Is 2020 the Year the American Dream Ends?

Unrest in Minneapolis over the May 25th death of George Floyd. [[File:2020 Minneapolis Unrest – 49953744417.jpg|thumb|2020 Minneapolis Unrest – 49953744417]]

2020 will definitely be a year written down in the history books. Events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, the 2020 election (and maybe even more to come) all show that 2020 is one of the most eventful years in the recent history of not only America, but mankind as well. This year is definitely impacting countries all around the globe, but the spotlight is shining right on the United States. The U.S. was hit hard with both the COVID-19 pandemic and the BLM Movement. On top of that, 2020 is an election year, which makes almost everything our government does a political move. The events which transpired in 2020 and the way the United States handled these events will tarnish the country’s reputation as the hegemony of the world for  many years to come.

Coronavirus, a highly infectious respiratory virus, has uprooted almost all of our lives. During the months of December – February, the coronavirus was hardly mentioned in our country. America acted as if nothing could touch them. This overconfidence, as we all know, very quickly turned into neglect, and finally into fear. As of June 2020, there have been a confirmed number of 2.14 million cases and 117,000 deaths in the United States attributed to Covid-19. Other countries have nowhere near the amount of cases and deaths we have; even densely populated countries like India and China are doing much better than us. So, what exactly did we do wrong? 

First of all, we weren’t prepared to handle a crisis like this, mostly because we didn’t have any experience handling this type of crisis in our recent past. A country which did a great job at handling the outbreak was South Korea. When the virus broke into the U.S. and almost everywhere around the world (March – April), testing was the first-hand priority of every country. The United States struggled with testing, while South Korea was already sending out testing kits for people to do at their own homes. In mid-March, the U.S. and South Korea had the same number of coronavirus-caused fatalities—approximately 90, but in April, South Korea lost a total of 85 souls to COVID-19, while the U.S. lost 62,000. Though the population of the U.S. is six times greater than South Korea, a very wide margin is still there between the two nations. However, it’s not just that the U.S. was extremely inferior to the leaders of South Korea, but South Korea had experience dealing with this situation before. In 2015, a viral respiratory infection called MERS caused an outbreak in South Korea. The virus spread quickly, with the majority of it spreading in hospitals. After the outbreak, South Korea decided to change their laws in order to be better prepared for a situation like this, and they were exactly right in doing so.

Another problem the U.S. had in responding to the coronavirus was the seriousness and aggressiveness they attacked the virus with. The country where the virus appeared, China, had a very low number of cases despite its population and population density being much higher than America (though there are reports which believe the numbers are low balled by the Chinese government). Despite those reports, it does make sense why these case numbers are so low. China immediately locked their cities down, with Wuhan being the first city locked down on January 23.  In our case, President Donald Trump did not seem in full support of a lockdown, which may have put more citizens in danger. A study by Columbia University estimated that around 83% of deaths could have been avoided if measures had been taken two weeks earlier around March 1st. Even New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who was one of the first governors to place a lockdown on their state, said,

If this country knew more and knew it earlier we could have saved many more lives.

Along with this deadly pandemic, another major event was (and is still currently) taking place: the Black Lives Matter movement. While the movement had existed for nearly a decade before 2020, it surged in popularity in 2020. On May 25, 2020, a 46 year old man in Minneapolis named George Floyd died at the hands of a police officer. All the unrest which had built up in the black community about police brutality and racism had finally come to light, like a volcano sitting over the years waiting to finally explode. Protests demanding police accountability broke out all across the world, but along with peaceful protests, there were also riots and lootings. Athletes, musicians, politicians and more all had words to say about this movement. However, the thing which makes this situation so complicated is that there aren’t just two viewpoints here. The situation basically creates four general parties: protesters, rioters, police, and politicians.

Although the BLM movement is taking place all over the world, the United States is where it has been its strongest. These protests were bound to happen due to the country’s history. Striving to end slavery, abolitionists with President Lincoln sparked a change in the country, causing the country to divide and eventually break out into a Civil War. Years later, Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists made a change in the civil rights of African Americans. Both times, peaceful protests and violence were both there. If the BLM movement continues to surge, it will take place as another major event for the equality of African Americans. America has to handle this in the right way in order to allow little to none violence and to bring the country together.

The politicians are where the change has to start. Politicians run this country, and lately, they have been doing a terrible job. To start first on a smaller scale: the governors of states have to end the looting and riots, but in a careful manner, so that the police don’t look worse in harming people. According to Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analyst Meyer Shields,

the losses (the damage from riots) will combine with losses related to COVID-19 claims and property damage from a predicted above-average hurricane season to amount to a ‘capital event’ for some reinsurers.

Also, during the fall months, masks may also become a necessity with the threat of another COVID-19 spike. However, the protesters and those supporting the BLM movement also have to understand some things in the long run for America.

