Why America Isn’t Great

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Illustration by Francin Vasquez

By Justin Fajar 

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Every day, thousands of people—some forced through social coercion or otherwise—put their hands on their hearts and pledge their allegiance to the United States flag. While some would see this as a beautiful showing of people who love their country, in reality this is an undeserved show of nationalism. The reality is that, while America has some strengths, it isn’t nearly as admirable a country as many of its citizens think it is.

The United States has one of the bloodiest histories in the world, having invaded or fought in dozens of countries around the globe. This would be fine if the U.S. made efforts to acknowledge and try to remedy the damage it has caused. But instead high school history textbooks often skew our country’s history. A prime example of this can be seen in the South, where many textbooks make sure that the Confederacy looks more sympathetic.

Discrimination against minorities is also common, particularly in the education system, including higher education. Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a classics professor at Princeton, recently shared his experience as a “token minority” in higher education and how he has had to deal with “a general aura and practice of exclusion.” He also discussed how bad he felt knowing how few minorities had the same opportunities he did. “It took me a long time to reconcile my place in being here [Princeton] with the fact that with the unluckiest of dice rolls I could have been dead at 24,” he said.

Meanwhile, our democracy is deeply flawed. In the United States it is constantly put into our heads that our votes matter. But if we look closely at the 2016 election we can see that is far from the truth. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a few million, Donald Trump was selected as the president through the Electoral College. The ability to vote is also a huge issue. Voter suppression is a real and ongoing issue, particularly for minority voters. A country cannot call itself a democracy until all voices are heard.

And what about how we spend our money? According to NationalPri- orities.org, a recent budget deal calls for military spending to be 54 percent of federal discretionary expenditures in 2020. Historically, military spending dwarfs the amounts spent on energy, the environment, housing and community. How federal money is spent is a great indicator of what the United States prioritizes—apparently, it values invading countries over helping its citizens.

To be sure, there are a lot worse places to live, and there are positive aspects to this country. People around the world aspire to immigrate here and to live the American Dream. The United States has a Constitution that guarantees many rights. It also has thriving economic sectors, from technology to film to finance. Many people are making efforts to address the problems listed above: Many universities are trying to increase diversity, and reparations for the descendants of slaves are being seriously talked about as a way to rectify what has happened in history.

But Americans often put forward a facade in which we are a perfect country—and that is tragically far from the truth. We as a society have to demand better from our government, so that one day when we stand for our flag, hand on heart, we can truly mean it.

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