Hawaii’s Puna District: A Case Study in Cyclical Poverty


Hawai’i: American paradise. At least, that is the common conception. A remote archipelago in the Pacific, the State of Hawai’i, in many respects, represents the Platonic form of paradise; a land with pristine beaches, palm trees, and a never-ending supply of coconuts to satiate the thirst of travelers and locals alike. But in the district of Puna, on the southeast side of the Hawai’ian Big Island, an entirely different side of paradise can be found.

The district of Puna is the fastest growing area in the Hawaiian Islands both in population and in land mass (as it is the only area with active lava flows creating new land). Puna has the lowest cost of living on the islands, however, this cheaper real estate comes at a price. Puna has become a case study in cyclical poverty, and while most mainland Americans think that their tourism dollars are enough to keep the islands afloat, without intervention it may be destined to stay impoverished for some time to come.

The Cycle of Poverty:

I moved into Puna only recently, but I am no stranger to cyclical poverty. For much of my life, I lived in and around Buffalo, NY; a formerly flaking piece of America’s rust belt. Nearly dealt a death blow by the disappearance of the American steel industry and the Recession of 2008, I left for Buffalo for greener pastures in 2011 when things seemed particularly dire.

From 2010 to 2011, when unemployment and poverty rates in the Buffalo-Niagara region were near their twenty-year highs (Google), I, like so many others, was deeply affected by a frigid winter and the difficult job market there following the recession. Buffalo, an overeducated city with limited work available, was still churning out thousands and thousands of freshly educated youngsters, many vying for positions in the same field I was (media, journalism, and broadcasting). This led to a spike in underemployed youth, increased competition for work, and ultimately, an increase in public assistance and a reduction of tax revenue from both property and non-property based tax income. During that time, Buffalo’s property values were approximately 33% less than the state median, and by 2012 Buffalo had exhausted some 71% of its Constitutional Tax Limit; a limit imposed by the State Comptroller’s office to make sure the city isn’t spending more than is allocated in the state’s budget and to keep property taxes reasonable to prevent people from moving away. In short, Buffalo was broke and going broker.

I left for Atlanta, where I lived for five years fighting poverty yet again. Without a vehicle, I started temping while living with some family, and then moved on to a position cleaning airplanes overnight at one of the world’s busiest airports. To supplement my income, I put my degree and experience working in restaurants and writing online to work as a freelance blogger for a restaurant equipment dealer. I took the train to work overnights at the airport, and would blog during the day time. It was exhausting, but I was able to save up for my own apartment (without a roommate, even!).

Though I had no roommate, for those early days there was something else I did not have that I needed desperately: internet access. So I would wander around to coffee shops, pay a pittance for tea, and borrow some wi-fi while I blogged for my side job. Eventually, I was brought on full time at my side gig, and though I had enough finally to begin paying off my student debt, to do it I had to commute via public transportation. This was not an easy feat in Atlanta, and my commute was two hours each way and included two trains, a bus, and often a duo of two-mile walks (sometimes I would catch a ride after work back to the bus).

Despite the struggles I faced, something wonderful happened in Atlanta: I met the love of my life. I met my now fiancée in October of 2015, and soon after, she was offered an opportunity that would change both of our lives yet again: a position in the Kau-Keaau-Pahoa School Complex on the Island of Hawai’i. After much discussion, she accepted the position, and we decided to move into the District of Puna over the summer.

About Puna: Puna is, to put it bluntly, the most impoverished area of the most impoverished island in Hawai’i. As can be expected from an island that rests nearly 2,500 miles from the mainland United States, resources are hard to come by and the cost of living is direct proof. Though Puna is touted as one the most reasonably priced places to live in Hawai’i, anyone that visits this district will begin to understand why.

Mostly a tropical rainforest, Puna has more days of rain than sunshine. It is on the “wet side” of the Island’s mountains, with most areas receiving upwards of ~160 inches of rain each year. The Island’s east side has few beaches, and strong trade winds and unpredictable undercurrents often make swimming on this side of the island out of the question for the average individual. It does, however, offer a bevy of tropical fruits, local produce, and mysterious beauty on the days when the sun does shine.

