What’s Happened to the America I Love?

Originally published June 16, 2015 on Huffington Post

This is an op-ed that I hoped never to write.

I am in danger of losing hope in America both as an idea and a reality. I fear for the heart and soul of this country. I feel especially sad since America has been exceptionally good to me.

I came from a chronically poor and dysfunctional family. At an early age, school not only became a refuge, but a promise to a better life. Fortunately, I not only excelled in school, but I loved it.

In 1956, I entered The University of California at Berkeley as a freshman. I took 18 units of Engineering at one of the best universities in the world for the piddling sum of $56. When I left Berkeley in 1967 with a PhD in Engineering, I paid only $200 a semester. The government loans that I incurred for living expenses only amounted to some $6,000, all of which were forgiven over a period of 6 years because I was a Professor. In essence, I got a free education, for which I am eternally grateful. To say that I don’t mind paying taxes to a society that helped a poor kid become relatively well off is a gross understatement. I only wish I could help other poor kids even more.

Sadly, young people today face a completely different and onerous reality.

College education is prohibitively expensive with no guarantee of a good and meaningful job at the end. Healthcare while more available than ever is still too costly. It’s still not viewed as a basic human right as it is in Europe. Our income inequality is among the highest in the world. The 1 percent don’t get it that you can’t have a viable society if wealth is concentrated mainly in the hands of a very few. Modern economies are kept afloat by spending by the middle classes. If the middle classes don’t have as much money to spend, then the whole economy suffers. And then there is the god-awful issue of guns. We are the most heavily armed society in the world and yet it has not brought us greater safety or piece of mind. Indeed, we live in abject fear of one another.

I am too old to leave a country that has been so good to me and that I love dearly. But if I were just starting out, I’d seriously consider going to Europe where the social safety nets are greater and one doesn’t have to worry constantly about being killed or maimed by guns.

Why did it take the killing of 9 black people to get rid of one of the worst symbols of racism? What will it take to make this society less fearful and get rid of the over 300,000,000 guns in private hands? What will it take to make the super wealthy realize that it’s in everybody’s best interests to spread wealth more evenly?

I fear for my 7-year-old grandson. What are we bequeathing to him and all the other children in this country?

I want desperately to believe once again in the American dream. But I don’t know how.

Ian I. Mitroff is Professor Emeritus from USC. He is a Senior Investigator in The Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley. He is President of Mitroff Crisis Management. His most current book is Dumb, Deranged, and Dangerous: A Smart Guide to Combatting Dumb Arguments.