Richard Reeves

Is America Crazy?

LOS ANGELES -- John Cassidy loves The United States. He worked here for almost 30 years as a British correspondent and five years ago became an American citizen. Now he writes for The New Yorker, where he has a blog, and for The New York Review of Books.

His latest online effort is titled: "Is America Crazy? Ten Reasons It Might Be."

Writing the day after the Aurora massacre, he said:

"Are firearms the only subject on which Americans are, let us say, a little batty? I'm not so sure. ... I am greatly attached to this country and admire many aspects of it enormously. But the dogged persistence of certain American shibboleths has always struck me as somewhat curious.

"What are these shared convictions? I could go on all day, but here, for argument's sake, are 10. Not all Americans subscribe to them, of course. In some instances, the true believers may amount to a small but vocal minority. Still, the popular sentiment underlying these statements is so strong that politicians defy it at their peril."

Here is his top 10:

1. Gun laws and gun deaths are unconnected.

2. Private enterprise is good; public enterprise is bad.

3. God created America and gave it a special purpose.

4. Our health-care system is the best there is.

5. The Founding Fathers were saintly figures who established liberty and democracy for everyone.

6. America is the greatest country in the world.

7. Tax rates are too high.

8. America is a peace-loving nation; the reason it gets involved in so many wars is that foreigners keep attacking us.

9. Cheap energy, gasoline especially, is our birthright.

10. Everybody else wishes they were American.

And then:

"Some of these statements may be true. But truth or falsehood isn't the point here; it is whether or not certain beliefs are amenable to reason. I don't think these are, which is what puts them in the category of irrationality, flakiness, nonsense, nuttiness, absurdity, craziness.

"Call it what you want, the upshot is the same: a failure to look reality in the eye and deal with it on a sensible, empirical basis. Which, if you think about it, pretty much defines Washington politics over the past 20 or 30 years."

I pretty much agree with all that. But will comment only on No. 1 and No. 10 -- and add an 11th: That entertainment is a lot more than just being entertained -- like lions and gladiators, boxers and football players get concussions in the name of fun. Orson Welles brought that up as long ago as the 1970s, saying: "We're brutalizing the audience. We're going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum. The respect for human life seems to be eroding."

Welles was quoted by the writer and director Peter Bogdanovich in an interview with Gregg Kilday in the Hollywood Reporter. Stating the obvious, which no one out here wants to speak or hear, Bogdanovich said:

"Obviously, there is violence in the world, and you have to deal with it. But there are other ways to do it without showing people getting blown up. ... Today, there's a general numbing of the audience. There's too much murder and killing. You make people insensitive by showing it all the time. The body count in pictures is huge. It numbs the audience into thinking it's not so terrible.

"This guy in Colorado legally had an arsenal. What's an AK attack rifle for? What is that for but to kill people? It's not for hunting. Why is it for sale? It boggles the mind. ... Anytime there's a massacre, which is almost yearly now, we say, 'Well, it's not the guns. Guns don't kill people. People kill people' and all that bullshit from the NRA. Politicians are afraid to touch it because of the right wing. And nothing ever changes. We're living in the Wild West."

Or are we just dangerous people living out fantasies and lies? By the way, not everyone in the world wants to be an American. Most just want the riches we are perpetually fighting to keep.

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