From 2008-2009, I lived in St. Petersburg, Russia. In doing so, I gained insight into what it is like to live in a "kleptocratic authoritarian" society - a society that is ruled by Putin and all of the wealthy men of Russia, who were forced to buy their way into office or face exile, jail, and their wealth or businesses taken away. Corruption rules in this country, there are few industry regulations and even fewer safety nets.
What a second, this sounds a little familiar... For years, Republicans have been crying for less regulation on industry, and to privatize social security and medicare. Now that Trump has been elected, they seem to be on a path to making those things happen. Trump's appointments thus far have been wealthy men who stand to profit greatly from their positions, while the American people stand to see fewer regulations protecting the environment and the economy from industry practices that bring lots of money to the people at the top, but at the expense of everyone else.
And Republicans in Congress are making plans to cut social security and medicaid benefits, and entirely repeal Obamacare. What does it look like in a country that has few safety nets? Take a look:
Babushki (old women) are everywhere. Some may get a small pension, but it is not enough to live on. So they spend the last years of their life walking the streets, begging for money or busking. This particular woman had very advanced glaucoma - totally treatable, but the treatment was not available to her. My host mother told me that there are many more old women than men, because so many boys died during the war.
This is what a de-regulated environment looks like. Mmm, can't you just smell the fresh air? Hope you don't have asthma...
Lack of building codes means that the exteriors of buildings are allowed to crumble and fall off. The netting is to prevent it from hitting the people walking on the sidewalks below. My host mother told me that one time a balcony fell off the side of a building right in front of her as she was going about her business, walking on the sidewalk!
Where does Russia beat America? Education. Russia's primary and secondary education are completely free, and college is mostly free. They have the world's second highest rate of college grads and their higher education system is ranked 3rd in the world by Bloomberg. Not only is education highly prized culturally, but especially during the Cold War, the government wanted as many educated people as possible making technological advances. Here in America, college student go dramatically into debt (after paying for some medical expenses not covered by my health insurance and with accrued interest, I am in over $100,000 for my college education.
And the Republicans in the Senate have been talking about voucherizing and charterizing the entire education system for years. Not only that, but they think the solution to paying for higher education is to create savings plans. Okay, well, my mom managed to save... I think it was $2000... for my college education, and she started saving when I was in first grade. Savings plan do less than nothing for poor people, because when it comes down to it, are you going to put that $20 in your savings plan this month or are you going to buy some food for your kids, or pay for rent or heating? Doesn't take a genius to figure that one out.
Unless the Republicans are planning on putting money into the college savings plans for poor kids, it will be just another way to keep poor people poor and too distracted by daily concerns to put up a fight.
So, as an American I say we take care of one another, provide health care to everyone in our society and make sure that people of retirement age can be sure they will have enough money to make it. Let's not become friends with a Russian dictator and change our country to be more like them. Okay? I like the protections that Democratic leaders have instituted over the years... Social Security, Medicaid, Obamacare, the EPA (which solved the silent spring and acid rain problems). Let's keep our air and water clean and do everything we can to mitigate global climate change. Let's make sure everyone gets an education and is prepared to make a living in the 21st century. Let's look to a future where we all lift one another up... because if we go back now, we will be talking about the days that we used to have an educated population, health care for the most needy, social security for those ready to retire, drinkable water and breathable air as the good old days.