I’ve always been content to have been born in the United States. It’s a fine country for the most part, and I have enjoyed a good life, albeit not without some personal travails along the way, for all of the years that I have lived in it. I’m sure there are other countries that I could have also been happy with, but as a country to call one’s own, America has been as good, I suppose, as any and, undoubtedly, a lot better than more than a few.
But if the country is so good, why are its people so distasteful to me? That’s the question I’ve been contemplating of late. Here are three specifics:
o The Death Penalty – I have long been an opponent of this form of punishment for heinous criminal conduct, and for just as long I have been in the minority with that attitude. The majority of Americans still support capital punishment, in spite of the fact that it is now generally regarded as almost impossible to execute anyone under what can be considered humane conditions, and in spite of the evidence that suggests that some of the condemned were wrongly convicted and/or wrongly sentenced, and in spite of the fact that the societal cost of actually executing a criminal (factoring in the costs of appeals and extended incarceration while awaiting execution) is significantly greater than a sentence of life in prison, and in spite of the fact that as a deterrent the evidence is at best mixed as to whether it works, and, most significantly for me, in spite of the fact that the bulk of the civilized world now rejects capital punishment as immoral and inhuman. In fact, the United States is now only one of six countries that still allow executions as a commonly used form of punishment. (The others are China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea. Could there be a more unattractive group to be part of?)
And yet, even with all the reasons to stop using the death penalty, the American people continue to support, if not demand, its continued existence. And the support for it is so strong that even in the immediate aftermath of the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate last month, President Obama could not speak in condemnation of the practice, instead hemming and hawing his way into a plea for consideration of its effectiveness and urging a study of the issue. (A profile in courage his press conference most decidedly was not.)
o The gun culture – Yes, I know it’s in the Constitution, the Second Amendment thereto to be exact. And I know that the Supreme Court (on a couple of those narrow 5-4 votes) has declared that the constitutional provision allows individual ownership of guns with only minimal restrictions. But the American love of guns goes beyond anything intended by the founders or even by the five justices who ruled as they did in the 2008 Heller and 2010 McDonald cases that secured that individual ownership right to all Americans.
How many school shootings and workplace killings and movie theater massacres must the country endure before some form of modest control over the ownership of guns can be legislated? I hate the ease with which guns can be used by those with deranged attitudes about whatever topic causes them to “go postal,” and I hate the fact that the strength of the gun culture intimidates most politicians from enacting rational gun control legislation.
Is it really un-American to oppose gun ownership? Are we really that much more enlightened on the subject than Great Britain, where gun ownership is severely restricted (and murders per capita are far lower than the United States) or Canada, where there is no legally recognized right to own guns (and murders per capita are miniscule) or Australia, where gun ownership is heavily regulated (and murders per capita are far lower than in the U.S.)?
o The rejection of scientific evidence – I’m thinking specifically of climate change here, but the topic can apply to an array of other subjects (teaching creationism in school on an equal level with evolution is one that comes immediately to mind) on which many Americans are insistent on denying the validity of scientific study. Just last week, a new report on climate change, issued by a collective of scientists and government agencies, suggested that we may have passed a tipping point in the ever-increasing effect of human-made causes of significant changes in the world’s climate. The effects in the United States of these changes will be largely negative, but the reaction from many Americans ranged from a rejection of the evidence to a claim that it was all politically motivated.
One poll found that 44% of Americans (of which, I must note, the vast majority identify themselves as Republicans) do not believe the report or otherwise discount the significance of any change in the world’s climate. In another poll conducted last year, the United States ranked last in considering climate change to be a major threat to its country’s welfare. (Only 40% of Americans considered it to be so, as compared to 54% worldwide.) The latest scientific study indicates that severe weather will be increasingly more common, that temperatures will continue to rise at an accelerated rate, and that sea levels will make many coastal regions uninhabitable within this century.
And yet, in spite of this evidence, no less a potential presidential candidate than Republican Senator Marco Rubio just this week announced that he doesn’t consider the evidence on global warming alarming or even legitimate. When you’re running for president (or even thinking of running), you don’t make such statements, flying in the face of the vast consensus of scientific study, unless you firmly believe that most of your potential constituents don’t believe in the studies.
So there it is. I live in a country that is populated with people who are diametrically opposed to what I espouse and believe. It leaves me to ponder if it’s possible to love your country but not its citizens.