Stop Perpetuating the Myth Of American Meritocracy.
Yesterday, in honor of July 4th, Paul Ryan tweeted, “In America, there is no limit to what you can do with your life. It’s not pre-determined or government-ordained”.
I wonder if he truly believes this nonsense, or if it is propaganda for his base that can’t handle the guilt of their privilege. On the chance that Ryan truly, ignorantly, doesn’t recognize that government plays a role (shall I even go so far as to say “ordains”) many aspects of what one can and can’t do in life, this is my response:
Beginning with the Constitution, which excluded Native Americans and declared enslaved blacks as “three fifths of all other Persons”, the US government has enacted policies and laws that have had lasting implications the successes and failures of the people living within its borders. It has been documented and proven repeated that as a group Native and black Americans have substantially less wealth than their white counterparts because of the unfair hindrances US law has placed on their ability to live where they want, get an education, and consolidate and pass on wealth. “ It took 400 years of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized discrimination in the labor and housing markets to build the wealth gap that we see today. For example, by the time the Fair Housing Act made discrimination in housing illegal in 1968, people of color had missed out on decades of robust growth in the housing markets (and much of the next generation missed out on that wealth building in the 20 years it took to fully implement the law).” (https://www.thenation.com/article/the-average-black-family-would-need-228-years-to-build-the-wealth-of-a-white-family-today/)
To find a more recent example of government policies ordaining inequality, one can look to Flint, Michigan. In 2014, to reduce costs, Flint city officials changed the city’s water source to the Flint River without applying necessary corrosion inhibitors to the water. As a result between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead, a known neurotoxin that results in cognitive and behavioral deficits. Despite plenty of evidence, government officials lied and delayed rather than deal with the problem. The affected children will have deep and lasting challenges that limit what they could have done with their lives, had they not been exposed to lead due to government-ordained contamination of their water.
We also historically and continually see government-imposed inequality in education. Wealthy people can send their children to private schools. Even with the possibility of Republican-sponsored school choice legislation, private schools will be forever out of reach in areas where there are no quality private schools, or the school’s price tags remain prohibitive even with vouchers. Therefore, the average American is at the whimsy of the government when it comes to the quality of their public education. Leaving funding aside, the government meddles in the content and quality of what is taught. In districts where local government chooses to teach creationism (like Kansas did in 1999), or to deny established science (as in the new wave of laws proposed since Trump took office allowing schools to question climate change), the children passing through these science-avoidant school systems are now condemned to learn falsehoods parading as science—thereby making it unlikely they will go on to high-salary STEM careers. These are government-ordained laws that hinder what science-illiterate children can achieve.
The current ACHA “TrumpCare” bill, if passed, will ordain that some people do not get the services they need to live independent lives. As a result, the government will be guilty of ensuring that their lives become limited. A person with a physical disability that requires nursing care or specialized equipment, upon losing that equipment or care, can no longer go to work or school, and is thereby condemned to a limited future through a government action, unless they are incredibly lucky or inordinately (Stephen Hawking’s level) talented.
Paul, it is a matter of common sense that misguided or willfully evil government policies hurt the poor and middle class. If your house is destroyed in a flood, but you couldn’t have predicted that you were buying in a floodplain because in your state climate science wasn’t taught; or your medical bills are impossible to pay because your child was disabled by lead-poisoned water, and the government won’t pay for proper services for your now mentally disabled child that they, in fact, disabled through water mismanagement; and you can’t sell your house and move away because who would want to buy a house destroyed by a flood or in a SuperFund site—tell me, honestly, how the government hasn’t stacked the deck against you with policies that favor the rich and privileged? Tell me once again, how this country treats all its citizens in the same, fair and even-handed manner, and all Americans have an equal chance to succeed?
So Paul Ryan, any clear-thinking and honest person must admit that the government does indeed pass laws that either support or undermine equality. Your responsibility as a government official isn’t dodged by denying this fact. Either you create the ground for a true meritocracy, or you throw up roadblocks over and over, to consolidate power in the hands of a few who look and sound like you.