9/11 memory fade is wholesome in an America with sickening body and body politic
Guns. Drugs. Supreme Court judges. Politicians who deepen polarisation
America’s gradual forgetting of 9/11 is the one wholesome thing that can be said about a country in which so much is wrong with body and body politic.
Every day, 120 Americans die at the end of a gun, including suicides and homicides, which makes for the shocking average of 43,375 per year.
The US spends more on health care than any other high-income country but still has the lowest life expectancy at birth and the highest rate of people with multiple chronic diseases, according to independent research group The Commonwealth Fund. Big cities are ravaged by fentanyl, a class of powerful synthetic opioids that have become the biggest killer of Americans aged between 18 and 49. Fentanyl was responsible for two-thirds of the 110,000 Americans who died of a drug overdose in 2022.
The American justice system too appears to be sickening. It is the only country other than Aruba to appoint high court judges for life with the result that they feel supremely entitled and unaccountable. US Supreme Court judges are taking liberties with ethics disclosures, capitalising on the impunity they enjoy. Justice Clarence Thomas is the most notable example of this lamentable tendency. However, his fellow judge on the Supreme Court bench, Samuel Alito, has also been shockingly casuistic about the reality that he and others who sit in judgement on others, at the pinnacle of the American justice system, cannot be regulated in any way. It is possible to impeach a US Supreme Court judge and thus be rid of them, but as The Economist’s Supreme Court correspondent Steven Mazie recently pointed out, even that “sole institutional check on bad behaviour” has been “used successfully only once, in 1804 – and even then Samuel Chase was acquitted in the Senate and remained on the bench for six more years”.
Finally, there is America’s politics. Not only is one of its two main parties increasingly white nationalist, anti-democratic, minoritarian and dedicated to fighting a persistent, bitter and wide-ranging culture war, it is unwilling to prise itself apart from its four-times indicted standard-bearer Donald Trump.
Add to that the fact that its politicians are more highly ideologically polarised than the voters they are meant to lead. Read between the lines of this month’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace review of a decade of research and it’s clear America’s politicians are not helping to bridge divides but to exacerbate them.
According to the review, voters reveal “affective” or emotional polarisation, which means “they do not like members of the other party”. But Americans’ affective polarisation is pretty much at the same levels as “in many European countries”, it says, but European “democracies are not suffering as much”. This suggests “that something about the US political system, media, campaigns, or social fabric is allowing Americans’ level of emotional polarization to be particularly harmful to US democracy,” the review said.
Is it America’s politicians? Its media market? The huge role of money in American politics and elections? Or a combination of the three?