We have a national anthem that speaks of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
There’s a lot of righteous chest-thumping over freedom these days. You see those little yellow snake flags everywhere you turn. A few weeks ago, I saw a guy on the street in a black T-shirt. On the front of the shirt was an enormous, angry, wild-eyed eagle, its talons bared to the world. And emblazoned in red behind the big, bad bird was the word “Freedom.” That’s all. No subtext. No organization or cause. Just an angry eagle and “Freedom.”
Yes, everybody loves freedom. You can justify violence, bigotry and much reprehensible behavior in the name of personal freedom. But I would like to say a few words in defense of bravery.
You don’t hear much about bravery – let’s call it courage – in America these days. Courage is generally a virtue of quiet strength, unlike freedom, which is too often expressed in belligerent and threatening behavior. It takes courage to trust in people and institutions, courage to be tolerant, courage to question your own beliefs and attitudes, courage to belong to something larger than yourself. And courage seems to be in short supply these days.
To listen to talk radio, to Fox News or to many politicians in this country today, you would think America is at war, America is falling apart, America is collapsing. In fact, you can hear these very words used almost daily to describe the most powerful nation on the planet.
You hear that America’s enemies are all around us and among us. They come in many colors and packages. They are immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, Democrats, gays, atheists, environmentalists, Colin Kaepernick. They threaten our national security, our economy, our way of life. Like latter day Paul Reveres, these fear-mongers ride the airways, warning us that our enemies are at the gate and within the walls, exhorting us to stand up, man the barricades, ferret out the traitors and aliens.
They tell us that ISIS is the equivalent of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. They say that gay marriage and Black Lives Matter are eroding the foundations of society. They claim that Obamacare has “death panels,” that the president himself is a Kenyan and a Muslim, that he has sold us out to Iran and Russia, that he wants to impose Sharia law.
Fear! It’s an industry. It’s the stock and trade of the right wing in this country. It gins up ratings and promotes political careers. In the process, it has made us a nation of bed wetters.
Take Donald Trump. The poor bastard is obviously scared shitless. How many times a day does he change underwear? What does he spend on laundry service? Does he call it a business expense? Does he pay for it out of his foundation? Perhaps this is the reason he refuses to release his tax records.
Reality is far different from the world Trump and his followers live in and there is much evidence to prove it. PolitiFact recently tallied the Americans killed by terrorists and killed by guns in this country in the last ten years. A grand total of 71 were killed by terrorists; 301,797 killed by guns. Yet even a failed terrorist attack will get the talking heads spewing and foaming for days.
In his ground-breaking study, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker shows that we are living in the most peaceful period in human history. “The world was a far more dangerous place” in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, he writes.
The Uppsala Conflict Data Program reports that armed conflicts have declined by almost 40 percent since the end of the Cold War. According to Foreign Affairs journal, “Today, wars tend to be low-intensity conflicts that, on average, kill about 90 percent fewer people than did violent struggles in the 1950s.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch says, “The United States faces no plausible military invader or attacker. All we are really talking about when we discuss threats from Iran or North Korea or ISIS, is whether our margin of safety should be very large or even larger.”
Stephanie Rugolo of the conservative Cato Institute writes, “No great power in world history comes close to enjoying the traditional state security that the United States does today.”
Want to talk about crime? Rauch writes, “The violent crime rate (which excludes homicide) has declined by more than 70 percent since the early 1990s. The homicide rate has declined by half, and in 2011 it reached the lowest level since 1963.”
There are a lot of people out there who want to scare you. Frightened people are easily duped and misled. Don’t be one of them. Stand up. Think for yourself. Be brave.