A Manifesto for a Reborn America

If someone asked me who the most sensible environmental advocate is in the world today, I would say James Gustave (“Gus”) Speth.  He faces the abyss of our planetary situation with a hopeful and pragmatic vision.  Speth recently wrote a two-part piece focusing on the decline of the United States and its potential rebirth, “American the Possible: A Manifesto.” 

He lists some disturbing facts.  America has the following:

• the highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
• the greatest inequality of incomes;
• the lowest social mobility;
• the lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
• the worst score on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index;
• the highest expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP, yet all this money accompanied by the highest infant mortality rate, the highest prevalence of mental health problems, the highest obesity rate, the highest percentage of people going without health care due to cost, the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita, and the shortest life expectancy at birth;
• the next-to-lowest score for student performance in math and middling performance in science and reading;
• the highest homicide rate;
• the largest prison population in absolute terms and per capita;
• the highest carbon dioxide emissions and the highest water consumption per capita;
• the lowest score on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (except for Belgium) and the largest ecological footprint per capita (except for Denmark);
• the lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of national income (except for Japan and Italy);
• the highest military spending both in total and as a percentage of GDP; and
• the largest international arms sales.

Speth provides a diagnosis of the values that support this sad state. “Dominant American values today are strongly materialistic, anthropocentric, and contempocentric.”  But like Wallace Stevens saying that a “yes” comes after the final “no,” Speth is hopeful and affirmative: 

 In the end it all comes down to the American people and the strong possibility that we still have it in us to use our freedom and our democracy in powerful ways to create something fine, a reborn America, for our children and grandchildren. We can realize a new American Dream if enough of us join together in the fight for it. This new dream envisions an America where the pursuit of happiness is sought not in more getting and spending, but in the growth of human solidarity, real democracy, and devotion to the public good; where the average American is empowered to achieve his or her human potential; where the benefits of economic activity are widely and equitably shared; where the environment is sustained for current and future generations; and where the virtues of simple living, community self-reliance, good fellowship, and respect for nature predominate. These American traditions may not prevail today, but they are not dead. They await us, and indeed they are today being awakened across this great land. New ways of living and working, sharing and caring are emerging across America. They beckon us with a new American Dream, one rebuilt from the best of the old, drawing on the best of who we were and are and can be.  

 Speth is calling for a new politics driven by a new dream.  The second part of the article goes into more detail about this vision of a new American Dream.  “Our best hope for real change is a movement created by a fusion of people concerned about environment, social justice, true democracy, and peace into one powerful progressive force. We have to recognize that we are all communities of a shared fate.”




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