Now that the fright-wing Republicans have blessedly exited the debate stage – they’ve stored their toxic stew until mid-January! – I will try to put their scaremongering in perspective. It’s easy to do.
The predictable Republican theme, in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino, is “Be Very Afraid.” Donald Trump said the other night that unless we do un-American things like discriminate en masse against Muslims, America will “disintegrate.” Most of his rivals offered variations on the notion that death-by-Islam awaits us all any minute now.
Presumably, a hefty share of the 18 million viewers naively swallowed that slop, but the good news is that most Americans didn’t bother to watch. Which means there’s a potentially huge constituency that’s willing to heed reason. I trust that includes many of the readers here. So what do you say, let’s put facts over fear:
According to post-9/11 stats compiled by the nonpartisan New America Foundation, the total number of Americans killed in “violent jihadist attacks” on domestic soil is … 45.
According to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, the total number of Americans killed by falling furniture in the first decade of this century was … 92.
In other words, you’re more likely to be crushed to death by a piece of furniture – “largest category was chest, bureau, or dresser” – than to die at the hands of a radical Islamist terrorist. And you’re even more likely to be crushed to death by a television. Yep, falling TVs over the past decade killed an additional 176.
If that doesn’t calm your Republican-addled nerves, try this: The combined death toll in San Bernardino and Chattanooga is 19. But the number of Americans killed this year by lightning is 26. And the number of Americans killed last year by tornadoes was 47.
So maybe the fright-wingers would be wiser to launch a war on weather. Or furniture.
Not convinced? Still quaking in fear whenever Christie and Cruz conjure doomsday? OK, let’s try another approach:
We’d all freak out if misfits inspired by ISIS killed 100,000 Americans on our soil each and every year. The uproar would be unthinkable; our political discourse would be somewhere to the right of hysteria. We can all agree on that.
And yet, each and every year, a minimum of 100,000 Americans die needlessly because of hospital treatment screwups. And that’s the longstanding conservative death stat. The latest research says the annual death toll from hospital screwups is somewhere between 210,000 and 440,000. As the study points out, 440,000 “is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year.”
Maybe you’re saying, “Those stats are irrelevant. Those people in the hospital are sick to begin with. I’m not sick.” So let’s try something else. Every day, on average, roughly 80 healthy people climb into their cars – but fail to reach their destinations alive. That translates to roughly 30,000 car deaths a year.
And, in an average year, lest I forget, an additional 10,000 people wind up on slabs, courtesy of our Second Amendment arsenal — victims, in many instances, of locked-and-loaded white guys like Robert Lewis Dear, the Planned Parenthood terrorist, who boasted in court last week that he was “a warrior for the babies.”
If my attempts at perspective still don’t sway you, it’s psychologically understandable. According to Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton scholar, we tend to exaggerate the risk factors that get disproportionate media attention. In a recent book, he wrote that “extremely vivid image(s) of death and damage” get reinforced in our minds “by media attention and frequent conversation.” The San Bernardino coverage, and the predictable Republican scaremongering, prove his point.
One last try: According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, 87 percent of American deaths stem from noncommunicable ills like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease – all of which are primarily caused by the stuff we do to ourselves: smoking, booze, bad diets, and sedentary living. In other words, our most pervasive enemy is not the random Syed Farook. It is us.
But try selling any of that to the Republican primary voter.