The Big Island (aka Hawai’i County) overall had, as of 2013, an unemployment rate of 14.4%; the highest of all counties in Hawai’i. Puna’s unemployment rate rests at approximately 4% higher than the county average at nearly 18.5%; well above the national average of ~7.5% in 2013 (Google). (NOTE: the two linked documents provide much of the source material for this piece, so I will refrain from excessively linking them). This unemployment has lead to a dramatic increase in the number of homeless in Hawai’i County, with the number of homeless individuals nearly doubling every year. With statistics like this, it is not surprising that the Puna District receives over half of the state of Hawai’i’s public assistance money.

Lack of Infrastructure: Much of Puna features areas that operate with very limited infrastructure. Many homes and neighborhoods operate either off-grid in some capacity or altogether, and many roads are either unpaved or in disrepair. The house in which I reside, aside from an internet connection, operates completely off-grid. This house, like most on the Island, has a solar system installed, a rain catchment tank, and an electric pump for water (as well as a septic system). The oft-unstable volcanic bedrock and soil causes many problems for District-wide water services, and though solar power is a reasonably priced alternative to incredibly high electric rates (after initial investment costs), the tremendous number of rainy days proves to be a challenge for solar users, especially with water systems typically pulling a significant amount of electricity and refrigeration systems working harder to battle excess humidity. A gas generator is a necessity for nearly every solar home.

Many of these problems could be solved with city planning, strategy, and an investment into infrastructure. Unfortunately, with such a high unemployment rate and a disproportionate use of public aid funds, Puna is in a similar financial situation as Rust Belt cities like Buffalo were after the Recession in 2008. There is little to no money to repair the crumbling infrastructure, and a growing populous consuming more and more of the State’s resources.

The Tie Between Infrastructure, Education & Employment: When tax money for infrastructure begins to disappear, often tax dollars for schools and higher education do as well. The District of Puna is also seeing a crisis of education. A part of the Kau-Keaau-Pahoa Complex of Schools, the youth of Puna are now struggling because of the region’s financial struggles as well. Hawai’i has seen a statewide rise in the dropout rate, which is leading to problems since state and federal funding is tied to directly to student attendance. This is especially hurtful considering recent natural disasters that have caused numerous problems within the underfunded public school system. Some schools have only just reopened after recent issues with lava flows, and a barrage of hurricanes over the past few years (including 2014’s Hurricane Iselle) has left much to repair all over the county.

Aside from this, Puna has nearly three times the number of children with special needs and behavioral issues than the next closest district in Honolulu. A large contributor in the Complex’s dropout rate, but also a tremendous strain on the schools as well; creating undue strain on teachers, administrators, and professionals, and causing of an overwhelming spike in the number of vacancies within the Complex.

The problems with education continue into academia. While the Island’s two main higher learning centers, The University of Hawai’i at Hilo and Hawai’i Community College, lie in the adjacent district of South Hilo, they do not offer degree programs in many of the essential fields that communities need to survive (including a medical school and a law school). This means that most of the necessary specialized professionals on the Island must be formally educated elsewhere before taking a position on the Island.

With unemployment and poverty deeply affecting most of the eastern side of the Island, and the lack of specialized education, it almost goes without saying that most job openings are for specialized positions, particularly in healthcare and mental health professions. Aside from the obvious effects on the population of the Island, which we will get into later, a larger looming problem comes with trying to fill these positions.

Specialized positions require individuals that are further along their career path, and often times, individuals that are further along in their career have spouses that work and families. Moving to Hawai’i, and Puna particularly, can cause much financial distress given the cost of living and lack of employment. Professionals with spouses often need to complete readjust joint finances, and is not uncommon that family units that once had two incomes become single-income households.

