Opinion / Chen Weihua

American Dream increasingly distant from most in US

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-19 08:19

American Dream increasingly distant from most in US

US President Barack Obama makes opening remarks at a gathering with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states leaders at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California February 15, 2016.[Photo/Agencies]

US President John F. Kennedy was ambitious and idealistic in his "moon speech" on Sept 12, 1962, saying "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 the United States 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 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 that originated in the US.

The movie struck a chord with the US audience as I watched it last weekend. Many of them applauded at the end, not to mention their 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 US society today. The US and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries that don't offer paid maternity leave.

And the Italian and Finnish employers/capitalists talk about the importance of treating their workers well and of having a society that is fair, unlike the one in the US.

Moore believes most Americans have no idea that a large chunk of the US taxpayers' money is spent on the military.

According to the White House Office of Management and Budget and the non-partisan, non-profit organization National Priorities Project, which aims to make the US budget transparent, 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 the environment, transportation, science, food and agriculture, veterans' benefits and government.

Ironically, most of the 2016 US presidential candidates are still arguing for more spending on the military by exaggerating threats from Russia and China, among others. To them, maintaining absolute military supremacy is more important than the wellbeing of ordinary Americans.

Having lived in New York and Washington for six years, I have always wondered why people living in New York and Washington don't complain about cellphone services being unavailable once inside the subway systems, considering communications are so vital for everyone in the 21st century.

I told my American colleague that cellphone services are available in the Shanghai or Beijing subway systems. "Maybe Americans don't know you can have cellphone services in the subway," the colleague said.

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

At the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies last week, Larry Summers, a former chief economic advisor for President Obama, asked the audience if they 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 aren't nicer than Kennedy Airport.

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

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

The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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