[[File:Man exchanges words with police outside the 3rd precinct (49945992677).jpg|thumb|Man exchanges words with police outside the 3rd precinct (49945992677)]]

The human mind is a very free-willing and independent creature. A regular person can think of the most atrocious ideas in the world, but it will never matter because it is his own thoughts. The important thing to remember is to let your brain think some more of the different outcomes before you do every idea which pops in your head. The same idea can be used with regards to racism. Racism and bias will always be there in every mind all around the world. However, it is very important for a person to not let those bad thoughts spread further than your own atmosphere. Especially for a job like a police officer, bias can’t be the thought process behind your actions, like Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd. Another thought is that there was no racist act done by Derek Chauvin. If it was a white woman or an Asian male, would it still have been a racist act? The bottom line is that the action never should’ve taken place, which is what America needs to fix to get back on top. 

Politics, as we already talked about, are a major component of running this country. In order for the United States to reclaim their title on the world, a strong leader has to be able to connect with the black community and support the BLM movement while also standing with the police. The position which gives a person the most support for this to happen is the president. Times are different now, which makes it very unlikely for a leader with no political power to step up, like Martin Luther King or Malcom X. The most important power a president has is the name itself. However, the two major candidates up for election, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, don’t have what it takes to fill that role.

Donald Trump has already shown he shouldn’t be re-elected for another term. Just focusing on his actions in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic should’ve been addressed weeks before he took action. He also gave the impression of continuously undermining this pandemic with words, like

It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle—it will disappear,

and his actions, such as not wearing a mask in public. He’s also stated that there will be no lockdown or any type of action taken if there is a second coronavirus spike. The problem is that if he thinks and acts this way, a lot of his followers do too, which allows the pandemic to grow. Also, we all know the endless ridiculous statements he has made over the years. But a major takeaway any person can see from just one speech of President Trump is that he’s ignorant and rude to anyone who disagrees with him. A leader like this will not bring the country together, but will only divide it even more.

Joe Biden is also not a candidate fit to lead this country out of the hole it has dug itself into. One of the major reasons for this is the notorious 1994 crime law, which Joe Biden helped write and majorly supported. The 1994 crime law was a way for Democrats to address the rising high crime and violence. There were some beneficial acts the crime law had, like the Violence Against Women Act, to provide more resources on domestic violence and rape, and a provision to help fund background checks for guns. However, what it really did was hurt African Americans disproportionality when it came to sentencing and trials. One thing the law did was impose harsh new penalties for justice-involved youth. According to the Center for American Progress,

The crime bill allowed prosecutors to charge 13-year-old children as adults for certain crimes. As a result, today, two-thirds of Americans who were sentenced to life in prison as juveniles are black.

Joe Biden is still in agreement with this law and brings it up many times to promote his campaign, which still shows his “tough on crime” attitude, and that doesn’t boil over well to the BLM movement and their community. Either Joe Biden or Donald Trump will be our next president, which means four years of the U.S. being number 2 or 3 or even worse in the world compared to other countries like China or South Korea. If Joe Biden is voted president, and a strong republican cannot compete with Biden, then another four years goes by for American citizens. This cycle will keep happening unless a president comes into office with the mindset of tackling these issues head on and no longer depending on failed tradition.

The dominance of the United States will undoubtedly be shaken after 2020, but it’s not just the events of 2020 which will ruin the supremacy of the country. The U.S. has been making major mistakes since it claimed its spot as the global hegemon after World War 2. The events of 2020 just show the mistakes the country has been making over and over and over again: poor leadership and racism. These next few years may also have people thinking of restructuring the U.S. government, which may be the change America needs. Nonetheless, the United States will definitely be paying the price for these mistakes and so will its citizens.

Politicians Go Pop: The Rise of Pop Politics

pop politics

Oh, pop politics is so avant-garde!

Our nation is moving toward a phenomenon we can understand as “pop politics”. We are seeing our political culture and our popular culture merge in ways it never has before, resulting in new and problematic attitudes regarding important issues faced by our country.

During the 2013 People’s Choice Awards, host Kaley Cuocco announced to viewers that 475 million people participated in voting for the show’s award winners. That is 3 times more than the amount of people who voted in the 2012 presidential election. Cuocco went on to say that according to a loophole in the Electoral College, our new president should be Taylor Swift. Although no such loophole exists, what does exist is our country’s growing need to be entertained, even when facing issues that we wouldn’t normally perceive as needing to have an “entertainment value”. The tidal wave of pop politics has reached our shores.

Related Article: An End to the Electoral College

pop politics

Those moobs are hypnotizing…

Although we may ‘never ever ever’ seriously consider a ‘Swift 2016” presidential campaign, the idea of pop-culture icons having a place in the political world is nothing new.  What is new, however, is the amount of pop-culture we are continually saturated with, and how this saturation is affecting the way we relate to political and social issues.

