According to "You-Know-Who," things are pretty bad right now. The country is going to Hell in a handbasket. But I think both the Prez and his followers are dead wrong. Despite persistent troubles in the Middle East and Africa, we are experiencing the longest period in modern history without a war among some of the major powers. This is probably due as much to the certainty of mutually-assured destruction as to any peace-loving transformation. Nevertheless, there have been no new deaths from nuclear weapons since 1945.
I think the biggest existential threat to the world’s security today is the current rash of right-wing populism such as Britain’s decision to leave the EU, the U.S. election of Donald Trump and the sudden popularity of right-wing alarmist candidates in some European democracies. In some respects this trend reminds us of the post-World War I era and the emergence of Nazi, Fascist and Communist movements. We even see occasional reappearances of antisemitism.
Trump’s promise to make America great again obviously assumes we have lost our way; that our government, economy and social fabric are deteriorating. With the exception of the sorry state of our infrastructure, that assumption doesn’t hold water.
Humankind has made more progress economically, socially and health-wise over the last 100 years than in the last 100,000. Today’s naysayers long for the "good old days." But considering everything, today’s life and times are the best by far in human history. On a worldwide scale humankind has never had it so good. But maybe that’s the problem. Some of us seem to deal with adversity better than success.
For Americans life expectancy has more than doubled in the last two centuries, mainly due to innovations in sanitation and health care. The 1918 flu pandemic killed over 100 million people worldwide. Today we can avoid the flu altogether with a $15 injection at the local pharmacy. Americans now retire at an average age of 62. A century ago they died at an average age of 51. In 1952 38,000 Americans contracted polio. In 2012 there were only 300 reported polio cases worldwide. And the main reason Social Security and Medicare are underfunded is one of people living longer; a nice problem to have, by the way.
Other than drug trafficking, most types of crime are in decline today. Robberies have dropped by almost half as have rapes. There were nearly 4 million fewer property crimes in 2010 than there were in 1991 and there were three times fewer robberies during the same period. And rates for almost every type of violent crime are down.
Relative to hourly wages the cost of new autos has fallen fourfold since 1915. The average American’s work week has been almost halved since 1850. And the International Energy Agency predicts the U.S. will soon again be the world’s largest producer of petroleum. In 1975 American cars averaged 13 miles per gallon. Today that figure has doubled to 26.
In 1900 45 percent of African Americans were illiterate. Today’s rate is practically zero. American blacks have advanced farther in less time than any ethnic group in human history, from slavery to the presidency of their country in 150 short years. Is that phenomenal progress or what?
Unfortunately, only 4% of humans get to live in America. Be thankful you are one of them.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.