Politics Analysis

Cost of being sucked in by criminal grifters more than just money

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

The latest life expectancy data is good news for Australians but bad news for Americans, as Alan Austin reports.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

THE STORY is circulating on social media of an American farmer upset to discover petrol drained from his tractor, then finding a handwritten note: ‘Sorry about this. We ran out of petrol at night. Couldn’t find another solution. Will make it up to you. We promise.’

Soon after, the farmer and his family received in the mail six tickets to the big game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in the city a couple of hours away. The family had a great day and evening at the baseball with friends. Then returned home to find burglars had emptied their house completely.

This version of an old urban myth is a remarkably apt metaphor for the United States today. Hold that thought.

Life expectancy no longer increasing everywhere

The World Bank released data last week showing life expectancy for 209 countries to the end of 2021. The table from 1960 onwards reveals a general pattern of ever-increasing longevity. But not everywhere.

Of the 36 OECD member countries the UNDP classifies as having very high development, life expectancy between 2012 and 2021 actually declined in ten, reversing the long-term trend. Another 15 experienced an increase of less than 12 months, while 11 enjoyed lives extended by more than a year. The average increase for the group of 36 nations was 4.9 months. See yellow and blue chart, below.

(Data source: World Bank)

America lagging again

Coming last among these rich nations is the USA whose citizens on average now die 29 months sooner than in 2012. That’s nearly two and a half years. Other countries with declining longevity include Poland, Costa Rica and Latvia.

Australians on average are now living 20.5 months longer than in 2012, which ranks second best in the developed world. Only South Koreans have done better. Must be something in that kimchi. Other countries to have improved longevity impressively are Israel, Denmark and Canada.

Factors contributing to lower life expectancy in the USA include COVID-19 and other diseases, a high suicide rate, eating disorders, drug deaths and rampant violence. We saw here last month that American homicide rates were among the four worst in the OECD. More significantly, that analysis showed the USA virtually alone having experienced a surge in homicides since 2014.

Gun violence still at all-time highs

As we approach the year’s halfway point, the statistics show the USA is on track for another near-record year of firearm deaths.

Children aged 0 to 17 killed and injured by guns already number 3,130. That’s the highest ever to the end of June. Last year’s total was an all-time high of 6,168. That contrasts with 2,859 in 2014, before the Republican MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement appeared in 2015.

Other categories of gun deaths on track for tallies close to the highest on record, based on current numbers, include suicides, mass shootings, school shootings and police officers shot on duty. See green chart, below.

(Data source: Gun Violence Archive)

Turnbull thesis further validated

So why have these measures deteriorated in the USA since 2014 more than anywhere else?

The explanation that best fits the evidence is that these are the outcomes of the pact between Donald Trump and Fox News to concoct and spread a long list of malicious lies which would generate fear, anger and hatred across the nation. The intended outcomes were greater visibility and more votes for Trump and higher revenues and greater influence for News Corp.

The result was a sudden and dramatic increase in virtually all indicators of social disintegration.

Among observers to have identified the Trump/Fox News pact as the cause of the surge in killings, the most prominent is former conservative Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, after whom this thesis is named.

Damage to the social fabric

The costs to Americans of the MAGA assault on its values are not just in the realms of sickness and physical violence. Other losses are trust in the courts, faith in law enforcement agencies, confidence in the public service, belief in reliable election outcomes and respect for elected representatives. These have all been eroded by constant denigration by MAGA leaders, and by the conspicuous dereliction of duty of congressional Republicans and senior party officials.

Confidence in the Supreme Court has been rocked this year by credible allegations of corruption against two judges, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. This follows the unseemly spectacle of the three Supreme Court judges appointed by Donald Trump all assuring their confirmation hearings that they had no intention to change abortion laws and then doing precisely that at the first opportunity.

In foreign affairs and diplomacy, the USA lost considerable goodwill as Trump cosied up to dictators, undermined treaties with allies, abandoned bipartisanship on foreign policy and defence and ended cross-party collaboration on fundamental justice issues.

On the personal level, the sense of difference based on race, colour, religious faith and political affiliation is now more evident. It leads much more often to outbursts of anger and hostility.

Chasing the hollow promises

This returns us to the story of the naïve farmer who left his property unguarded to watch a baseball game for free.

Many Americans do have genuine grievances relating to loss of income security and loss of control over their destiny. A movement came along claiming it can fix the problems and restore what was lost. Americans have raced after those free tickets in expectation of winning. So much winning. Then, while grasping what the criminal grifters have offered, they are robbed of possessions of great value.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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