According to Nielson Ratings, the first presidential debate between President Barrack Obama and republican challenger Mitt Romney drew in 67.2 million viewers, the most viewers for the first of the three debates since 1980.

Who would have thought that Romney’s attack on Big Bird and Obama’s nap could make for such riveting T.V.? But pop politics strikes again, and that’s what we remember, and that’s what viewers unconsciously tune in to see. The slips ups, the mishaps, we watch the debates and discuss them with the same “omg tone” that we use when discussing the latest elimination on American Idol.

Consequently, due to pop politics, the line between what is important and what we keep in our lives for entertainment value has become increasingly distorted. This distortion is problematic as pop politics becomes more important than regular politics.

Related Article: Team Red=Team Blue, the Syria Episode

According to a Pew Center for the People and Press study published in September 2012, those in the 18-to-29 age demographic are the biggest consumers of satire and entertainment, but score the lowest for consumption of news and factual information. Our pop-culture has always had fun at the expense of politics, but due to the new and overly pervasive nature of our popular culture, our country faces a crisis of changing priorities.

pop politics

No one.

A change in priorities to the tune of pop politics doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. For example, when my favorite reality show comes on, I always make sure I stop whatever I’m doing so I can watch it. My favorite reality TV show is the presidential debates. I loved the part during the last episode when Romney talked about having binders full of women, but I think my favorite part was when Obama got all aggressive and told Candy Crawly to check the transcript. If the evening’s twitter feed was any indication, my favorite parts were pretty much the same as everyone else’s favorite parts. Seemingly, pop politics affords an incentive for staying up to date with politics.

However, while all of the commentary was entertaining, did anyone remember what they actually debated? This is part of what contributes to our larger issue. This new pop politics method of political participation runs the risk of causing us to base our vote not on what really matters, but on the superficial aspects of each candidate that our popular culture encourages us to focus on.

During an October 2012 broadcast on National Public Radio, author and television critic Bob Mondello argued that,

We have spent the last decade training the public to watch contests on television and then vote.  American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, they all start with a field of candidates who compete against each other and then the TV audience determines who’s won.

The debates are set up similarly to reality competition shows. In both situations we are encouraged to watch for the purpose of reacting, but in only one situation does our reaction have the power to impact our paychecks, jobs, and personal liberties. The debates have always been set up this way, but only in the last 15 years have we experienced this onslaught of competition reality television.

Related Article: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Are the World’s Biggest Liars: Fact

Now, we talk about debate performance, but not the issues debated on, and performance is what our culture has been conditioned to remember. Were they smiling or smirking? On a scale of Paul Ryan to Marco Rubio, how much water did each of them drink? Why do we care? As Mondello goes on to state,

We’ve left serious political discourse and entered White House Idol territory.

pop politics

America’s most cherished educators.

Could it be that pop politics has left our minds warped? Now all of this isn’t to say that satire and social media are negative additions to society’s political conversation.  In a 2009 survey conducted by the USC Annenburg School of Communication and Journalism,

Those individuals who got their news from sources like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were actually the most informed individuals in the survey.

This makes sense because the jokes in these shows aren’t funny if you don’t know what they’re talking about. While shows based on satire shouldn’t be the only tool we use for information, they are a great stepping stone to get the public engaged in issues that really matter.  Thanks to technology, we have many avenues of information available to us, but we need to make sure we are choosing the source of the information wisely, and not solely based on the pop politics trap.

If you get your news mostly from conservative or liberal centered news sources, why not change the channel or open another internet window and check out what a news source from the other side has to say? Better yet, read anything and everything you can get your hands on for a more well-rounded view on the issues.

pop politics

A natural born leader.

In addition, we need to remain cognizant of the line between the things we say to poke fun at candidates, and the comments the candidates actually make. For example, Tina Fey’s impersonation of 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, made quips like, “I can see Russia from my house” part of the cultural lexicon. Unfortunately, many Americans actually believed that Sarah Palin had said those words.

Related Article: TVs, Brains, and Zombies Oh My: TV’s Effect on the Mind

As in the case of Tina Fey and Sarah Palin, we may misunderstand information that has the power to change our entire perception of the candidate. We need to pay attention to what the candidates actually say and believe, and then we can listen to all the satire we want without fear of being misinformed. We will be able to embrace “pop politics” and make our new cultural reality something that works for us, not against us.

As we reflect back on the role pop-culture plays in our political consciousness, here is one last thing to consider. A January 4th 2013 petition posted on the official white house website is calling for the Obama Administration to authorize a recurring C-SPAN reality show featuring Vice President Joe Biden and his interactions with elected officials, foreign dignitaries, and everyday American families.  Personally, I think this all sounds like a bunch of malarkey, but it certainly proves that the relationship between politics and popular culture has reached a new level. As the 2016 election season approaches and political parties consider who they want to represent them, the best choice to me seems pretty clear: vote Biden/Swift 2016.