If you tuned into Fox News, you might think the only thing voters care about is building Trump’s big, beautiful wall all along our southern border. If you switch over to CNN, all they want to talk about is the Mueller investigation and impeaching the president. There are many other pressing issues out there; the media is reluctant to talk about them.
A Fox News poll taken in December showed registered voters have a variety of concerns, and a border wall and impeachment are not at the top of their list. (See table.) Health care, political divisiveness and opioid abuse ranked one, two and three respectively. Yet these issues receive scant attention from the pundits and talking-heads.
It appears to me that there is a pattern to which issues get discussed and which get ignored. Some issues are of more concern to liberals than conservatives (for example, climate change, sexual harassment and gun laws). These are the issues the liberal media focuses on; other issues are primarily a concern for Trump’s base (for example, illegal immigration and migrant caravans), and these are what the conservative media focuses on. If an issue is non-ideological, non-polarizing and of broad concern for many, well, it’s not going to receive much coverage from the media because it won’t push their ratings.
Here are some issues I am concerned about, but that the media largely overlooks.
Social Security: The Social Security Administration recently reported that for the first time in 35 years, the retirement benefits paid out from the Social Security Trust Fund each month exceeded the tax revenues and interest that fund the program. By 2034, the agency estimated, it will have depleted its reserves, and its revenues will cover only four-fifths of its promised benefits. The liberal solution: tax the rich. The Trump solution: expel illegal immigrants who collect benefits but whose employers do not contribute to the Social Security fund. The reality is that in the future, seniors are likely to be required to work longer for fewer benefits.
The federal debt: Republicans used to fight against raising the debt ceiling. But in the last fiscal year, the federal budget deficit rose to $779 billion; it is expected to exceed $1 trillion dollars next year. Cutting taxes while increasing government spending and then borrowing money from the Saudis and Chinese to pay the federal government’s bills is not the way to make America great. We are the world’s largest debtor nation. Interest on our national debt is the fourth largest item in the federal budget, and it could reach half a trillion dollars next year. This drives up interest rates, stifles our economy and makes us dependent on other countries.
Our failing public schools: America’s colleges and universities are still considered the best in the world, and over a million foreign students come here to study each year. But our public elementary and secondary schools are not faring so well. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development recently said that our public schools are “expensive, unequal, and bad at math.” This assessment was based on American student performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012. Far East countries such as China, Korea, and Japan were top performers, while most European and Scandinavian countries ranked higher than the U.S. as well. Even the country’s former Cold War competitor, the Russian Federation, ranked higher than the United States in the assessment.
Our crumbling infrastructure: most of our ports, airports and transportation and communication networks are outdated and in poor shape. All that money the federal government borrows from overseas? It goes to pay for transfer payments, not infrastructure that could help grow our economy. The railroads made America a leading economic power from 1850 to 1950, and then our highways and automobiles took over to make us the envy of the world. We are still creating the technology that powers the global economy, but we are not using it ourselves.
Health care: Many Americans now consider free health care a “right,” and President Trump seemingly endorsed this notion when he claimed that he would replace Obamacare with something even better that would take care of everyone. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus in Washington. But what Trumpcare is going to look like and who is going to pay for it are still not clear. And the media is not shedding any light on the issue, which is making many people nervous.
The opioid crisis: A total of 72,000 people died last year from drug overdoses. And this is just the tip of the substance abuse iceberg. Supporters of a border wall seem to believe it will end our drug problem, but I am very skeptical of that. The problem is more deeply-rooted: America has developed a drug culture. If your child is not doing well in school, there are drugs for that. If you are depressed, there are drugs for that, too. If your eyes are dry, your energy level is low or you are overweight, there are drugs to fix all those afflictions. Sexual problems? There are pills to take care of that, too. Which are the good drugs and the bad ones? It’s hard for a teenage kid to tell. This is not a problem the government can solve for us; we have to fix it ourselves through our families, our faith and our community organizations.
I could go on and on about our problems; there is no shortage of them. But there appears to be a shortage of political leaders willing to work together to solve these problems — or even to talk about them. Civil discourse — when people actually listen to one another — has broken down. We are no longer the United States of America; we are the divided red and blue states of America and our polarized media are playing a role in this divisiveness. Winning elections has become all about energizing one’s base and getting them to the polls by making them believe the opponent is evil incarnate.
If America is to remain a great nation, we must have a shared vision of who we are and what we want to become.