Growing discontent points to upheaval
The average age of an empire is 250 years, and the United States is celebrating birthday number 243. Mumblings of revolutions in America have turned from jokes to full blown conspiracies harkening back our former English autocrats. Although, an American revolution is not such a crazy thought.
Dissatisfaction with the U.S. government is something of a running joke around the world, but many of our own citizens have serious concerns as well, and not without due cause.
The U.S. ranks roughly 30 out of 72 countries in education; 46 in maternal mortality rate; among wealthy countries, we have a 57% higher child mortality rate than other high-income nations. Our life expectancy, at about 79.8 years, ranked 42 out of 224 nations.
All those bumper stickers calling us ‘The Greatest Country on Earth’ are looking a little dubious — not to fear, we are number one in military spending, beef production and billionaires. Go us!
Clearly these statistics show that America is not necessarily the perfect and great country it touts itself to be. While nationalists try to push the message that somewhere else always has it worse, and my personal favorite, “If you don’t like it here, you can leave,” America has some serious work to do and a government increasingly unwilling to do it.
America will have to make some serious improvements to show it’s the greatest country — any country founded on stolen land and with roots in slavery is going to have an increasingly hard time doing so — but as those improvements seem further and further away, that title will remain out of our grasp.
In the meantime, the U.S. in 2021 is showing many signs that point toward a revolution, and these signs are born out of a negligence to acknowledge some of our serious inadequacies.
One of the first indications towards a revolution is economic inequality and strife. Certainly the income and wealth inequality are known to most Americans, and personal economic issues are on the minds of many.
Income inequality in the U.S. is steadily rising, but more than this, it is higher in the U.S. than in other nations with advanced economies. Economists are predicting that, before the recession from 2008 is fully healed, a new recession is likely on the horizon.
All of this is happening while fears of the middle class disappearing remain strong. In 1971, the middle class represented 61% of Americans. Today, that number is soon to be below 50%.
Fears about the minimum wage, a relevant topic to many college-aged students, are also increasing. If the national minimum wage had kept pace with inflation and productivity growth since 1968, it should be standing at around $24 today. However the minimum wage is $7.25, leaving a large portion of the U.S. populace struggling to survive.
Despite knowledge that raising the minimum wage to even $15 would lift 27.3 million workers and 1.3 million families out of poverty, action at a federal level is yet to happen.
More than this, Millennials and Gen-Zers are watching as their ability to afford adequate housing slowly disappears. A 2019 study found that nearly 70% of millennials were unable to afford a house.
While simultaneously being scolded by the Boomer generation for not being able to afford a house like they could, millennials have 35% less wealth than previous generations had at their age. Half of people 18 to 34 and most millennial renters are rent-burdened, with 30% or more of their income going to rent.
Young people are watching as income inequality grows, the middle class disappears, wages are failing to increase and housing is becoming more expensive. All the while, billionaires hoard massive amounts of wealth; $12 trillion belongs to just the top 1% of U.S. households.
Many individuals are struggling to afford food and employment shortages reveal workers are sick of working hard for almost no money, but billionaires added $400 billion to their holdings during the pandemic. And, because of the tax cuts our government provides the ultra rich, two-thirds of the pittance billionaires decide to give away in moves of “philanthropy” should actually be considered taxpayer money.
The wealthiest and infamous 1% hold 40% of the nation’s wealth, while the bottom 90% of families hold less than one-quarter.
All of these factors show gross inequality and more than enough potential for citizens to be disappointed in their government. Also, in case anyone is still rooting for the billionaires: if you don’t make several million or even billions of dollars, you are being affected by this income and wealth inequality too.
Perceived inadequacy in a political system or its constituents is another symptom of pre-revolution era empires. While economic concerns certainly fall within the political realm, America’s politicians’ inability to adequately address concerns on climate change, gun control and healthcare turn citizens’ attention away from questions like, “Will I be able to afford to live,” to “Will I be able to live?”
In 2019, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions reached an all time high. If you were wondering who the worst contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is, you won’t have to look very far. The U.S. produces 27% of the total emissions for the world. This does in fact make us the worst emitters on the planet.
Ignoring climate change is not just a political maneuver, but will be a determinant in the future of the planet. Individuals might not be too keen to allow the earth to die, sea levels to rise, natural disasters to ramp up and the human race to run out just because politicians want to increase their funds to get reelected.
Gun control is also another issue that, when unaddressed, will mean the loss of life. In 2019, there were 14,400 gun-related homicides. This number isn’t terribly surprising when you know that the U.S. is the number one civilian gun-owning country in the world by more than half and the number two country in gun violence.
This is another problem that is only getting worse, with the 12 deadliest mass shootings occurring in the last 22 years.
Because these figures still don’t seem to move people, each day eight children die from gun violence in the U.S. with another 32 shot and injured. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and teens in the U.S. Since 1970, the U.S. has had 1,316 school shootings, with 101 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2021 alone.
Gun violence and school shootings are a reality because of a misinterpretation of the constitution and citizen’s willingness to let other people die, including children, so that they can “protect themselves”, along with politicians unwillingness to take meaningful action.
Another topic incredibly relevant as of late is healthcare. With almost 50 million Americans without insurance, a country in the middle of a pandemic and nurses and doctors burnt out, the U.S. healthcare system is in as bad shape as it has ever been. Many Americans have to make the choice between going to the doctor and affording to live.
Healthcare workers have had to go through the trials of getting cheers and applause at the start of the pandemic to getting chastised for asking individuals to get vaccinated and do their part to, you know, not kill one another.
The last indication that a revolution is coming is social discontent. Specifically, an increase in protests and public displays of displeasure are hints that a revolution could be on the way or has already arrived.
In just the last two years, there have been many Black Lives Matter protests, protests about reproductive rights and Indigenous rights. Citizens are demanding an end to police brutality, attacks on bodily autonomy, infringement on Native land, abusers retaining power and so much more.
At the same time, small but loud minorities of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers have taken up media attention. The conservative right has struggled to distance itself from the far-right; individuals who support storming the Capitol to overturn a democratic vote, affiliate themselves with white supremacists (or are white supremacists) or refuse to believe science and slowly deplete their party’s numbers.
The point to all of this being that anger towards institutions that uphold inequality is at a fever pitch and media indulgence on extremist groups has made political polarization all-the-more intense.
So, is a revolution coming?
In a way it can’t be said that a revolution is coming, because really, it’s already begun. While our political and social consciousness may not have yet caught up, the movements of the last few years, the tests of democracy and the responsibility many citizens feel towards changing this country for the better show that a revolution is in the works — even if it only remains, at the time, as a social revolution.
Revolution need not be a dirty word though. The patriots that we brand as our “Founding Fathers” were individuals who rose up against nationalist and oppressive tendencies. Charging the Capitol because you don’t like the results of a democratic election is not an example of patriotism, but demanding that your country do better absolutely is.
Historically, revolutions have been brutal and bloody, but the modern American revolution doesn’t have to be. If politicians and citizens alike work to improve economic, political and social conditions progress is possible through peace. But that doesn’t change the fact that the way our country is currently running is clearly unsustainable and imperfect.
If everything said here inspires rage in you, if your trigger reaction is to shout, “If you don’t like it here, you can leave,” you’re part of the problem. People who love their country should care about it enough to want to solve its problems.
If you believe America is the greatest country on earth, you should be the first person to recognize how damaging poor policy and inaction can be. Something revolutionary might be precisely the pill America needs to take.