UNTETHERED FROM REALITY
While every nation on Earth has cultural quirks, Americans are in a league of their own when it comes to being different. Their unique traits, behaviours, and attitudes set them apart from other nationalities. What Americans think is normal – like carrying a handgun for personal protection – is considered to be absolutely crazy to much of the rest of the world.
On an average day in the US, more than 100 people are killed by gun violence. Despite this, the National Rifle Association claims that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and bizarrely argues that gun laws and gun deaths are unconnected. To any rational person, these pronouncements are as absurd as the assertion that gun ownership stops crime.
Hard numbers unambiguously prove that more firearms do not keep people safe. Indeed, the opposite is true. Numerous studies show that more guns are linked to a rise in murders, rapes, robberies, and mass shootings. Yet millions of Americans irrationally believe that these and other crimes happen because there aren’t enough guns in enough places.
Unsurprisingly, this belief is not supported by research-based evidence. A taskforce report by the (US) National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence found that firearms are the most deadly and versatile instrument of attack. The report notes that:
Firearms make some attacks possible that simply would not occur without firearms. They permit attacks at greater range and from positions of better concealment than other weapons. They also permit attacks by persons physically or psychologically unable to overpower their victim through violent physical contact.
Beyond gun laws, a large chunk of the world remains utterly perplexed at how 70 million Americans could have voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Many of the things he promised in order to get elected made no sense. His flimsy policies appealed to the heart, not the head. A disgruntled electorate voted on emotion, not logic. The working class were conned by Trump who tapped into the social undercurrents that exist in the “divided states” of America.
Looking back, it is unfathomable that his campaign did not self-destruct after his lewd and vulgar remarks about women were made public. Despite his sexist insults and other jaw-dropping statements, Trump prevailed. His slurs, innuendos, and hyperbole did not sink his presidential candidacy. The ill-disciplined reality TV star flouted virtually every convention to defeat Hillary Clinton in a polarising campaign.
Trump owes his victory to the uninformed. Indeed, he is on the record as proclaiming: “I love the poorly educated”. Political ignorance accounts for a large part of Trump’s success. His most ardent supporters – white voters without degrees – swallowed virtually any lie he told, no matter how outrageous. When voters know little, they choose the politician with the highest emotional appeal, and Trump appealed to the anger and discontent of middle-America, tapping into their fears about jobs, race, and immigration.
Trump will be remembered as the first president to be impeached twice. His four-year tenure in the White House left a destructive legacy including the appointment of three conservative judges to the Supreme Court. These three justices helped establish a 5-4 majority in the recent landmark decision to overturn the constitutional rights of a woman to an abortion. The reaction to the controversial ruling was swift with US President Joe Biden calling it a “tragic error by the Supreme Court”.
Leaders around the world strongly condemned the US abortion ruling. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “a big step backwards”. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described it as “horrific”. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the decision was “incredibly upsetting”. And the boss of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that he was “concerned and very disappointed”.
The abject dismay and alarm expressed by governments was echoed by the medical profession. In a statement signed by more than 100 global healthcare organisations, including the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, medics labelled the US supreme court’s move as “a catastrophic blow” to millions. The statement warned: “It is a decision that will cost lives for years to come”.
The international condemnation reveals how out of step America is with the rest of the world. The global community overwhelmingly maintains that striking down Roe v. Wade is a huge blow to American women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. In contrast, American pro-lifers see restricting abortions as a victory, even though it will likely lead to more maternal deaths. Frankly, it’s hypocritical to call yourself pro-life when you support the right of individual states to ban or severely limit access to safe abortion care.
In America – the land of the free – you don’t have the right to make individual health choices, but you do have the right to be armed to the teeth. So, women can’t terminate a pregnancy, but children can continue to die needlessly from the scourge of gun crime. How utterly perplexing! Concern is now being expressed at what other liberties, such as contraception, will be wound back in the US.
A basic liberty that is not under attack in America is the right to believe whatever you want. Americans are arguably the world’s greatest conspiracy theorists. Again, it’s difficult to wrap your head around why millions of Americans believe utter nonsense concerning assassinations, extraterrestrials, the genesis of aids, the 9/11 attacks, the dangers of vaccines, and so much more.
In an opinion piece he penned for The Atlantic titled, How America Lost Its Mind, American author Kurt Andersen states that:
Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational. We all have hunches we can’t prove and superstitions that make no sense. Some of my best friends are very religious, and others believe in dubious conspiracy theories. What’s problematic is going overboard – letting the subjective entirely override the objective; thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings are just as true as facts.
Andersen goes on to say:
Much more than the other billion or so people in the developed world, we Americans believe – really believe – in the supernatural and the miraculous, in Satan on Earth, in reports of recent trips to and from heaven, and in a story of life’s instantaneous creation several thousand years ago. … We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.
Why millions of Americans believe things that aren’t true was the subject of an article written by academic, R. Kelly Garrett, an associate professor at Ohio State University. Garrett writes that many Americans reject the assessment of fact checkers and incorrectly believe that:
… president Obama was born outside the US or that Russia successfully tampered with vote tallies in the 2016 presidential election. And certain conspiracy theories – like the belief that president Kennedy’s assassination was orchestrated by a powerful secret organization – are remarkably persistent.
Conspiracy theories used to be seen as bizarre expressions of harmless eccentrics, such as those who believe that the moon landings were a hoax. Nowadays, they are far more serious, such as the myth that the presidential election was stolen – fake news that triggered an invasion of the US Capitol Building.
Millions of Americans fail to look reality in the eye. Indeed, it is estimated that half of the US population embrace fringe ideas associated with conspiracy theories. Facts and rational arguments are typically unsuccessful at altering these beliefs. Of course, you don’t have to trust everything that the mainstream and social media tell you. Still, we must be capable of assessing evidence and coming to a logical conclusion. In the words of former US Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan:
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer