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What does the failed state of Yemen have in common with the USA?   Not much, I hear you say.  But these are the ONLY two countries in the world that allow civilians to wander the streets carrying repeating and semi-automatic long guns without a permit.  Weapons that would not be out of place in a war zone.  

It is hard for anyone outside of these two countries to even begin to comprehend the mindset of legislators who would condone this in this day and age, but in the USA what passes for ‘normal’ long ago ceased to bear any resemblance to norms recognisable by civilised society around the world.

The photograph below is not unusual; the swaggering display of killing force in a public place not illegal – in America and Yemen.  It is illegal everywhere else. It was taken last April in the Michigan State Capitol and shows a group of civilians posing, playing pretendy soldiers, men whose lives must be so emasculated that they have to do this to be able to respect themselves, because no-one else does.  The sort of person, like one interviewed before the 6th of January insurrection in Washington DC who ended his wild comments with the words, “He’s a genius, that’s what the ‘J’ in Donald J Trump stands for” and another who shouted angrily, “This is not a democracy, it’s a republic!”.

It’s easy to blame the rise of right-wing media (especially Rupert Murdoch and his mis-named Fox ‘News’ programme that spews forth misinformation (aka lies) from talking heads paid to stir up hate) for the state of play in America today but  the underlying gun culture in the USA is akin to throwing petrol on a smouldering fire and the recent events (and I predict, events yet to come) in America show how such a fire can rage out of control.

If countless massacres of innocent children by crazy gunmen who can buy military grade weapons with impunity has not pricked America’s sense of decency and brought commonsense to the legislative floors around the country, I suspect nothing will.  Eventually the combination of hate-filled rhetoric and the gun culture must lead to another American civil war, or perhaps better described recently by President Biden as an Uncivil war, yet another empire that collapses upon itself like the Romans, the Ottomans, the Mongols, the British.  

But the gun culture alone will not fire the powder keg. What, too, is hastening this demise is the unfettered dissemination of lies and hatred masquerading as news, tolerated in the name of ‘free speech’.  Don’t get me wrong, I subscribe to my father’s maxim, “I may disagree with you, but I’ll defend your right to say it”. But it is with one caveat; truth and reasoned opinion based on facts must draw a line that cannot be crossed.  Otherwise the path to anarchy grows ever broader, ever more well trod.

In 1949, the United States FCC issued a report that established the duty of broadcast licensees to cover controversial issues in a fair and balanced manner. That obligation was termed the Fairness Doctrine.  This doctrine was ditched during Reagan’s administration and some have equated this with the rise of far right broadcasters (although technically this did not apply to cable or satellite service providers and – if the doctrine had not been updated for modern media – would not have constrained Fox News).

I would argue that the time has come to look afresh at this issue.  Re-introduction of such a doctrine would not solve the problem because words can never adequately convey ideas where emotions rise to the surface, but it would help. Even the BBC, with its claimed impartiality, regularly fails to deliver impartiality, controlled as it is by the government of the day in practise and additionally, London-based media barons (including Murdoch again) control most of the printed news in Britain. Combined, they serve the people outside London poorly – particularly the nations of Scotland and Wales and the northern Irish enclave. Even from this low bar, however, British newscasting is far more balanced, without the regular diet of misinformation, lies, hate and conspiracy theories that swirls around a large proportion of the American population.

What stirs this anger?  I hear the Trump loyalists rail against communism and socialism, yet I’d be amazed if they could describe what these two systems mean and stand for.  Indeed, I suspect that they would align themselves more with those who rail against the inequities created by unrestrained capitalism where CEOs earn obscene amounts relative to their actual contributions while, at the bottom, people struggle to pay bills, obtain healthcare, eat a regular meal or find a place to call home. 

Sitting back and taking stock, it’s clear that millions of Americans have been ill-served by their education system and their representatives. A sad evolution from the principled patriots who declared America’s freedom in 1776.

2020 was a bad year in so many ways.  Good riddance.  What will 2021 and this decade and beyond hold for America?  I only see a continual, accelerating decline despite the attempts of well intentioned men and women to stop the rot.  And that is not good for the free world. 

Happily, I’ve been wrong before. I hope that I am again.

The post The Decline and Fall… first appeared on David Cairns of Finavon.

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