This article stands alone but follows an earlier piece: America Has Cancer.
Cue the pandemic that laid bare the failings we’d rather ignore within our society.
When cancer spreads, it prowls the body robbing normal cells, starving them to death. Sometimes cancer is silent, but for America, her cancer has been far from silent.
Some signs, like wages too low for people to meet their needs or better health and longer lives for those with more money, are obvious, but we must look more broadly. Things ordinarily seen as part of cancer may actually be some of its earliest effects.
One fatal shootout with the FBI and another bioterrorist plot are a few examples of the dysfunction bubbling up in America today. One group of armed protestors, the Michigan Militia, started with the goal of defending civil liberties but have since drifted toward conspiracy and racism. The group does not formally embrace racism, and a researcher who studied the group found leadership condemning it.
Still, racism has flourished among members. They attracted Timothy McVeigh back in the 90s before he bombed a federal building and attended Unite the Right in 2017 where a counter-protestor was murdered. Members frequently pose with guns wearing symbols of white supremacy.
Under the stress of the pandemic, conspiracy theories and false information have joined violence and terrorism as a threat to society. Never has the public so readily believed unrealistic stories, and the number of extremists has swollen under the pandemic. Understanding what drives this is the only way to stop it.
Whether in jest or reality, the current administration has given a platform to popular alt-right conspiracy theories. A former alt-right leader explained it best saying, “There’s no question that he was a vehicle for us.”
Many of the alt-right extremists that hung their hope on Trump have grown unhappy. His lack of follow-through on his promises has disappointed them, and months ago before the parties decided nominees, some extremists jumped ship—to Andrew Yang.
You read that right.
Deaths now outnumber births among white people in more than half the states in the country. Much of this is low birth rates and white men dying from substance abuse and suicide. Our life expectancy has declined for 3 years. We need to do much more. https://t.co/zFRAkFY7FU— Andrew Yang🧢🇺🇸 (@AndrewYang) February 15, 2019
The shift isn’t so surprising when viewing extremists as another symptom of a problem. Looking at the issue as a sign of a sick society makes this 180-flip predictable. Both the President and Andrew Yang promised to break the status quo.
More than universal basic income, Andrew’s genuine care for the average American drew them. Being part of the majority hasn’t protected them from the standard of living decline. Though their struggle differs from that of minorities, the dysfunction in our nation has hurt everyone.
We’ve seen bleak circumstances pave the road to extremism before. ISIS recruited women from the west, oddly by promising them autonomy and better treatment. Islamophobia in the west left them vulnerable to the messages of extremists.
When people feel society works against them, it leaves them open to whoever convinces them they have the answer. Whether they do matters little; people only have to think they do.
What has made people so vulnerable? The current President ran on the promise of making America great again. That should be the sign people are suffering; they feel America is no longer great.
Whether the current administration could make America great again mattered little, just as it matters little when extremists make promises to potential followers.
What matters is if a person is desperate enough and many Americans are.
We die younger than people in 45 other countries: Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, Switzerland, Singapore, Spain, Italy, Australia, Channel Islands, Iceland, South Korea, Israel, Sweden, France, Malta, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Ireland, Netherlands, Guadeloupe, Luxembourg, Greece, Portugal, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Germany, United Kingdom, Réunion, Slovenia, Cyprus, the Virgin Islands, Denmark, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Qatar, Chile, Puerto Rico, Guam, Barbados, French Guiana, Maldives, Mayotte, the Czech Republic, Barbados, Curaçao, Poland, Lebanon, Estonia, and Cuba all have longer life expectancies. Nestled between Cuba and Panama — you’ll find the US.
Our health is poorer than other nations, especially considering our wealth. That’s likely to get worse. We’re seeing declines in higher education enrollment. Education is still the best chance at a livable existence, but making more money only accounted for 20% of the improvement. When people know more, they make better choices. That’s also why people who do well financially without an education don’t see the same benefit.
If people can only get an education if the potential salary justifies it, while we also work against increasing wages in pace with inflation, then we will fast become the least educated, least healthy developed nation. We should aspire to be number one in something other than suicide, obesity, preventable deaths, gun violence, and military spending.
Education means better health and economic outcomes for both mothers and children — this is true even if mothers do not work outside the home — and we’d have no teachers or social workers or public health professionals on the local level. People would no longer take jobs in public service over a private industry where they could make more.
This idea quickly falls apart. Despite this, we have intelligent people snapping this in response to concern about the consequences of this serious problem. If I propose a solution, I have a duty to have explored it to all its potential consequences. Throwing out arguments reflexively is reckless and our society is reaping poor ideas sown.
Facts matter. Informed decision-making matters.
Given that the cost of education has inflated at 8x the rate of pay since 1989, a small percentage of jobs pay enough that you can hope to buy a house and pay for your kid’s education before you die.
To put it in perspective, I had help with most of my undergraduate education, worked two jobs during to afford rent, renovated a run-down house by-hand to fund my graduate education, applied for scholarships, freelance write, sleep as little as possible to work more so I can take on less debt, and I still think about the massive debt that will crush me for years to come. If I’m not on the verge of tears as I stare into my coffee, wishing it would swallow me up like a black hole, is it truly a Monday?
Honestly, if I’m struggling this much, I don’t know how anyone makes it anymore. It’s easy to be cavalier, but I have yet to see someone in the top 10% of society quit their job, dump their investments, and live on government assistance. That this is a luxury is a lie. These words are as hollow as the center of the earth — just kidding, I got you though, right?
Circling back to Andrew Yang’s concern, I have some personal commentary on the subject. I moved to the Midwest from New York where I barely qualified as Asian — I’m biracial — to a place where people saw me differently.
Rural America stunned me with the cruelty of her racism. It still affects me today, though I don’t talk about it with anyone other than acknowledging it happened. That wasn’t all I saw, though.
I met many lower-middle-class families who could never seem to make ends meet. It is not uncommon for white, middle-aged men to commit suicide in the Midwest or turn to substance use. While they might work a job similar to their fathers or grandfathers, they live a poorer quality of life.
A second career involving education is improbable given the steep cost. These tragic ends reflect the limited options in America, where we now have the highest suicide rate in the developed world. White Americans do not have the same struggle as minorities, but not recognizing that they are suffering too has left them vulnerable to groups promising them a better future.
Humans have a tendency to need to understand and to find fault somewhere. I suspect for some it has led them—especially in areas where a Chinese-Irish child counts as diversity — to resent minorities, especially when leaders promote the idea. It’s easy to dislike a group of people you never encounter.
In the strongest terms, I condemn extremist, racist ideologies, and believe in the innate human dignity of every person. Terrorism is not excusable, but we cannot fix what we do not understand.
We can understand and not agree, and we must if we want a better future.
When I see what is happening to Asians in America, it terrifies me. Vincent Chin’s story sounds more like a current headline than one from a bygone era.
My fear leads me to anger, but I try to turn myself toward the empathy we need. I need to walk the walk. When Dr. Anthony Fauci faced protestors who despised him standing outside the NIH in 1990, he recalled: “I looked at them, and I saw people were in pain.”
PART ONE: America Has Cancer published 5/18/2020