Viewpoint: USA tumbles from Top 20 ‘Happiest Nations on Earth’

Viewpoint: USA tumbles from Top 20 ‘Happiest Nations on Earth’
Karen Rubin, Columnist

The dictator wannabe insurrectionist Donald Trump, whose entire political modus operandi is based on fomenting hate, violence and terror, can’t understand why only migrants from “s—hole” countries are desperate to come to the USA, but few are clamoring to emigrate from “nice” countries like Denmark, Switzerland or Finland.

In fact, for these “nice” countries, which have universal health care (the U.S. is the only one out of 33 industrialized nations without it), paid parental leave and affordable child care, prescription drugs at a fraction of what Americans pay,  gun control, clean energy, women’s rights and affordable college, the United States is the “s—hole” country.

The USA tumbled out of the Top 20 in the 2024 World Happiness Report for the first-time in the report’s 12-year history – falling from 15th to 23rd, just a year ago.

That’s despite record employment (the longest stretch of unemployment below 4% since the 1960s), rising wages (exceeding inflation), the first time in decades that people can choose to quit a dead-end job for a better one, and the fact the U.S. economy is growing twice as fast as in any other G7 country this year. And for the first time in generations, we have a president who is not only committed to policies that bring economic, environmental, social, political and criminal justice for all, but is implementing them.

In fact, even though the answer to that perennial election year question, “Are you better off than four years ago?” is an unqualified “yes”  (when COVID was killing 1,000 people a week and 30 million lost their jobs and were in fear of losing their homes as well), holistically people do not feel better off and feel their world view is shaky.

“Do you know what the 22 countries ranked ahead of the U.S. in happiness all have in common?,” Melanie Darrigo quipped on Threads. “Universal healthcare. Turns out people are happier when they don’t have to choose between food and seeing a doctor.’

Republicans call the things that make people in other countries happy “Communism” and are chomping at the bit to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act.   They also want to reverse the bulk of Biden’s investments in clean energy infrastructure and environmental protection regulations, rolling back limits on credit card fees and junk fees and making the wealthiest pay their fair share of taxes, so they can make permanent Trump’s $2 trillion tax-giveaway to the richest individuals and corporations.

It doesn’t help that the Doomsday Clock is now at 90 seconds to midnight — the closest ever to apocalypse, that the Earth is still warming, oceans are overheating, supersized climate disasters are more frequent, bringing death, destruction, flood, famine, drought.

Or that wherever you look, authoritarian wannabes are succeeding at replacing the Rule of Law, democracy and international order with the medieval “golden rule:” Might Makes Right.

And yet when you examine the primary sources of the high anxiety — political violence, gun violence, lost reproductive freedom, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, a resurgence of violent protests — what do these things have in common? They are actually all choices. All human-caused. All manufactured, if you will, calculated to make people anxious, vulnerable, fearful, feeling out of control, expanding the gap between haves and have-nots. These threats are calculated to make the public look to an authoritarian who promises to wave a wand and make everything better. Except that we’ve seen what Fascism looks like and feels like, and only have to be reminded of it.

Republicans are on a tear to reverse all the progress so hard won through the entire 20th century –- all the things that have made our lives better, made us feel optimistic about the future. They are actually passing laws to repeal Biden’s climate actions, Obama’s Affordable Health Care. They have put the kibosh on affirmative action (that was the practical, moral alternative to paying reparations to correct centuries of systemic racism) and DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion). They even want to reverse laws that protect election workers from intimidation and harassment.

There is a sense that there is no justice, no fairness in the universe, that evil is triumphing over what is good and decent. You can’t feel secure in any of the rights won, as 170 million American women have discovered, or policies implemented. There is a national malaise, even depression, increased anxiety and fear, and people feel literally off-balance as the country, if not the world, seems to have gone off-kilter. A little Alice in Wonderland. A lot Orwell.

People were happier when our culture since the 1960s had been making progress , moving toward a Golden Age of inclusivity and acceptance, of collaboration and community. We used to speak of “political correctness.” We used to have companies and colleges with active diversity programs. We used to have a government which compromised to find consensus and, yes, forged progress.

We had achieved a decent level of openness to ideas and communication, of opening perspectives and vistas, of appreciation for other cultures, of compromise. Traveling to learn about how other people live was considered a value.

Somehow hate speech has become the pinnacle of “free speech.” We have disintegrated into banning books and banning history, replacing critical thinking with banning critical race theory, and retreating back into the isolationist nonsense of “American Exceptionalism” while demeaning “globalism” as “elitist” (whatever that means).

What we are witnessing is a cultural sea change, as if the rushing tide of progress is being reversed just as we were so close to achieving what we claim are our ideals.

While Republican candidate and dictator wannabe Trump promises retribution, carnage, and to end democracy and the Rule of Law, President Biden loves to recount how he responded to the Chinese premier who asked him to define the United States in one word: “Possibilities.”

And how Biden loves to end his speeches saying, “I've never been more optimistic about our future. We just have to remember who we are — with patience and fortitude, with one heart.  We are the United States of America, for God's sake. There is nothing beyond our capacity if we act together and decently with one another. We're the only nation in the world that’s come out of every crisis stronger than we went into that crisis.  That was true yesterday and it’s true today, and I guarantee you will be true tomorrow.”

Biden’s task is to get the nation back on that track.

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