To understand the various forms of cruelty that are now synonymous with the United States, one has to leave behind the realms of punditry, political analysis, and socioeconomic dissection and enter the terrain of abnormal psychology. America is a profoundly sick and cruel society, which is clear to anyone observing daily events from abroad and wondering how Americans tolerate easy access to high-powered weapons, accept the crippling expense of basic health care, and remain largely complacent in the face of the growing fascism of Trump’s administration. For those who have never left America’s shores, however, the fear, anger, bloodletting, and despair of everyday life rarely rise to a level of pressing concern. Most Americans do not have passports and have never traveled abroad. Many sincerely believe that the United States is the best country that has ever existed, and bristle angrily at any critic who says otherwise. Having no experience of life in places where mass murders are not a weekly (or nowadays, daily) occurrence, and where people do not descend into bankruptcy upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, the madness that is America seems normal. It’s madness to accept this madness.
An inability to admit to and deal with one’s problems and deficiencies, while blaming and demonizing others for anything that might be amiss, is a key component of the mental illness known as narcissism. It’s probably fitting that a raging narcissist like Donald Trump is president of a country that is, in effect, a narcissistic personality disorder writ large. Trump did not cause this, however; America has been very sick for a very long time. If it hadn’t been, Trump could never have entered the White House.
This month, America’s madness and cruelty has risen to a fevered pitch, with two mass killings by angry young white men in the space of 13 hours, the first in El Paso, Texas, where a self-declared white nationalist killed 22 people shopping at a Walmart store, and the second in Dayton, Ohio, where a young man who had been suspended from high school eight years ago for having a “hit list” of students he wanted to kill or rape murdered eight people (including his sister) in just 33 seconds before the police shot him dead. While mass shootings are now as American as predatory capitalism and homelessness, these two deadly events, coming in rapid succession, focused public debate not only on guns, but also on the growing overlap between disaffected young white men, Trump’s racist discourse, and far-right movements, many based online, whose adherents are eager to take up arms to attain their twisted goals.
Such is the power of the National Rifle Association lobby (NRA) in Congress that any sane discussion of gun violence is immediately deflected and replaced with speculations about the shooter’s mental health or the influence of violent computer games featuring first-person shooter narratives. Although psychological problems and blood-soaked video games might contribute minimally to the constant carnage in the United States, it’s the easy access to guns, along with the cultural significance of guns as symbols of strength and masculinity, that requires deeper analysis. At present, there are more guns than people in the United States. Despite the huge number of men, women, and children who have been murdered by active shooters over the last 25 years, government-funded research into the scourge of gun violence is non-existent. The NRA has ensured that Congress does not name gun violence as a public health emergency, or set aside funding to study and stop it.
When I lived in Beirut from 1993-1998, friends and family in the United States worried about my safety in a country they knew mostly from a decade and a half of news reports of car bombings, Israeli aerial assaults, snipers, internecine bombardments, and hostage taking. “Aren’t you scared to live there!?” they would ask with concern when I came home for summer visits. I would tell them that the scariest things were driving and grappling with the depths of corruption in academia, business, and government. By the time I returned to the United States, mass school shootings like the one in a high school in Columbine, Colorado in 1999 concerned me more than anything I’d experienced in Lebanon (with the exception of Israel’s 1996 “Grapes of Wrath” attacks on Qana and Beirut). Entering a large shopping mall, I’d often feel vaguely unsettled and anxious that someone might pull out a gun and start randomly spraying shoppers with bullets. It was the unpredictability of gun violence that disturbed me. For no reason, some young man might decide the best way to spend his afternoon was committing mass murder. There did not seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.
Now, however, there is a twisted and terrifying rhyme and reason to these actions. Mass shooters are increasingly motivated by hate of “the other”—the non-white, the non-American, the Muslim, the Latino, the Gay and Lesbian—the “enemies of America” as defined by growing right wing and white supremacist groups, all of which are directly or indirectly buttressed by the vile rhetoric spewing from the White House and the mouthpieces of Donald Trump’s supporters on Fox News and in the Senate. Even in post-war Lebanon, where everyone was nursing their wounds—literal and figurative—after 15 agonizing years of civil war, I did not sense such strong hatred among my friends, neighbors, colleagues, and in-laws.
After the carnage in El Paso, some of my friends expressed fears of a possible civil war erupting in the United States. I tell them it has already begun. We are being terrorized by a minority of the U.S. population, whose anger is too easily amplified by assault rifles, on-line manifestos, social media flame wars, and our elected representatives’ abdication of responsibility for the common good. Worse still, Donald Trump has realized that this hate, violence, and terror are convenient tools—weapons, actually—in his effort to win the 2020 election. And if he doesn’t win, it’s entirely possible that he could mobilize a hidden army of sick young white men to wreak vengeance on Americans for voting him out of office. In the absence of serious efforts at gun control and a rigorous debate about America’s abnormal psychology, we might be in for a very bloody election season.
Read this article in Arabic here.