My anecdotal experience is a testament to this. In Atlanta, my fiancée and I were both working professionals, and we lived on our joint incomes. After making the leap to Puna, I have been unable to find gainful employment, and we are currently a single-income household. This struggle we are personally facing is no doubt reflected in the number of open positions and the island’s high rate of population turnaround. Ergo, it seems logical that for most people that do stay after relocating are most likely single, younger professionals with less experience. 

Effect on the Populous: The large number of specialized professions, and the large number of inexperienced professionals working ultimately takes its toll on the populous. In Puna, citizens are incredibly underserved when it comes to educational services, health and wellness services, and especially mental health services.

With the exception of the island of Oahu, the entire state is medically underserved, and Puna and neighboring district Kau both have a shortage of general practitioners; a necessary field for a rapidly growing area. Because of this, the state on the whole, and particularly Puna, face a wealth of health crises, including illnesses such as heart disease & stroke, TB, and even Hep-A.

Additionally, the district lacks adequate facilities for female health services and emergency treatment, which leads to higher rates of maternal / infant health issues and a stark number of preventable deaths due to a lack of urgent care and specialty services. Transportation is a critical factor for patients in need of urgent care, and the nature of the Puna district’s infrastructure and lack of specialized education once again plays a role in this. These statistics increase further when you zoom in on demographics, with native Hawai’ians paying a far greater toll.

With a lack of such basic facilities, as is the case with most impoverished areas, preventable medicine and health seemingly take a back seat to dealing with emergency care. Given this, Puna has incredibly high obesity rates, leading to much of the area is currently being affected by a diabetes epidemic, and screenings for things breast or other forms of cancer are falling to the way side. This is also directly tied to additional problems within the education system, many of which stem from ethnic / cultural disparities, as many of the district’s uneducated are unable to discern or communicate their own health issues.

Ultimately, all of these issues take their toll on the mental health of the area as well. With a lack of mental health services available not only for the public, but also in the school system, Puna has a mental health crisis unlike any else in the country. Substance abuse is rampant, the suicide rate is high and on the rise, and mental health is the most common cause for preventable hospitalization in the entire state.  Unfortunately, often times state budget cuts directly affect mental health and preventable care, which is proving to have had a lasting effect on the impoverished in Hawai’i, especially here in Puna.

The Cycle Continues: With things as they currently lie, change does not seem on the horizon for the District of Puna anytime soon. State income doesn’t seem to be growing exponentially, and though the area is seeing a boom in population, it is also seeing a boom in applicants for state aid.

For Buffalo, an end to the cycle of poverty that had struck the city was an influx of state and private capital known as the “Buffalo Billion”. It has taken billions of dollars in state and private money to reinvigorate the city’s economy, as well a change in hands of Buffalo’s sports teams to fracking billionaire Terry Pegula, but it has worked. Much of the city’s downtown area has been reinvigorated, and both people and work have begun to return for the facelift Buffalo so sorely needed.

Much like The Marshall Plan that saved Europe from economic ruin after World War II, the Buffalo Billion was New York State recognizing that it had to “spend money to make money”. The reinvestment in Buffalo allowed New York State to begin to fix its own fiscal issues because Western New York was no longer the drain on funds it had been. FDR realized after World War II that it was in our best interest to help re-establish our best trading partners, and it is that kind of thinking that needs to be applied to Puna.

An influx of state and federal dollars, as well as a commitment from private companies to invest in jobs is the only way to fix communities like Puna before they fall into disrepair. And though it may seem to those far away like a waste of money, an area with a population boom such as Puna could eventually repay that money in spades if the right steps are taken. But given the direction our country has been moving in as of late, there is little sign that may happen any time soon.

Sean McGill @seanmcthrill


Why Your Candidate Sucks…


This has been an incredibly serious and volatile election season. But with election so close, we at The Modern Socialist thought we would borrow an idea from the folks over at Deadspin to inject a few tricks and treats into your otherwise banal election news feed.

