Boomer Voices: Can we keep being the greatest?

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.”

Sunday’s crime scene in Miami.

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.

Many Americans are infatuated with powerful guns, easily available at local gun stores.

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?!?

A gun show, like many held across America every week. Tables strewn with hundreds of guns… as many as you want.

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.

A woman in Nashville sports a yellow Star of David with the words, “Not Vaccinated,” despite the abhorrent parallel to how Nazis labeled Jews.

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?

Q’Anon, the “cabal” of anti-Semitic beliefs, baseless and unproven conspiracy theories, and random myths and rumors.

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.”)

Greg Dobbs

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.


  1. I agree with you, with a few quibbles: If police are seeing “automatics”, they must be either stolen or illegally modified. For the average citizen, owning a machine gun, while legal if you pass the requirements, is simply not affordable.
    Gun shows? You still have to pass an FBI NICS background check before you can buy a gun there. Unless you buy it illegally.
    Reform does mean controlling how many people own guns. Beto O’Rourke, former Congressman: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

    1. Denver, you don’t read enough diverse media. There are plenty of articles about how easy it is to buy a gun. Also, what do you mean “not affordable”, more Americans own a gun than citizens of any other country. You are dreaming if you think our current laws somehow limit gun ownership to those who might be “responsible.” Owning a military-style weapon is not freedom. Tyranny does not come with a gun, it comes with lies, misinformation, and divisiveness. Think: Rwanda, hate radio pushed millions to kill each other.

      I am sick and tired of all this inaction in the face of the death of so many innocent lives.

  2. Thanks Greg. I would add to your list an astonishing lack of sensitivity to the continuing effects of our nation’s “original sin” of racism and the fear of many to permit educators to share the painful story of slavery and institutional/systemic racism (see Critical Race Theory) with our children. Our Governor in Florida would prefer to bury his head in the sand rather than face this inconvenient truth.

  3. Well said all around, Greg.

    It pains me to watch our democracy dissolving under the corrosive acid of ignorance, partisanship and a class of professional politicians who don’t give a care about it. They no longer think of the greater good, compromise or simple right and wrong. The gun lobby — which has lined politicians’ pockets for decades — has turned our country into an armed camp. There are 326 million people, and almost 400 million guns. Of that 326 million people, about 250 million are adults. That means we have more than one gun per person.

    As a retired military officer, I know how powerful these weapons are. No one, let me repeat that, no one, except criminals need an AR-15. Those are weapons of war. Nor do they need them to hunt. If you need an AR-15 to hunt, you are a ridiculous excuse for a sportsman and shouldn’t be trusted with a weapon in the first place.

    The Second Amendment was written in a time when there really were militias to protect us from external threats, not our fellow countrymen. Some view the “right to bear arms” as holy writ. The misinterpretation of that amendment has led to the constant bloodshed and ruined lives.

    No other developed country in the world has the level of routine killing that goes on in this country. I lived in Germany for five years and don’t recall one, single, solitary shooting.

    The United States ranks in the top ten worldwide for per capita gun deaths. Here is the line up for 2021. We are seventh in the world: a fact we should be deeply ashamed of.

    1. Honduras
    2. Venezuela
    3. El Salvador
    4. Guatemala
    5. Brazil
    6. Columbia
    7. United States of America
    8. Philippines
    9. South Africa
    10. Paraguay

    And, what will happen? Thoughts and prayers. What an insult to the victims and the hundreds of thousand more who will lose their lives in the years to come.

  4. Greg, when people like Mike Flynn’s and Matt Gaetz’s endorsements of armed insurrection (as is happening in Myanmar, in Flynn’s case; and encouraging people to employ their Second Amendment’s right to bear arms to overthrow our government, in Gaetz’s), is received with welcome applause by the large, cheering crowds that gather to listen to them, you know we’re in big trouble.

    Right now, our democracy is that proverbial frog treading water in a pot of slowly–but surely–temperature-rising water, and if we, it’s defenders, don’t do something quickly to lower the heat, it’s going to boil into extinction.

    A good first step would be to stop electing idiots to represent us. I believe the 2022 elections are going to truly tell us what kind of country–and people–we are. For those of us who care–GET OUT THE VOTE!

    1. Hola Larry, I agree. But, we have a problem, neocons have and are subverting our election process to produce results they want not what the people want. We need to pass H1 / S1 in Congress.

  5. What is it exactly that we are #1 in? Greed? Self-indulgence? Avocado toast? Our maternal death rate, while declining by inches, remains outrageous for a first-world nation. We rank in the middle of maternal death rates, between Oman and Uruguay. 18% of our adolescents are obese and around 30% of men and women who attempt to enlist in the Army are ruled out because of overweight. In the last year, May 2020-to-May 2021, 81,000 people died of opioid poisoning. And I’m too exhausted to look up the suicide statistics, which are horrific especially for teens and veterans. Sure, I’m worried about guns, but I’m terrified of the internal rot that obviates the optimism we Boomers carried when we began this slow slide into wherever it is we find ourselves now.

  6. Great nations don’t authorize their police to inflict punishment. Great nations don’t make it harder to vote. Great nations don’t allow unrestricted gun ownership or universal concealed carry. Great nations protect clean air and water. Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal were once great nations. None of them is an especially bad place to live. Like them, we’ve had our place at the top. We can only protect the vote, and the free press, while cutting the ties between corporate money and elected representatives and hope our democracy survives.

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