Weeks ago, I wrote an essay on America's empathy crisis as the common denominator in our country's hard right turn on a broad array of political issues. The recent Republican presidential candidate debates revealed more than an empathy crisis. The Tea Party audience for the September 12 debate revealed that, for some of them, callousness and selfishness are grossly insufficient to describe the depth of their inhumanity.
One of literature's and the movie screen's most repulsive villains is Madam Defarge of Charles Dicken's “A Tale of Two Cities.” She personified ruthlessness, revenge and sadistic delight in other people's pain, suffering and death. Her ideological rigidity did not allow her to countenance any mercy. Madam Defarge, meet your contemporaries, America's Tea Party.
My father was often the court-appointed psychiatrist asked to evaluate the sanity of those accused of crimes, especially of high-profile murders in Utah. He interviewed the worst of the worst. I remember in 1974 asking him about the accused killers in the “Hi-FI” murders, a brutal murder/robbery in a hi-fi store (that's where you went to buy sound systems in case you are too young to know, or too old to remember) where several innocent people were tortured, raped and then shot by a pair of disturbed, young thugs.
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In asking him about our justice system of jury trial, I will never forget his comment to me. He said he would rather live in a society where nine out of ten murderers go free if that's what it takes to make sure that an innocent man is not convicted or executed. My dad was the anti-Rick Perry and the rise of the Tea Party would make him roll over in his grave.
Tea Partiers cheered when Perry's “Guinness Book of World Records” for state enacted executions was mentioned. Perry, fresh from his stadium-filled prayer palooza in Texas, proudly denied any remorse over the likelihood of having executed innocent people. The audience cheered again at the suggestion that uninsured people should be allowed to die rather than be kept alive at taxpayers' expense. This is the same constituency whose outrage boiled over the supposed death panels of “Obamacare.”
Ever since Richard Nixon won re-election appealing to the “silent, moral majority,” Republican politicians have heavily marketed themselves as morality icons, if not the second coming of Jesus himself. On the stage Monday night, every leader of the Republican Party stood silent while an audience filled with 21st-century Madame Defarges might as well have screamed, “Off with their heads!” Not a single one of the candidates repudiated the audience's blood lust, all while polishing their Jesus merit badges.
They booed Ron Paul when he suggested not all Muslims are terrorists and that America has made some foreign policy mistakes. They even booed Perry … for not being sufficiently heartless, when he said Texas allowed children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition!
America's self portrait as painted by the Tea Party is that we are the greatest, most divinely inspired, most moral country in the world. How well does this portrait capture reality?
In the United States, 23 million are unemployed, 45.8 million people depend on the government for the food they eat, 50.7 million are uninsured and 45,000 die every year because they are uninsured. In this great and moral country one in six adults and one in five children lives in poverty, and two in five black children live in poverty. The United States ranks last among major industrialized countries in infant mortality rates and 34th among all countries, behind Cuba and Croatia. The last time the World Health Organization (WHO) attempted to rank health care delivery was in 2000. The WHO ranked the United States 37th, well behind such health care power houses as Morocco and the Dominican Republic, and health care in the US has only become more expensive and less accessible since then.
The United States spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. We're also No. 1 in the world in producing prisoners, far more than second place China. With 5 percent of the world's population we have 25 percent of the world's prison population. We incarcerate more of our youth than any other country. Our prison population has quadrupled since 1980.
We stand with Somalia – which has no functioning government – as the only countries that have not signed the various international human rights treaties, including the land mine treaty. Our former vice president is currently making the media rounds proudly defending having transformed America into a nation that utilizes and justifies, if not celebrates, violation of the Geneva Conventions. The US has not signed any of the treaties on control and distribution of toxic chemicals and, of course, never signed the Kyoto Treaty. The Republican Party is the only political party in the world that denies the looming catastrophe of global warming.
The United States has a greater income gap between its rich and poor than any other industrialized country in the world. The richest 400 people in our country have more wealth than the bottom 155 million. Speaking of Madame Defarge and the French Revolution, this is the kind of income disparity of which revolutions are born.
America has not arrived here by accident. This is the result of deliberate public policy, much of it conceived in corporate board rooms and delivered carte blanche to the GOP, with little resistance from the Democrats. Virtually none of this was discussed during the Tea Party presidential debate, of course. But if it had been, no doubt these statistics and this information would have yielded enthusiastic cheers of “Let them eat cake!”
America has a very real chance of being ruled by a corporatocracy/plutocracy whose bidding is done by the Tea Party, proud of their inhumanity, their lack of compassion and their greed. Yes, the Tea Party last week certainly reminded us of a revolution – the one with a guillotine.
This article does not represent a position of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.