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Our Country and Constitution are in Big Trouble
by Marc Jampole
RECENT POLLS PAINT an unappetizing portrait of the United States and its citizens. If you believe these polls, we have a violent, gun-toting, intolerant, and racist society ruled by lies. These polls are very disappointing for progressive Americans, as majorities or large pluralities support conservative positions. Funny thing is, in almost every case, the rightwing position works against the best interests of virtually all Americans. These polls show how much the rightwing has succeeded in manipulating large portions of the American people through fear-mongering, lies, and racism.
Here are what the latest surveys tell us:
Torture Americans support torture, which is illegal in the United States and most of the world, has been proven to yield no results and is a debasing, shameful practice that goes against most moral codes. According to a Washington-PostABC–TV poll, 59 percent of all Americans believe the United States was justified to engage in torture after the 9/11 attacks. A Pew Research Center study says that 53 percent of Americans support our now-dismantled torture program.
Gun Control: Studies conducted mainly in foreign countries demonstrate that the number of violent crimes increases in societies in which there is more gun ownership. The more guns out there, the more deaths by guns and the more violent crimes occur. These studies of the impact of gun ownership dismantle the old saw that “when guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns,” since in countries that outlaw guns, fewer crimes are committed using them. Note that these studies only involve foreign countries, because a federal law passed forbids the use of federal money to conduct studies involving gun ownership and gun violence.
Most people haven’t seen these studies, but they do hear National Rifle Association propaganda on a weekly basis. As a result, a recent Pew Research poll finds that 52 percent of the population support additional protection of gun rights and 46 percent support gun control — the first time in about twenty years that Pew found more support for gun rights than gun control.
Police treatment of African-Americans: Numerous statistics and studies show that police departments and the criminal justice system treat African-Americans unfairly. Blacks are caught and convicted of more victimless crimes, i.e., drug-related offenses, than are whites. Stop-and-frisk policies focus almost exclusively on black and Hispanic neighborhoods. African-Americans represent 14 percent of the population, but 39 percent of unarmed people killed by the police. Yet a recent NBC/Marist poll concluded that 51 percent of whites believe that police officers in their community treat blacks and whites equally, and just 39 percent of whites say law enforcement uses different standards for whites and blacks.
A Diverse and Secular Society: The Constitution established the United States as a secular society with a strict separation between church and state. The American ideal has always been that people of different faiths and creeds come together in public places to conduct the business of the economy, government and our society, and then everyone goes home to her or his own belief system. But in the 21st century, yet another Pew study reveals that a whopping 72 percent of all Americans want nativity scenes on public property. Planting a nativity scene inside a public school or in front of a government building shows a decided preference for the various sects that make up Christianity over the other religions practiced by Americans. It imposes one belief system on the public realm and makes many holding a different faith feel estranged or at least oppressed.
USING THESE SURVEYS to build a composite picture of the average American leaves us with a majority that believes in torture, feels comfortable in an inherently violent society, sees nothing wrong with the criminal justice system singling out one race for harassment and has no problem committing society-wide acts of cultural imperialism.
Yet virtually everyone I know is against torture, favors gun control, is distraught over the unequal treatment of and the all-too-frequent acts of police brutality against minorities, and prefers to practice religion (or lack thereof) in private. Of course, I have always lived in big cities in blue states (except for two horrible years in Florida during high school) and mostly know educated professionals, many of whom are minorities.
Based on these studies, I must have been doing anecdotal thinking all these years by imagining that a majority of my fellow Americans matched the views that I learned during my university years and are held by my very large circle of acquaintances. I consider myself a real-world kind of guy. But I think I may prefer living in my anecdotes, which, while they may not represent the views of most Americans, do reflect both factual reality and the ideals we are taught in public school.
Marc Jampole, a member of our editorial board, is a poet and writer who runs Jampole Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Pittsburgh. He blogs several times a week at OpEdge.