Sure, vote shaming is bad. You can and should be voting for whoever you feel best represents your voice in the election. But that doesn’t mean that candidate shaming is off the table. ; )

Now, I’ve had some issues talking politics as of late. People ask me who I am voting for, but the only thing that comes out of my mouth is Deez Nuts. Deez Nuts won’t let you down. No one works harder than Deez Nuts. But sadly, many people thinking about voting aren’t thinking of Deez Nuts. Since polling at about 8-9 percent in early primaries, Deez Nuts seems to be tucked away, lying in wait for a glorious moment to be slapped onto general election ballots.  Unfortunately for us, that may not happen.

It’s a shame, but Deez Nuts hasn’t been all over the country. Only three states have had the chance to really get to know Deez Nuts (Iowa, Minnesota, and North Carolina). And unfortunately, if you’re thinking of Deez Nuts this November, you will have to put Deez Nuts in yourself.

I know what you’re thinking: “Sean, what’s so great about Deez Nuts?” Well, maybe it’s not about Deez Nuts at all. Maybe it’s just because the other candidates are so bad, that you really need to give Deez Nuts some serious consideration. Let’s take a look at the top candidates, why you may be thinking about voting for them, and why you shouldn’t.

Hillary Clinton: Let’s start the party with heavy favorite Hillary Clinton. Sure, HilDog is the most experienced candidate in the race: a former Senator, Secretary of State, and First Lady. But since when does being the most qualified get you the job? This is 2016, and it’s not what you know but who you know. Anyone that has applied for a job recently knows this. And I’m pretty sure that HilDog is still on the current boss’s shit list after some troubling comments in 2008, so she probably can’t ask for any favors. I mean come on, why else would he make her his secretary?!

Ok, so maybe now you’re saying “Well Sean, I voted for Hillary in the 2008 primary too!” Oh, so you were too racist back in 2008 to vote for a black guy, but now you’re not a racist because you’re voting against Trump? Typical. Sounds like you might be the type that says things behind closed doors that you might not admit to saying if called out on. Hmm, now why does that sound familiar?

And let’s be serious, much of the same political hand-wringing going on about Trump’s tax returns were issues for Hillary back in 2008. And they aren’t real issues. How many of you can actually say you read over your own tax returns before digitally signing them on TurboTax, let alone read over the Presidential candidate’s? I call bullshit.

Or here’s my favorite: “Sean, I just want to cast a vote for the first female Presidential candidate in a general election!” Well then, why didn’t you vote for Jill Stein in 2012? Don’t answer, we’ll get there in due time.

Donald Trump: Come on. If you’re reading this, you’re not voting for Trump. This one’s too easy. Pass.

Evan McMullin: Like most people, you probably learned Evan McMullin is running for president when reading this satire article. McMullin, a pro-life, anti-gay marriage #NeverTrump conservative, is really only for passive bigots. Are you racist but don’t want your friends to know? McMullin is your man. Do you not want gays to marry but don’t really know any so it isn’t a big deal? Boom, Evan McMullin. Are you working in the Republican Party but want job security? Vote McMullin. Did you vote for Mitt Romney because he, like you, is a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints? Well then you and your wives should vote for Evan McMullin.

But seriously, don’t vote for Evan McMullin. He looks like the guy from Hitman, and as badass as that would be, I think an Assassin’s Creed President would be way better.

Gary Johnson: If you want to vote for Gary Johnson, odds are you just a Republican that smokes weed. And, hey that’s cool. And it’s cool that Gary Johnson likes to smoke weed (if you know what Cheeba Chews are, you probably smoke too) and hang out with Joe Rogan (who most definitely smokes weed). But let’s do everyone a favor and stop calling his gaffes “Aleppo moments” and start calling them “stoner moments”.

And frankly, while he may want your vote, he doesn’t want too many votes. When a Presidential candidate hits 5% in a general election, they qualify for funding from the Federal Elections Commission; a group that the Libertarian Party insists on dissolving. So if Gary Johnson is sincere about his platform he will either give the money back, or shoot for 4% of the vote. Do the Libertarians a favor and don’t vote for him.

