Historically, Americans, especially their politicians, like to brag about American "exceptionalism," an ideology that the United States is unique among all other countries in everything from its form of government to a belief that it has a mission to transform the rest of the world.
Some say the concept first gained its footing in the early 1800s when Alexis de Tocqueville wrote "Democracy in America," in which he praised American liberty and individualism as exceptional, as later, in different contexts, did Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Today, conservative commentators have expanded the term to suggest it's what makes America superior over other nations.
I couldn't help wonder about that several days ago as we learned of yet another school massacre, this one in Texas.
Predictably, Texas politicians quickly noted that the Texas shootings were nothing like the one that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17, a few weeks before. You can't blame guns, they repeated for the millionth time.
No, everyone from Texas' lieutenant governor to newly elected National Rifle Association president, the disgraceful Oliver North, proclaimed that the killing is the result of other factors.
It's a result of our violent culture, North told Fox News.
"Nearly all these perpetrators are male, and they're young teenagers in most cases," the retired Marine lieutenant colonel, who helped smuggle arms to Iran back in the '80s, remarked. "And they've come through a culture where violence is commonplace. All we need to do is turn on TV, get a movie. If you look at what has happened to young people, many of these young boys have been on Ritalin since they were in kindergarten."
He failed to mention that he has been the pitchman for a video game that viewers play on a particularly violent battlefield of the future.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is frequently prone to uttering weird theories, insisted that it's a result of life being devalued, whether through abortion, the breakup of families, or violent movies and music. "It's not about the guns, it's about us."
He then goes on to explain that what happened in Santa Fe, Texas, High could have been averted if there weren't so many entrances and exits in the school building. Others blamed our lack of religion.
One of my favorite columnists, Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune, was curious about those claims.
How come, he wondered, only we seem to have this problem, when young people in other countries face similar circumstances?
The "our culture is causing mass shootings" argument "is compelling and can sound reasonable on a visceral level." But it's not reality, he pointed out.
For instance, the five countries that spend the most money on video games are China, the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. The violent gun deaths per 100,000 people in those counties is 0.06 for China, 3.85 for the U.S., 0.04 for Japan, 0.12 for Germany and 0.07 for the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Huppke points out, a Pew Research Center study reported that a little more than half of Americans say religion is important to their lives, but in China only 3 percent say so, in Japan just 11 percent. Only 21 percent of the people in the U.K. and Germany consider religion paramount.
As to Patrick's claim that abortion has devalued human life in the U.S., then how come that hasn't been the case in countries like the U.K. and Sweden, which have as high and higher abortion rates than the United States?
Or as New York Times' columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote: "One reason Americans in their late teens are 82 times more likely to be murdered with guns than their peers in other advanced nations is simply that we are awash with guns, some 300 million of them."
And as we continue to blame mental illness for other massacres, does that mean that Americans somehow are more mentally ill than people in other countries?
But, fret not, our exceptionalism when it comes to guns may soon change. The Trump administration is considering a new rule to make it easier for American gunmakers to export their wares to other countries. Just what the world needs.
It's difficult to ask, but have we now evolved to a point where we have become exceptional in perpetrating evil?
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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