Amollo: For America, it’s time charity started at home

Benson Amollo

In her book “The Virtue of Selfishness,” Ayn Rand extols the unspoken successes that come with minding oneself before all else. That way, she opines in her peculiar libertarian fashion, we are bound to fail in our pursuit to support a cause removed from our own if we don’t begin by patching up ourselves first. In plain language, you can only extend much help when you could use some yourself.

Taken in contemporary context in the case of the United States, one ponders whether the world’s lone but weary superpower could herself use some help, rather than continue to stretch her generosity to other countries. Should America be more concerned about the rest of the world’s “well-being” ahead of the welfare of her own citizens? It’s quite a politically incorrect question.

Whilst America’s two-party dictatorship remains entangled in a vile ideological warfare over the control of government, the ideologues themselves have yet to realize the need to rethink the government’s priorities. At present, 25 percent of the government’s spending goes for military defense. And, despite her foundering economy, the United States extends more aid to the developing world than any other first world country. This, while America’s economic, political and social segregation continue to engulf huge sections of the population. This, while America continues on the wrongheaded path of the most glaring inequalities, impoverishing the majority of once a great society.

So, one may ask, how does a society the envy of so many across the world be failing her own? Isn’t this the “land of the free” and the place where “all men are created equal” and in which hard work will deliver success to any person irrespective of their background? Is America really failing? In the mind of most Americans, these questions are as abstract as the sheer thought that help would be needed much at home.

The trick lies in the American brand that has done a perfect job of making Americans believe that despite their tribulations, they are still ahead of the pack. That anywhere else is hell. That our sense of gratitude should be a giving one because we are the most endowed of all mankind. Yet this rosy image of a progressive and “post-racial” America — a thriving meritocracy — reeks hollow on closer scrutiny.

Why should America be engaged in “fixing” the rest of the “broken” world when those energies could help heal the social divide here at home? The world the United States, is bent on “fixing” has been led to believe in a perfect union of states, thriving in harmony and lacking in any predicaments. Yet each group has a completely different social reality to live in. Black and white populations lead separate lives within the same cities and precincts all over the country. A 2009 study by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California showed that 39 percent of Black and 40 percent of Hispanic youths across the country attend acutely segregated schools — thanks to residential segregation and housing discrimination. These same groups of minorities are also choking the numbers behind bars.

And even with President Barack Obama’s historic electoral victory in 2008, America is still a place where, according to recent Census Bureau data, a black family is more than twice as likely as a white one to live in poverty. A land which so stresses equality of opportunity ought not to be one where the share of aggregate income for the lowest earning 20 percent of society is 3.4 percent of the total, or where social mobility levels are low by comparison to the rest of the developed world. It ought not to be the case that, even as it prides itself as the harbinger of justice and defender of humanity, there still lies troubling evidence of poverty right from the nation’s seat of power. An estimated 20 percent of the population of Washington lives below the poverty line, mere blocks from the Capitol building.

Given the glaring inequalities, perhaps it is time that the American government stopped playing “world police” and started devoting more of its resources to its own citizens. The Obama administration’s defense spending that goes to sustain the country’s unnecessary military bases across the world gets the lion’s share of government budget. While military spending gets up to 25 percent of the budget, only 12 percent of the budget is earmarked for welfare as education gets only 3 percent.

But as I look at America’s ordering of her priorities and insisting on going to wars unwarranted, I’m thinking maybe the war on poverty should find a way of becoming one real ugly war. Because, apparently, that’s the only language that gets some attention from the government.