What’s the world coming to? That’s the question posed today in this Boomer Voices piece by BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs. He doesn’t say “America, love it or leave it.” But he does say, “Change it.”
I love America. I’ve always seen it as the greatest nation on earth, and having covered news in dozens of countries where liberties are limited and life is cheap, I think I appreciate that as much as anyone.
But can it continue to be? When you step away and ask that question, the answer isn’t always so clear.
Here’s Exhibit A: Describing the mass shooting Sunday in Florida, the director of the Miami-Dade Police Department said that three men “stepped out of the vehicle with assault rifles and handguns and started firing indiscriminately into the crowd.”
Just stop and think about that for a moment. They simply got out of their car and opened fire. Didn’t care who they hit. Didn’t care who they killed.
Not that it matters whether they cared or not. Another gunman, who four days earlier shot up the San Jose transportation depot where he worked, apparently targeted the nine co-workers he killed as he spared others.
And the world is watching. So ask yourself, if you didn’t already live here in the United States of America, would you want to now? Especially if you learned that Sunday’s massacre was but one of 243 mass shootings this year so far; a mass shooting is defined as four or more victims shot at the same place, at the same time. It was one of 65 in the month of May alone. The numbers are unnerving: in 2021 to date, a total of 1,255 people shot in these slaughters, 283 dead. All told, the FBI reports murders in America for the first three months of the year are up by 18%. The vast majority were with guns.
And we’re not even halfway into the year, with startling statistics as an ominous sign of what’s coming. Just a few weeks ago, the federal government did a record 1.2 million background checks for citizens who wanted to buy guns. That’s 1.2 million in a single week. Some were buying them for the first time. Some were adding to their arsenals. Altogether, estimates put the number of guns in circulation as high as 400 million. And counting. What’s more, police departments report that they are seeing automatics and semi-automatics more powerful than before, with bigger magazines to carry more ammo.
And now, after Texas last week joined a growing list, you can carry a concealed handgun— with no permit, no training, no education at all— in 20 states.
What is this world coming to?!?
For people in societies tormented by violence and oppression, maybe the answer to the question about living here would still be yes. By comparison to what they’ve suffered, maybe life here still sounds sweet. But for the rest of us, it sometimes seems not so much sweet as insane.
And the world’s not just watching our insatiable attachment to guns.
It’s also watching our inexplicable response to Covid. Sure, between former President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed to produce vaccines and President Biden’s warp speed program to get them into Americans’ arms, we are now ahead of almost all the world. But since the pandemic started, too many Americans wouldn’t wear masks, wouldn’t get tested, wouldn’t socially-distance. They said they had the right to refuse, as if the rest of us don’t have the right to survive.
The pandemic as a political football led to some of the world’s highest rates of transmission and death, and led to this despairing question by The New York Times’s David Brooks about cohesion and sacrifice for the common good: “Could today’s version of America have been able to win World War II? It hardly seems possible.”
If the world is watching us, what it sees— to poach from Brooks— is a nation of people in which “it’s not that they are rebuking their responsibilities as citizens; it apparently never occurs to them that they might have any.”
Hardly Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on the hill.”
And then there’s the issue of America’s very bedrock, democracy. Put yourself in the shoes of some citizen watching us from overseas. Especially one who always has looked to us as a peerless exemplar of what we preach. Ask yourself what you would think today when you see states— most states— assaulting that bedrock, passing laws to suppress voters’ rights, not expand them. If their manipulations to rig our elections last, how can we decry rigged elections anywhere else?
To say nothing of Donald Trump’s big lie about the integrity of our elections. While the world watches. His lie is hard enough to fathom, let alone the millions of Americans who buy into it, which is even harder. Especially when it comes to the crazies convinced by Q’Anon’s preposterous proposition that pedophiles worshipping Satan control the workings of government. Polling shows that upwards of 15% of Americans believe this. Chew on that for a moment: 15 out of every hundred people you see actually accept such nonsense.
And for those of us who don’t, it gets scarier. In one new poll, 15 out of a hundred agree that “American patriots may have to resort to violence” to correct the country’s course. (And of those, almost half say they believe “the COVID-19 vaccine contains a surveillance microchip that is the sign of the beast in biblical prophecy.”)
The world is watching. This doesn’t encourage it to look to us for shelter. Let alone for wisdom. Let alone for leadership.
What the world sees is a nation, according to the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform, that requires more hours of training, on average, for its barbers than for its police. What it sees is a nation that stands alone amongst its Western allies in considering healthcare a privilege rather than a universal right. What it sees is a nation that won’t draw the line on gun ownership anywhere below the likes of an AK-47. Reform doesn’t mean controlling how many people own guns. It means controlling how many people die from guns.
But try telling that to the gun lobby, and the millions who uncritically support it.
Look, like I said at the top, I love America. But if we don’t find a way to reverse our course, can we keep calling this the greatest nation on earth? And even if we do, will the world believe it? That’s what’s at stake. That’s what’s in jeopardy.