Of course, the United States is the land of opportunities, but for whom? The United States is the place where the son of a Cuban immigrant can become the richest person in the world, or a college student with an innovative application can become a mega billionaire. But not everyone is Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg. Those are exceptional people.
If you are an average person driving a truck, chances are that you will spend your life trying to make ends meet. The world is fascinated by American exceptionalism. However, the system is exceptional for exceptional people, but not for the average Joe. Unfortunately, the majority of people in this world and in the United States are average and not exceptional.
Of course, there is the American dream, but the question is how many people can live it? Though the United States is the world's superpower, with the most important military and largest economy in the globe, it lags behind in many aspects. U.S. News & World report published a study compiled by BAV group, a unit of global marketing communication company VMLY&R and the Wharton school of the University of Pennsylvania. The report ranks the best countries in 2019 for the quality of life. It looks at several factors, such as access to food, housing, education and healthcare and employment, as well as intangibles such as job security, political stability, individual freedom and environmental quality. While Canada, the United States' neighbor ranked first, the United States ranked 17th. Canada has a much smaller GDP, and does not have a sizable military arsenal, nor the importance the United States has on the global scene -- nonetheless, the average person enjoys much better standards of living.
Blue-collar white Americans and the rust belt states voted for Donald Trump because they were facing an existential threat. They lost their jobs due either to off-shoring or to immigrant flow or to automation. With each phase of industrial or technological revolution, jobs are lost and new jobs are created. The Luddites, the English workers at the wake of the industrial revolution, destroyed the machines because they thought they will take their manual weaving jobs.
However, the children of the Luddites enjoyed better economic conditions because of technological advancement. The problem today is that those forgotten workers do not see a better future for their children. On the contrary, they see their children succumbing to the same fate as theirs. Unable to provide a better future for their offspring, the American dream seems elusive for a large chunk of citizens.
The first problem is basic education. The Program for International Student Assessment, an initiative sponsored by members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, tests students' reading and math skills, among others. The research that evaluates the performance of 15-year-olds across various countries showed very unimpressive results in basic education when it comes to American students. The United States ranked 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.
While the United States lags behind in basic education, it ranks first in higher education. This creates a big domestic problem for average people who can't afford private schooling. The government is unable to provide every American family with free basic education through which it can send its children to universities. Hence, the public education system does not produce enough quality high school graduates to fill U.S. universities that are considered the best in the world. This is why American universities are filling their classroom seats with foreign students who later on, have a better chance of landing a good job and of living the American dream, while the average American sees his children left behind.
While Trump won because he promised to make America great again by going back in time to a golden age, Sanders is promising a new system that will take care of the average American -- a system where exceptionalism is compromised in favor of equitable distribution of wealth and a better provision of services by the state. For some, Sanders is a self-professed socialist, a communist of some sort. However, he touches on the real problems that have haunted the average American and that led to the populist election of Trump.
The system is no longer able to provide a quality living for the average American, especially when it comes to healthcare and education. And like Trump, Sanders promotes a domestic agenda where he is willing to take a step back in world affairs and direct the funds and efforts toward national issues. This is why Sanders has a chance of beating Trump in 2020.
Dania Koleilat Khatib is an affiliated scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. She specializes in U.S.-Arab relations and researches sectarianism, extremism and governance. Her book "The Arab Lobby and the U.S.: Factors for Success and Failure" was published by Routledge UK and translated to Arabic.