And now you’ve looked at some of the Libertarian platforms, you will notice how much the government they want to dismantle. Not gonna lie, that’s pretty punk rock and I like it. It’s damn near anarchism. I listened to Pennywise a lot in high school too, trust me I understand. But you know what’s even more punk rock than voting Libertarian? Not voting. This November, consider a vote for Gary Johnson a vote against everything he stands for.

Jill Stein: Ah, Dr. Jill Stein. The Coke Zero to Bernie Sanders’ regular Coke. She has none the flavor of the Bernie Sanders you love, plus a bunch of shit that will probably make you sick. I get it, you want to vote for “the only progressive candidate left in the race”, so much so that you are willing to cast aside all of the things that you would normally expect a Presidential candidate to have. Political experience? Nope. A solid understanding of foreign policy? Not needed. No criminal record? Nope, she’s spray painted on a bulldozer. If you want a President that spray paints stuff, why not just vote for Banksy? Oh that’s right, no one knows who he is.

Sure, saying that Jill Stein doesn’t have a solid understanding of foreign policy may be a bit of a blanket statement, but considering she’s never held a public office outside the Lexington Town Meeting, it’s safe to say that she has about as much experience in foreign policy that you would expect a medical doctor to have. It sure would be nice to close all of the U.S.’s foreign military bases, until you start thinking about the hundreds of thousands of jobs she would be cutting in the process. What kind of Socialist wants to cut hundreds of thousands of state jobs?

This proposed action, of course, also ignores the fact that Russia now has a missile capable of destroying Texas and the islands China is building in the South Pacific. Look, no one likes Texas. It’s like having a racist uncle that gets you really kick ass birthday presents. You may not like what he has to say, but that BB gun you got last year is totally kick ass. Stop frontin’. Texas has got money and America loves it for that reason. And though the idea of building new islands in the South Pacific may have you thinking of a new vacation spot shaped like the world, trust me, a vacation here would be less than fun than even Dubai. I mean, who wants to vacation in the desert? CTFO.

Jill Stein is the candidate most likely to hand out participation trophies to all the kids, so let’s give her a trophy for participating and move on.

Bernie Sanders: Bernie Sanders has become a heartthrob. He has all the liberal millennial girls swooning, and with this handsome visage, it’s not hard to tell why. But look, Bernie Sanders has said over and over that he doesn’t want you to vote for him in the general election. Voting for Bernie Sanders in the general election is like buying me a firetruck after me saying I don’t want you to buy me a firetruck.

I get it. Firetruck’s are bad ass. They’re a bitchin’ shade of red, everyone loves them, they could totally be pimped out and turned into a sweet tailgate mobile, and there are some available that are really reasonably priced. But that’s selfish and short-sighted. Where would I park a firetruck? Do you know how much diesel is going for these days? Not to mention the money it would cost to turn that bad bitch that into the tight XZIBIT’s Pimp My Ride-style festival wagon we all know it really should be. And yes, while we can start a Kickstarter page to pay for it, what are the odds that we will raise enough money to get it retrofitted with disco balls, gas grills, strobe lights, and a dozen 15’s by next festival season? Slim to none. A firetruck would be really awesome to have, but it’s just not in the cards right now.

So now we’ve looked at all the candidates, and there really isn’t one viable option. What are we as Americans left to do when election day rolls around? I’ll tell you: remember Deez Nuts.

Deez Nuts loves freedom. Deez Nuts represents a strong America. We need to get people thinking about Deez Nuts, because Deez Nuts is our best choice. When you walk into the voting booth this November, be sure to pull Deez Nuts out of your bag of parlor tricks, because America, the joke is already on us.

Sean McGill @seanmcthrill

Why Neoliberalism is hurting the Left


Recently, renowned gothic filmmaker and best friend of liberal superhero Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, went on the record discussing diversity in Hollywood. The comments, which can be found here, essentially cry afoul the concept of “diversity for diversity’s sake”. Burton is an artist, and thereby allowed to create art as he sees fit. His most recent film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is based on a book that takes place in an imagined place well in the past in the historically white country of Wales (nearly 94% white as of 2011). Despite the fact that Burton did cast one black actor in the film (namely Samuel L. Jackson, because he is in everything), and has had one film with a black protagonist, Burton has run into a serious problem: Neoliberals.

