"Never let a good crisis go to waste." - Winston Churchill
There’s a huge amount of anger and frustration in the United States. It’s been brewing for years -- decades in fact. People are worried about their jobs; their health; their wealth; their security; and their democracy. People feel like they don’t have a voice in deciding anything that pertains to them.
And that was all before the pandemic.
The reality is, the majority of Americans have been left behind. It has become an oligarchy, where only a few benefit, while the rest hang out to dry. (In fact, we rank below every first world country in some pretty key metrics, and lower than many third world countries in too many others.) And as the richest country in the world, we shouldn't be such a hot mess.
The Crises We Face (To Name a Few)
Economic: The country's billionaires gained over 1 trillion dollars in wealth since the pandemic, while millions of Americans continue to form bread lines. The unemployment rate in America is highest since the Great Depression; over 40% of Americans experienced food insecurity this year; and over 40 million families face eviction.
Health: As of this week, United States topped 4,000 COVID deaths per day; hospitals are overrun; and states have resorted to turning ice cream trucks into mobile morgues. And before the pandemic, America is the only first world country to bankrupt one million people a year with healthcare bills; where the rest have exactly none. And the U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate, with a 76% more likely to die before their first birthday, compared to the other 20 wealthiest countries.
Social Justice: Inequality, prejudice, and oppression rage across "The Land of the Free." America has 5% of the population, but 25% of the world's prisoners. We tout the highest levels of police brutality, which does not translate into safer communities. We are ranked 121 out of 163 in the Global Peace Index, and our own Department of Homeland Security has identified right wing extremists as the preeminent threat to national security.
Political: As of 2017, less than 20% of people trusted government to do the right thing. This created an environment ripe for conspiracy theories, misinformation, and disinformation, which ultimately culminated in a domestic attack on the United States Capitol. Labels have ranged from "domestic terrorists" to "patriots".
The Systems that Failed Us
There's a lot to be angry about. And that anger and disillusionment is easily manipulated. Once unbolted, mass resentment can - and has - poisoned the very fabric of society, replacing ambition with envy, replacing tolerance with hate, replacing abundance with scarcity, and the American Dream with a national nightmare. People across the political spectrum are enraged, and the targets of that rage are immigrants, welfare mothers, blacks, gays, ANTIFA, white supremacists, and an ill-defined conspiracy culture.
But those are the wrong targets. Our rankings in global metrics have to do with much larger systemic issues than a single person, group, or administration can bear full responsibility for.
The division and disillusionment we see today is the result of policies that have been in place for about five decades, like a deep festering pimple that's reared its greasy, ugly head. Because in the 1970's, when corporate dollars began to influence our politics, it turned the government into the mutant institution we now see, prioritizing power over people, and spouting ideals so grossly inconsistent with our reality. And the only way to pull off so brazen an act, political leaders pit its citizens against each other in order to distract them from the policies that are actually responsible for the public's plight.
The good news is, this is simply unsustainable. It has spurred us out of apathy, and forces us to forge a better future.
This Is a Chance to Be Better
We can't ever go back to where we were. Because where we were is exactly what brought us to where we are. So the only option we really have is to be better.
Groups continue to deflect and project the blame onto anything (real or imagined) they possibly can. Scapegoats and blame have become the number one tool in their political arsenal. But that's not leadership. Real leadership is about taking responsibility. And every one of us has the ability to take responsibility to move us forward, together.
Democracies flourish when largest numbers of citizens have the capacity to participate and shape civic life. Creating solutions that lift us all up is not socialism; it is democracy at its best. That's the democracy we had in the 1960's, when the American middle class was the envy of the world, and when America was truly heralded as the "land of opportunity".
The last four years has tested the absolute limits of our patience and objectivity, and significantly challenged our faith in who we are as a country. It's exposed and exploited the deepest cracks of our national character. And dragged the very best of us into futile facebook feuds about ideologies and ignorance. It will take real growth, humility, self-reflection, and leadership to begin to mend those cracks.
Each of us has the capacity to lead, to take responsibility, and to move all of us forward. We all want the same prosperity, security, and opportunity. So we have to flip our priorities: "purpose over profits", "we over me", "collaboration over competition", "people over politics". And in each case, we do not throw away the latter, but we use it as a tool, in service of the former.
Veronica Zaki Yacoub
Public Policy, Social Impact Professional
Founder, Scaling Change