February 20, 2021

What is a Shithole, and Is the United States Becoming One?

winter storm

When it comes to towns, cities, states, or even countries, what exactly qualifies as a "shithole?" I realize the term is most often used to refer to somewhere the speaker does not want to live. That's obviously not objective in any way and varies wildly depending on the speaker. Your shithole might be my paradise and vice-versa. But what if there was some more objective standard that might be applied? What might it be?

I'm just thinking aloud here, but I find myself wondering if a shithole town, city, state, or country might be one where many of the people living there do not have access to things they should be able to take for granted. Examples that come to mind include "luxuries" like the sort of healthy food one should expect to be able to reliably find at one's local grocery store, safe drinking water, adequate shelter, reliable electricity and whatever other fuel might be needed for heating and cooling systems to function properly, and access for affordable healthcare, just to name a few. Sadly, there are many parts of the United States where we cannot take these things for granted.

I understand that natural disasters happen and that some disruption to life-as-we-know-it is inevitable when they do. And yet, some disasters are common and predictable enough that they we should be able to significantly reduce the disruption they cause through advance planning, preparation, and the development of emergency procedures. The town that predictably floods every year could be proactive in mitigating the impact on its citizens. The city that is regularly hit by winter storms would stockpile extra food, water, and heating fuel. The region of the state that experiences several devastating tornados every season could bury their power lines. In short, we could do something instead of behaving like this has never happened before and was impossible to anticipate every single time it happens.

The only excuse for the dismal state of many U.S. grocery stores early in the COVID-19 pandemic was that this really was a new sort of disaster for us. Our hoarding and panic buying did not help, but it was painfully clear that our supply chains broke, despite frequent denials by government officials that this was the case. And what did we do to fix our supply chains? If the empty shelves in Texas after the recent round of winter weather is any indication, not nearly enough. It appears that Americans cannot count on something as simple as being able to reliably buy food for their families.

Of course, the clearest example of this would have to be the lack of safe drinking water in Flint, MI, and other cities. What the hell? How is it possible that this problem persists? How can this still be an issue anywhere in the United States? Is "the greatest country on Earth" well on its way to becoming a shithole? Does our system of government still work to solve problems like this?

If you were in charge of a military outpost during wartime that regularly came under attack, you would fortify it. You would work tirelessly to identify any weaknesses the enemy might exploit and fix them. You would strengthen your defenses in a variety of ways, hardening the target and making it far more likely that your personnel would survive the next attack.

Why are we so unwilling to do anything like this for civilian resources? How many times does a hurricane have to leave people without power before we put the power lines underground? How many winter storms does it take before we realize we need to do something more than provide a handful of "warming centers" for vulnerable citizens? And how many times must we go to our grocery store and encounter empty shelves before we acknowledge that our supply chains are far too fragile? Where the hell is our local, state, and federal government? And if this sort of thing isn't their top priority, then what good are they?