After his off-the-cuff comment (which this clearly was since there is no complete interview to source), Neoliberals are swarming on the internet and calling for his head like vultures. While many of colleagues have yet to produce one film with a black protagonist (David Lynch, James Cameron, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, just to name a few), Burton’s comments have made him the scapegoat for a problem this arguably “above his pay grade”.

Many of the problems with diversity in film draw on deeper cultural issues relating to the production of films in general. Burton, like so many other filmmakers, produces art for a particular audience. His films are greenlit by film executives looking to capitalize on movie audiences, just like every other film in Hollywood, and furthermore, he is an artist. If he doesn’t feel like adding diversity to the cast of his gothic-niche film, shouldn’t it be his decision (even though it most likely is not solely his to make)?

Enter Neoliberals. Loudmouths on the internet have taken one paragraph from Tim Burton that was originally quoted on a third-rate digital rag (the original comment was first featured on Bustle.com which seemingly has no other context) and extrapolated it to understand that wholly Tim Burton is a racist. How can anyone draw conclusions so verbose from such a small instant in this man’s life? Just because Tim Burton has an opinion about forced diversity in his art, he’s a racist? Because he doesn’t want to craft his art to appease public opinion about what his art should be, he is a monstrous bigot? This kind of narrow-minded groupthink is deplorable, and is becoming a big problem for the American left.

The Neoliberalism movement truly coalesced and gained its voice as a part of Bernie Sanders’ Revolution. Forged by educated liberals, it became a movement of universal tolerance, but sadly has become ever hypocritical. The Dalai Lama once said “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher,”, yet this lesson seems to have been dismissed by the ultimate movement of tolerance.

Neoliberals have created an “us & them” toned discussion regarding complex, nuanced social issues akin to Neocons just before the second Iraq war, and the melodrama playing out around Tim Burton is perfect example of it. Decrying a man as racist because his opinions on forced diversity are not congruent with social progressives is just as intolerant as the racism being decried.

In some instances, such as Affirmative Action, forced diversity is necessary. Affirmative Action is a system set in place to correct societal / government structures that are known to practice prejudice and directly affect the lives of Americans. But to apply the same standards we apply to our government to an individual’s creative endeavors is anti-American. It using political correctness as a mask to stifle creativity under the guise of protecting everyone’s feelings or making people feel included, and it is this overly self-righteous, smug form of pushy liberal rhetoric that created a right wing backlash and is ostracizing moderates from the political left.

While the idea of “over-the-top” political correctness is nothing new, the pushiness of progressives can be directly tied to the rise of these, predominately young, Neoliberals. There is a growing “intolerance of intolerance” that has caused rhetoric coming from the left to grow increasingly volatile.

While at this point I feel obligated to stress that I am as about as socially liberal as possible on social issues, I do so in fear of the exact kind of backlash that I am writing against. Political correctness for political correctness’s sake is inherently un-American, and directly opposed the tolerance and freedoms that make our country great. There is something inherently oppressive about the idea of censoring and harassing opinions we don’t agree with. This is America; there is no safe space.

Our country was founded on being forced to deal with people who you disagree with (among other things, but I digress on that…). While we have the right to have an opinion, so does the person we disagree with. When Neoliberals go on the internet and bash people who disagree with them in droves, it perpetuates the “us & them”, and can actually make the inclusive left look elitist and not so welcoming. While it is easy to blame Trump supporters for the tone the national debate has taken, the pushy social agenda of the left is just as much to blame. Being intolerant of intolerance still makes you intolerant (if you can follow that).

So what am I saying? What is the ultimate point I am trying to make? Basically, it is that we all have a right to our own opinions, and to do things the way we see fit. While I may not agree with many conservatives, and have a great deal of disdain for racism, sexism, and all of the other negative -isms, we cannot suffocate these opinions with arbitrary, self-righteous ideas of political correctness.

