and the military at the expense of domestic issues is denying society and ordinary Americans of the American Dream.

Moore's movie is the latest reminder that a nation that claims to be the greatest and most exceptional seems to quickly forget its ideals.

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