But it was left to someone outside the regular establishment to make a point that’s equally valuable yet rarely voiced in Beltway discussions. So let’s hear it for Andy Lassner, executive producer of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” who took to Twitter this past weekend to ask, “Why does America always seem to have trillions of dollars for wars, but basic things like raises for teachers, healthcare and social security are always in danger?”
Why indeed? Our failure to invest in or prioritize the safety and health of 327 million people living in the United States is also a threat to our safety and well-being — and an extreme one. More than 17 percent of children live in poverty. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Americans ages 10 to 24. Our life span is falling, with thousands of Americans dead not because of a terrorist attack, but because of a pharmaceutical industry-induced opioid epidemic
Regular readers know I have ranted before about how the United States has turned into a “can’t do” society, always seeking an excuse for why something that could help millions of people can’t be accomplished. But at the same time, somehow there is always money for the priorities of the wealthy and powerful, be they individuals, corporate interests or the military industrial complex.
No one is more practiced at this game than Republicans, who howl about the need to live within a budget when out of power, but once in control, enacted a tax reform package that sent the budget deficit surging while giving corporations and the wealthiest Americans a break. At the same time, under Trump, the military budget increased. “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World,” the president bragged on Sunday.
But at the same time, Trump’s pushed for punishing cuts on services to the indigent, such as making it harder to access SNAP benefits — better known as food stamps — and attempting to cut the number of students receiving a free or reduced cost meals at school.
This isn’t new, of course. Tupac Shakur rapped more than two decades ago, “They got money for wars, but can’t feed the poor.” As a society, we’ve been told our health and well-being are a secondary concern. The United States continues to lag in international education comparisons, but spending on public education fell during the Great Recession and in 12 states is even now below what it was in 2008 when adjusted for inflation. The American life span, as mentioned above, is falling. The typical college graduate enters adulthood with mounds of debt, owing so much money for their education it impacts everything from home buying to retirement savings.
But if you say fixing all this is of equal importance to traditional military spending, you risk getting accused of lacking patriotism, or wanting to give comfort to the enemies of the United States. That’s ridiculous. Investing in ourselves, protecting the economically vulnerable and improving our society are more than a nice add-on. It’s all important and we know it. A Ploughshares Fund poll from 2018 shows a plurality of us consider it a higher priority than policing the world. But too often we acquiesce to the status quo. It’s been a part of our lives for so long, we don’t seem to believe it’s in our power to change the dynamic. We accept it as a given. We shouldn’t. Our future depends on it.