John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Make Americans Great Again

Posted on April 14, 2016
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It’s not a new trend.

Statistics coming out of the heartland of America have been depressing for a while.

But the Washington Post and the New York Times have both seized on the troubling ramifications.

The Post has been running a series of stories about how white working women are dying off at alarming numbers at younger ages.

The reasons vary. Some die because they are addicted to drugs, specifically opioids. Others are dying because they are addicted to alcohol. Some struggle with diseases attached to obesity. Others die in clusters of cancer outbreaks. Suicide has become more prevalent.

White women still live longer than white men, and both white men and white women live longer than black men or women.

But the trend lines are a bit scary to watch. Life expectancy is improving for minority groups while getting worse for white people.

This is especially true for those who are further down the economic food chain. If you are poor and white, you are dying off at a far greater rate than if you are rich and white.

I guess that is not much of a surprise, but it hasn’t always been the case. And in the last several years, the gap between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to who lives longer has grown bigger than ever before.

Health is but one aspect of an America that doesn’t seem to be as good as it once was.

Education is another. We aren’t as smart as we should be.

We used to kick butt when it came to educational achievement, but we have been mediocre for a long time.

We don’t win anymore when it comes to world rankings on science or math or an appreciation for world history or an understanding of how our own government works.

Our poor showing in the world rankings is usually explained as: because we are a much more diverse country than some of our competitors that somehow we should get a pass.

But that’s no excuse. And it is not just inner-city schools that are failing to do their jobs to teach our kids skills that will help them compete in a much more competitive world.

You want to know why so many people are so afraid of the Common Core education system? Because they are afraid it will expose their basic educational deficiencies.

Another troubling trend afflicting large sections of America is the increasing numbers of people who have dropped completely out of the work force.

These people are either content to collect disability or have no choice but to collect disability. I have seen enough stories about the fraud endemic to the SSI program to know that not everybody who gets welfare needs or deserves it.

Too many Americans are looking to rip off the system, figuring that everybody else must be doing it.

You throw in those people who are basically unemployable because they routinely smoke pot and do other drugs and can’t be relied on to show up to work and you start to understand why some employers look to hire illegal immigrants or do the right thing and apply for workers through our visa programs.

Donald Trump talks about making America Great Again. Ironically, many of these people who are caught in the middle of mediocre America are among Trump’s biggest supporters.

I don’t think we need to make America great again. America is a great country, with great natural resources, a great system of government and a great, if colorful, history.

But I do believe we should work to make Americans great again.

A country is only as good as its people. And the American people can either be our greatest resource or our biggest cost.

I personally think it is a mistake to rely on the Federal government to fix all of our problems. Most of the problems that plague the American people can and should be fixed at the local and community level. But the Federal government costs a lot of money to run and it takes a lot of resources away from local communities, so we need to acknowledge that the Feds do play a role.

How do we make Americans great again? Here are some suggestions:

  • Create a shared national purpose: My sense is that when the Soviet Union collapsed, we lost the major threat that helped to bind us together. Terrorism does not have that same impact, because the terrorist threat just doesn’t measure up to the profound challenges to our system from the Communists. But America works best when it works together. We need to create a positive message that binds this country.

  • Instill the notion of shared responsibility: We are all responsible for one another. And we need to understand that when one person rips off the system, everybody gets ripped off. The government is not a giant entity that could afford a few dollars pilfered here and there, but a common investment that we are passing off to our children and grandchildren. We steal from the government, we steal from our grandkids.

  • Preach a better appreciation for diversity: This is a big country with a lot of different opinions that go along with the different races, religions and regions of the world that we all come from. We need to respect those differences and we need to embrace them. We spend too much time in this country trying to hammer people into all believing the same things. We need to let folks live and let live more.

  • Work to revitalize our communities: One of the biggest social changes in American history was the development of America’s suburbs. Suburbia gave people bigger yards, bigger houses, longer commutes to work, and quite often a jarring retreat into isolation. The old neighborhoods were abandoned as the rich retreated to gated communities, the middle-class went from apartments to bungalows, and the poor were either stuck in the cities are exiled to the far reaches of rural America. The ties that bounded our neighborhoods were never adequately recreated in suburbia, as people would rather watch television than go bowling with their buddies. Polls show that the people who come from communities that bowl together were much less likely to vote for Donald Trump. We need to get to know our neighbors better and revitalize our communities in a far more dramatic way.

  • Encourage greater corporate responsibility: Corporate America is very responsive to shareholders, and that’s a good thing. But it needs to be more sensitive to the needs of its customers and its employees. Finding a balance is not in any way easy. But we can’t make Americans greater without the help of corporate America. Whether it is giving employees better access to benefits to take care of their families or making damn sure that their products are not hurting their customers, corporate responsibility needs to go beyond just giving to a few charities.

  • Reform government to help American families: Politicians love to talk about how families are the cornerstone of American society, but still the stress on the average family continues to mount. What can government do to help families deal with the rising costs of college education, long commutes, expensive health care, mediocre schools. How do we get more resources into the hands of parents but make sure those resources are spent efficiently?

  • Break down isolation and promote strong civic society: We don’t need to all bowl together, but we should get to know one another better. People should be incentivized to join organizations that help their communities prosper.

  • Healthy bodies; healthy minds: We all need to walk more, exercise more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, play more sports, bike more and just move more. I don’t mean to sound like Michelle Obama, but she’s right.

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