By Dr. Bryan Van Gorp
Citizenship requires commitment to the common good. People we honor, further the common good. President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Jesus directed people to feed the hungry, take in the stranger, cloth the poor, care for the sick and visit those in prison. Jesus said, “in as much as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.”
The Preamble of the Constitution says, “in Order to form a more perfect Union … promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Interest in the common good leads to the establishment of the largest most inclusive public education system in the world, which in turn leads to becoming the world leader in science and industry.
The common good lead President Roosevelt to create Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and work programs in the midst of the depression.
In contrast, neoliberal capitalism advocates for privatization, deregulation, and dismantling the safety net. This is a wish list for self serving power structure. Who wins when EPA Director Scott Pruitt reverses increased milage standards on vehicles? We all buy gas and breath air. Only oil companies benefit from increased fuel use.
All of us can sink to the level of our reptilian brain that operates out of selfishness and fear. We can also override those impulses with conscious thinking. We can consider the long term common good. We honor those who call forth our better selves and direct us toward that common good, such as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Bernie Sanders.
Nearly all our problems are self induced and therefore can be solved by us. Holding those in power accountable is a necessary step in changing destructive cycles.
Major problems such as climate change, income inequality, or fear of each others require a long term commitment, to resolve. Our politicians and business leaders only focus short term, the next election or quarterly profits. Therefore the responsibility for change falls on us.
We all have different jobs, most are necessary for a functional society. When we go to a hotel, we want a clean room. When we go to the grocery store, we want the shelves stocked. People who do all jobs should make a living wage and not need charity or government assistance to access healthcare, food, education, or a place to live.
Truth is part of the common good. To make decisions we need debate based on facts and our vision of a just and sustainable future looks like. People advocating only for their self interest do not further that discussion.
America is exceptional in its belief in its own exceptionalism. America ranks:
• 37th in healthcare outcomes but first in costs.
• 17th in education.
• 12th in infrastructure.
• Near the bottom of developed countries for — equality, economic mobility and voter turnout.
• Near middle of developed countries for — quality of life, sustainability and social justice.
We are number one in:
• Pollution per person.
• Military weapons exports.
• Gun deaths.
• Prisoners — we are 5% of world population and have 25% of the prisoners. Are we really five times more criminal?
We are the only country not accepting climate science and not in the Paris Climate Accord.
Our history includes: slavery, torture, and attempted genocide of Native Americans.
It is because I love our Country and believe we can do better that I call attention to these failings.
Proof of the virtues of our Country is the net influx of immigrants seeking a better life.
“The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.” (Endicott Peabody). Despite our current valley, we can return to the upward trend.