True socialism is free from oppressive judgment. It doesn’t limit speech. It doesn’t silence critics through online intimidation. It doesn’t censor people. It is an agreed social understanding that we are all in this together, that we all share something through national unity. American Socialism cannot be the socialism of Europe. It must be more inclusive of differing opinions, because ultimately, we cannot unite our country if we continue to belittle individual beliefs, regardless of our opinions of those beliefs. It is our job as liberals to rise up above such hateful rhetoric and respond only with love and acceptance.

I argue that the famous quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall must become our rallying cry. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”

Capitalism unites us all under the umbrella of consumerism, and divides us into sub-categories according to the way we consume. To change our system, we must break those constructs and unite as a whole. American Socialism must be unifying, not divisive. Uniting as a whole means being able to agree to disagree, to shake hands with individuals with differing opinions, and to cooperate with one another. Until we on the left stop pushing others away and start hugging our enemies, the divide in this country will continue to grow into an unrepairable schism. If we are as liberal as we claim to be, we are obligated to listen to opinions that oppose ours. If we do not, then we are no better than the intolerance we are fighting.

Sean McGill @seanmcthrill

This Election Cycle Isn’t About Trump v. Clinton; It’s About Us.


Bigot. Warmonger. Rapists and thieves. The 2016 election seems to have a very different tone than any election we have seen in our lifetime. While we like to think that much of this vitriol has to do with the behavior of one particular candidate, what is happening in our country is bigger than just Donald Trump.

Whether we like to admit it or not, this election (as the elections before it) is a mirror reflecting all that is good and bad about America. This quadrennial event acts as a sort of litmus test; attempting to place specific pH onto a nation that should arguably remain neutral. We have seen some troubling things thus far, but unfortunately, the troubling things we have seen seem to have some deeper cultural causes.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the motifs that have reoccurring throughout this election cycle and see what conclusions we can draw, shall we?

Racism: The most obvious recurring theme this election has been racism. Aside from all vulgar rhetoric on race we have seen from Trump, racism is taking on a bigger role in this election than it has in the past. What we are seeing in this election cycle, particularly from the right, is a change in demeanor. While the aging GOP establishment has consistently run on the precept that racism doesn’t exist anymore, the Tea Party right has changed the ball game.

Since the beginning of this election cycle, the tone regarding race has become incredibly volatile. We are seeing unabashed racism on all levels of government, and Trump has seemingly legitimized what had previously been taboo or “tongue in cheek” racism (for lack of a better term). Trump supporters, in many instances, predicate their political views on racist principles that are, like it or not, a part of the American political system. The GOP establishment is split on how to react in many cases, with some being silent, others backing Clinton, but this is a far cry from the GOP we saw unite just four years ago behind Mitt Romney.

From the legitimization of Islamophobia, to the recent criticism of 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and of course the consistent belittling of Mexico and Mexican immigrants to our country in the public sphere, America has learned this cycle just how racist we are. And if you need to know who in your circles is racist, all you need to do is just scroll down your Facebook feed and you can find out.

While we cannot and should make this sort of speech illegal (the first amendment is a sword that cuts both ways, after all), it is our job to create a social sphere where this behavior and language is not only unacceptable, but shamed. Let’s put this trash back underground where it belongs.

Ego: Speaking of your Facebook feed, have you noticed a change in the past year or so? It seems so strange that in a country filled with so many people that are obviously right that we would even have any sort of disagreements, right?

The absurdity of the social media realm has definitely had an enormous effect on the current political climate, but not in the most direct way. Social media is an enabler, of sorts: allowing individuals the ability to immerse themselves in things that feed their ego and bolster their own beliefs. It is very uncommon for people to “follow” or “like” pages with views that will conflict or challenge their own. Social media pages are becoming more and more personalized, and this creation of the “safe space” on the web is becoming dangerous to the American condition. Try taking a look at a friend’s social media feed from their POV (with permission, of course) and examine how truly different what you and your peers are exposed to can be.

