Here’s the Problem

I don’t feel like writing. I don’t feel like doing anything. This whole pandemic situation has become emotionally paralyzing for me. I wish I could remain optimistic and believe that some positive, humane changes will result from this catastrophe, but I just can’t. The many examples of human kindness and concern which marked the beginning of this crisis have recently been overtaken by myriad examples of people being stupid, selfish and uncaring. And yes – I’m talking about Americans.

I recently read an opinion piece by a young American blogger. His thesis was that the right-wing of his country’s media outlets and political institutions have fostered and promulgated the virtues of being a sociopath for the last 35 years. Psychopaths are born, but sociopaths, like bigots and misogynists, are made. The right have couched sociopathic ideas in patriotic rhetoric, claiming freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution supersede any other consideration. Things like scientific evidence, the health and welfare of yourself and others, and even common sense take a back seat to personal liberty. This is textbook sociopathy wrapped in the Stars and Stripes.

I found an article in Psychology Today which explained how sociopaths are identified. Mental health clinicians use seven markers to make this diagnosis, and the lockdown protestors in the U.S. are currently demonstrating six of these. Firstly, they don’t respect social norms or laws. There are groups of demonstrators in 20 states now, that’s 40% of the country, that are defying emergency laws to self-isolate every time they assemble. They often act without thinking of consequences or considering their own safety or that of others, a behaviour clearly on display in their close proximity to one another at their rallies. They don’t feel compelled to act on personal responsibilities, like being a good citizen by staying home and social distancing. Sociopaths tend to show aggressive or aggravated behaviour – many picketers are loud and belligerent while others pack an implied threat in the form of automatic weapons. Finally they don’t feel guilt or remorse for harming others, which is summed up perfectly in a protestor’s sign I saw on FB this week which read, “Sacrifice the weak. Open up Tennessee.”

Front line medical staff are literally risking their lives every day they go to work, and lately they’ve upped their presence on social media, posting increasingly desperate pleas for people to please stay home. Protesters seem to have no compunction about gathering in large groups despite this, belittling the efforts of these brave workers by ignoring their request to social distance while simultaneously adding to their workload by facilitating the spread of the disease. The demonstrators’ most prominent supporter, Donald Trump, said today it’s “beautiful” to see nurses and doctors entering hospitals and “… running into death just like soldiers running into bullets.” It’s not that the anti-lockdown contingent doesn’t know what’s happening to medical personnel, it’s just that they don’t care. What they want, or at least feel entitled to, is more important than the sacrifice and courage of others. Textbook sociopathic behaviour.

I’ve heard American protestors saying that the pandemic is a hoax. A hoax?! Perpetrated by whom and to what end? There have been a reported 85,149 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. to date, making up a full 28% of the world’s total fatalities from the disease. That is more people than live in my city. There really is no way that this number could have been fabricated. Where did all those people go and, more importantly, what reason could there possibly be for faking their deaths? Why would every other country in the world, along with the W.H.O. and respected American medical facilities like the N.I.H and C.D.C., make up such a story? With regards to the lockdown, what politician who ever wants to be re-elected would knowingly put their constituents into economic hardship unless they were convinced is was the right thing to do?

Some demonstrators are also carrying signs that say this is just another flu, and everyone should calm down and go back to work. There is no way these people have any idea about the severity or pathology of Covid-19, and yet they are so skeptical of authorities that they are literally willing to put their own lives and those of others at risk rather than take the advice of virologists the world over. All of this points to the deep distrust of governments and experts which has been cultivated in the American people by the G.O.P. and conservative media for decades. The only sane explanation for what is happening is that it is happening – there is a pandemic, the disease is highly infectious and often deadly, and the only way to stop its spread is by social distancing and self-isolation. It is a clear indication of a malfunctioning society that so many U.S. citizens are unable or unwilling to grasp this reality.

There’s no question that Trump inherited a profoundly selfish, suspicious and angry base, but I think a lot of the credit for the mind-blowing stupidity and consequent danger they are facing at the moment must be laid at his feet. The Republicans have for years resisted increasing grants to health care and research facilities, but it is Trump who has withdrawn financial support to the W.H.O. in the middle of a pandemic and is proposing a 7% reduction in funding to the N.I.H next year. Fox News has been reporting falsehoods as truth for as long as its been on the air, but it was Trump who proclaimed Fox’s ultimate credibility while repeatedly undermining legitimate, fact-checking media. The American people have thus been left to wonder if there is any reliable conduit to the truth. It was John Boehner and Mitch McConnell who made it the G.O.P.’s main mission to block Democratic initiatives regardless of their merit and to widen an ever-increasing divide between the right and the left. Trump made that chasm unbreachable by successfully fanning the flames of hatred between the two sides and stoking the engine of fear and distrust.

I look at the States right now and see a country teetering on the edge of something very bad. At least many more thousands of people will needlessly die from the coronavirus, and at worst this will still happen plus their fermenting discontent and massive personal arsenals may lead to another civil war. There is no room for civil discourse or agreeing to disagree in America, and there hasn’t been for some time. The Southern Poverty Law Centre keeps tabs on the number of militias that exist in the U.S., and as of 2015 the confirmed number was 276. I would imagine that even more have formed since Trump took power. These militias have stockpiles of automatic weaponry, and their members are incredibly angry and deeply suspicious of their government and authority of all stripes. They are sociopaths hell-bent on their own survival and consequently extremely dangerous.

I am not suggesting that everyone in the U.S. is a sociopath, but I think a majority of their population truly believe that personal freedom is of paramount importance. I would imagine that many of the thousands of people who are currently flocking to the beaches in Florida, and particularly California, are otherwise socially responsible liberals. As soon as their right to freedom of movement and assembly is curtailed however, regardless of the reason, they flout the rule of law and do whatever they want. That is the unassailable right of every American, regardless of political stripe.

Over 200 years ago Patrick Henry spurred the American Colonies to revolt against British rule with the words, “Give me liberty or give me death.” I think this has become the fundamental credo of the United States. Their citizens are raised to carry it deep in their hearts along with a myopic patriotism reinforced by daily recitations of the pledge of allegiance and omnipresent iterations of their flag in every form imaginable – from underwear to hot-air balloons. I have found our southern neighbour to be scary for some time, and the absolutely crazy behaviour currently playing out all over their country, not to mention in The White House, just reinforces my fear. I wish we could pick Canada up and move it somewhere else – preferably far across the Atlantic to the shores of Europe. Seeing as how this is impossible, the best I can hope for is that our shared border will remain closed for a long, long time. Let’s all keep fingers crossed that Biden will win the fall election and be able to pull his country out of its current tailspin. Economies the world over, ours included, would be devastated by such a crash.

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