Merriam-Webster defines ‘Dignity’ as the ‘Quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed’. With dignity, comes respect.
There are certain things we all need in order to have dignity. It starts with enough food to eat and clean water to drink. In the world we know, dignity also requires having safe and comfortable shelter as well as a modicum of privacy. To all of that, I would also add access to education, and quality healthcare.
Dignity and respect go hand in hand. Without these basic needs, it is still possible to hold up one’s head in a dignified way and command respect, but it’s not common.
In a society worthy of its citizens, public policy is designed to assure that all citizens have the basic necessities that are the foundation of human dignity.
Many of the European nations are built around public policy that offers all their citizens something well beyond the basic requirements. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, and France, and some others provide free healthcare, free university education, and a very robust safety net.
In the U.S., we’ve lost our way. In the U.S., the top 1% of people own 82% of the wealth. In the U.S., politics are rigged to allow legalized bribery. In the U.S., banks and corporations are considered ‘people’ with the same rights of living ‘flesh and blood’ citizens. In the U.S., money is considered a form of speech, which means the power is all in the hands of wealthy elites, who can use their deep pockets to buy the politicians and the public policy they want. In the U.S., ‘he who has the money makes the rules’. According to the monied elite, healthcare is a privilege, not a right. Education, even at the elementary level, is being squeezed to allow tax cuts for the already rich. In the America we know, an advanced education is no longer a lock for success, but it may well be a prescription for lifelong debt. In the U.S., a large share of the population is now surviving, paycheck to paycheck. At the same time, the government safety net, if you lose your job, has been shredded by congressional conservatives.
These days, the Federal government is in the hands of elected officials, who trade favor for money from the rich and powerful. Congress serves these special interests by making public policy that jeopardizes the dignity of the vast majority of our citizens. Among so many other things, our corrupt elected officials strip away long standing regulations to boost profits for their rich benefactors. They work to shred the social safety net that ever more citizens depend on. They do it so they can give tax cuts directed mostly to people who are already wealthy. Pitting the rich and powerful against average citizens is a disgrace and a perversion of the fundamental role of government, which is, or should be, to assure a minimum level of dignity for every citizen.
Portland, Oregon, my city, is a great place to live. Unfortunately, thousands of people in Portland are homeless, living on the streets, struggling to survive. Portland’s once vibrant downtown is over run with homeless people. Many more homeless people live on the streets or in public spaces around the city. We are all diminished when large numbers of our fellow planetary citizens lose their dignity, struggling to survive .
Our government has lost its way. It needs to marginalize the influence of money on our politics, and get back into the business of serving the common good and doing what it can to assure that all of its citizens are able to live with dignity.