I have been fortunate to visit dozens of countries on almost every continent on this planet, and the standard advisory when visiting any country that is part of the third world is: “don’t drink the water.” Too often the water is contaminated, unclean, unfiltered or insufficiently so, or just doesn’t rest well in a first world stomach. Tourists live off bottled water and hotels routinely provide bottled water (the good ones, for free) in every room. It is the price of visiting these countries and enjoying their other, non-potable, attractions.
Then I realized that for many years most people I know do not drink the water in New Jersey or many other places in the United States. That is why the bottled water business is a $7,000,000,000 (that’s billion) industry in America. It might not be a lot compared to other industries –it is half of what was spent on the 2020 presidential election and a third of what Americans spend on chocolate – but it means that people would rather pay good money, billions of dollars, for something that they can get for free right from the tap. There are very few, if any, similar choices made by a consumer.
What about infrastructure? It is not uncommon in the Third World to travel on potholed roads, rundown highways, and transit systems that are crowded and inefficient (although European trains are a marvel of efficiency and exactitude). Bridges and tunnels are often in disrepair and collapses are not unknown. Railroad tracks always seem to be on their last legs.
Is the United States really that different? The subways in many cities compare unfavorably with the third world. Highways, bridges and tunnels are in such need of upgrade and modernization that it is a perennial promise by the politicians to spend hundreds of billions to do it, and never do. That little seems to be done is not only because politicians need something to promise in the future and the union demands grossly inflate the cost of any project but mainly because until anything breaks down completely, why fix it? That money can be spent elsewhere on something new and shiny.
Likewise, the urban areas in third world countries are teeming with slums, old buildings and neighborhoods, and, too often, garbage and rubbish in the streets. These areas abound with dysfunctional families, aimless children, and poor educational frameworks. While the American poor have standards of living that far exceed that of the third world poor, the rest of the description is far too accurate. A slum is a slum wherever it is, and some slums seem to exist permanently. The inner cities wherever they are located remain places of high crime (and misdemeanors), homelessness, social maladies and disorders that seem to defy resolution. In the US as in the third world, there are areas of great opulence that are a short ride from places of great poverty and deprivation. The only difference is that the US has many more places of great opulence than one would find in the third world.
What else characterizes a third world country? Typically, one finds debilitated social and political systems and even the latter is often tenuously held together by a strong man. In the third world, one expect to see lawlessness, mobs and riots in the streets, with the homes and businesses of the successful looted by the unsuccessful and embittered. One would expect the commission of crimes that will or won’t be prosecuted based on the personal whims of the prosecutor. One expects the judiciary to be so corrupt that it places its political predilections over the rule of law. Justice itself is not just illusory but it is altogether capricious, a veritable gamble as to who wins and who loses. The mob drives disfavored politicians from office and places its favorites into office. The government just prints money and distributes it in order to placate the people, oblivious to the fact that soon that money will be worth less and less.
In the third world, it is quite common that the wealthy people are those who cozy up to government power brokers. Cronyism is rampant, sweetheart deals, contracts and monopolies are the norm, and politicians, oligarchs and their media acolytes are often interchangeable. There is a revolving door in which jobs and perks are exchanged regularly. The media, controlled by the elites, suppresses dissent, breaks and cancels its enemies, and sets the agenda for the society. Cabals in the establishment, usually military or intelligence, plot from within and attempt to overthrow any leader who does not conform to their wishes. Dissidents are cast out of civil society unless they do penance, often embracing views they previously found repugnant in order to regain entry into the world of the elites, and having to pay a premium price to do so. The crimes of the disfavored lead to their excision and incarceration while the crimes of the elites are overlooked, minimized or covered up. The rich and powerful get away with it.
Well, how well does that describe modern America? Almost perfectly. The mobs and rioters intimidated and continue to intimidate decent people. A good percentage of Biden voters did so out of fear that the streets would explode and burn (again) if Biden lost. These threats were not subtle in the least. Cities across America deployed their security agents in force on Election Day lest the mob find the results distasteful. (As a general rule, Republicans don’t burn down buildings or businesses. Why would they? They own the buildings and businesses.) In many cities, property crimes, assaults and trespassing committed by the mobsters were not prosecuted. Literally, people committed crimes by the thousands and got away with it only because their politics of the rioters and the prosecutors corresponded. Some rioters were arrested, released without bail, and then arrested again for more crimes, and released again. Black supremacists are disgracefully hailed even as white supremacists are justifiably castigated.
In New York City, police solve crimes at a rate below 30%, which is actually astounding. Criminals just get away with it, and the average citizen does not realize the extent to which they get away with it. Dissidents on moral issues have their religious liberties threatened and curtailed, even as the margin of victory in the Supreme Court (their last protection) is extremely narrow. Congress is as dysfunctional as any third world parliament, with the only saving grace is that Congressmen have not yet come to blows on the floor of the House or Senate, something quite common in the third world. Elements within the CIA and FBI plotted against a sitting president, and few if any will be brought to justice. Money is printed and distributed by the trillions, which is not to say it is fairly or equitably distributed, or distributed to those who need it most rather than to the oligarchs and political cronies of the powerful.
And what better characterizes a third world country than election fraud? It is almost synonymous with the third world, as is the weaselly, politician/media cliché repeatedly uttered of “no evidence of widespread fraud.” Left open is why there should be any fraud at all, as well as a precise definition of “widespread.” Note this well: if 99 ballots out of 100 are legitimate, and 1 out of 100 is bogus, then most people would not construe that as “widespread” fraud. After all, it is only 1% of the vote. Yet, in the three key states of Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan, Biden defeated Trump by less than 1% of the vote. Widespread? Hardly. Determinative? Absolutely. And if we expand the definition of “no evidence of widespread fraud” to 3% of the vote (meaning that the election was 97% honest) then crunch the numbers and Trump won a smashing victory. I accept the outcome, but please do not insult our intelligence with the vapid banality of “no widespread fraud.” And at least acknowledge as well the oddity that all accusations of fraud went in one direction, not both.
It is sad that the United States, to too great an extent, is becoming a third world country in all the aspects that define a third world country. The great irony is that, notwithstanding this political and moral collapse, only the United States could have produced the Coronavirus vaccine in such record time, and only the United States has the material and constitutional heft to lead the world, to be an example for other nations, and to fight the evil that persists in the world especially in countries antagonized by the American ethos. The United States has many places of astonishing beauty and prosperity, and successful people have long segregated themselves into communities that are gated, literally or figuratively. But Americans can also easily be fooled by the glitz, the glamour, the trappings of modernity and technology, and the soothing sounds of social media that indulge the worst facets of our nature and few of the positive ones. America is filled with soporific distractions, the bread and circuses of the Romans that lulled people into thinking that all is good and getting better even as every feature of civil society was breaking down.
As Romans could tell you, nothing lasts forever. It is easy to get complacent, and easier, and worse, to deny what is happening in front of us because the consequences are too unpleasant to consider. “All are considered blind until G-d opens their eyes,” especially diehard partisans. Those who notice this should take it to heart, ignore the mindless cheerleading and empty platitudes, and draw the appropriate conclusions.