In addition to our social presence stroking our ego, most of us get an affirmation of how right we are everyday when we drive to work. The car is another instance where we are given a false sense of entitlement; with “that guy” always being the asshole by cutting us off, or taking our parking spot. With the amount of work and fiscal investment we put into our cars, and the associated freedoms to move large distance, it is no surprise that many of us see the car as a sort of safe space and entitlement. But interestingly, with more and more of us driving solo, there has been an increase in the number of road rage incidents and they have grown more and more deadly.

These are only a few examples of how current societal trends have encumbered the growth of millions and millions of swollen egos. America is in danger of growing an even bigger head than it already has. Getting embroiled in countless debates on Facebook plays zero role in changing the outcome of the election or someone’s opinion, but is actually only an exercise of the throat. Far too often nowadays we drift away from Teddy Roosevelt’s principle of “speak softly and carry a large stick” and become the loud guy at the party that pulls his gun out to win an argument. We need more Teddy Roosevelts and less Yosemite Sam’s.

When we act citizens act this way, are we surprised that our two options for President are entitled, ego-driven narcissists? We are reaping what we’ve sewn.

Unpredictability: Aside from the parade of gaffes that seems to be this election, there is an air of mystery that still hovers and keeps us all on the edge of our toes. This cycle, polls have finally proven themselves useless. The Sanders primary win in Michigan was the nail in the coffin of traditional political polling. More and more, the medium of the poll has become the problem. With fewer citizens owning land line phones or willing to participate in surveys, pollsters have had issues for many years trying to paint an accurate picture of the political landscape. Now, it seems that perhaps “the jury may be back in”. Don’t be surprised when political pollsters continue to track and analyze your online behaviors in an attempt to keep themselves employed.

Additionally, it seems absolutely ridiculous to think that with as much as Americans talk about politics that only 9% of Americans chose one of the major parties’ nominees for President in the primaries, and even more absurd to think that less than 60% of Americans voted in the last Presidential election. The walkout of the “Bernie or Bust” caucus at the DNC, and the #NeverTrump campaign is a definite sign that those feeling disenfranchised may end up staying home in November or (*gulp*) vote for a third party. There is no doubt that the unpredictability that has haunted the primary season will continue into the general, and most likely, into the next four years in our country. A ruler without a mandate from the people cannot rule, and that’s just what we may have come January.

The Lesser of Two Evils: Americans on the whole continue to use the “lesser of two evils” argument, attempting to demonize Trump or Clinton, claiming there are no other viable candidates. This kind of two-party domination has been, and will continue to be, one of the biggest problems in the American political system.

While there are two other parties with candidates rallying many disenfranchised voters, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, neither party offers voters a candidate that could actually win. Gary Johnson is an extremely conservative political entity, who’s troubling remarks on the Joe Rogan podcast regarding a benevolent dictator and extreme positions on the role of government prove he is not ready to be taken seriously, and Dr. Jill Stein, who has only held one elected position before in the Lexington, MA Town Meeting (hardly a viable track record for someone who wants to be President). A vote for perennial candidate and satirist Vermin Supreme may be a better option than both.

What Americans are dying for is a chance to vote their conscience again; to vote for someone they like, rather than against someone they don’t. But until we break black-and-white paradigm that is now our political system, and continue to allow two private entities to control our government almost entirely, we will be left to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.

But therein lies the rub: how do we get someone with adequate experience into a position to run for president? Sadly, the answer is a boring one. We must groom them. We need a new generation of politicians that are unafraid to speak their mind, fight for what is right, and take on the two-party system and beat them at their own game.

These four symptoms of our social disease are but a small portion of the ways this election is the embodiment of American life. We owe it to ourselves to demand more from our government, and to help be a part of the change, and until we do, our elections will continue to get worse. After all, Kanye 2020 is only 4 years away.

Sean McGill (@seanMCthrill)