Trump. Bezos. The Bundys. Pence. White supremacists. Zuckerberg. The Waco people. Serial killers. School shooters. Dime a dozen corrupt politicians. Pharma execs. Why does America have a tendency to spawn such shitty humans?
Don’t these people have parents who ever gave a damn? Have any of them ever experienced empathy? Did it hurt? How did America come to routinely glorify and elevate sociopathic asswipes? Is it religion, capitalism, individualism, libertarianism, a weak government, a weak school system, weak family ties, sensationalized media, what?
Why are our so-called elites so shitty? We seem to possess a disproportionate number of them, at least among the modern, civilized countries. It’s hard to think of another first world society, aside from England, that has such an enviable collection of shitheads. Are there just assholes everywhere, but America gives them the chance to seize wealth and power? Do we not raise our kids well, or hold power accountable enough? Is this the inevitable outcome of post-peak Western Civilization?
You seem to have forgotten to include gangsters, rappers and the glorification of their misogynistic culture. True believers in the paranormal who invent their own science. Extremists who use violence and arson.
There is one cultural trait that is rampant in the US and I’m not sure where it comes from: the desire to shield one’s offspring from any pain or discomfort of any kind for any reason. This ends up including shielding them from the consequences of their own actions. That’s how you get people like that kid who got six months for raping a drunk girl, and his parents saying that the punishment was too severe.
Here’s a contrasting incident from another culture, Japan: a couple of years ago, the son of a fairly well-known middle-aged actress and TV host was convicted of sexual assault. She had a press conference, in which she wept and apologized to the victim and her family, and to the general public, and withdrew herself from public appearances and performances for a year. I was really surprised, but I realized that she was taking responsibility for her own role, as his mother, in her son’s bad behavior. I wish American parents would take a leaf from her book.
I think the balance between individual rights/“rugged individualism” and putting others first/self sacrifice not only got out of whack, but has largely disappeared for a large chunk of the population. Rights were enforced by law, and self sacrifice was socially revered. So some of the most revered figures in our society were war heroes, nonviolent protestors, and others who did tremendous good for others at great personal cost.
Some, like sociopaths, are just unmoved by that. But there’s also the fact that, even before Trump, there started to be a rejection of that impulse to do collective good. Of course it culminates with Trump’s I prefer the soldiers who didn’t get captured, and soldiers being suckers.
In short, yes, with any country or culture, whatever problems it has are inevitably linked to its culture and history in some meaningful way. That doesn’t mean that its culture is totally corrupted beyond repair or inherently evil, but progress comes when a culture can look at itself in the mirror and, to the extent possible, acknowledge its problems and find a way to fix them.
I am hyper-critical of America and American culture, probably to the point of being considered a self-hating American in the eyes of some. And yet I could point out a lot that’s still good about this place, and the advantages that it has over a lot of other cultures, starting with its remarkable ability - at least historically - to wipe its slate clean and reinvent itself from time to time.
I would agree with this, and yet there have been periods in our history in which the U.S. was indeed much more open to and tolerant of collectivist principles. WWI and II come to mind. The New Deal, too. And people in these generations had to overcome the same cultural gravity that beget the Gilded Age, which is essentially what we’re dealing with now.
Going back to your observations on individualism, I think Americans are smitten with wealth, but not necessarily in the same ways that people around the world might be. We don’t necessarily admire the guy who lives in a house full of gold just because he has a house full of gold - it’s what that wealth represents. In America, wealth represents the notion of being able to radically transform your own situation, from living in a pretty modest or even humble environment to living the life of a dream a few years later. The wealth represents an individual conquering circumstances and living the fairy tale. Americans are drawn to that ideal, and unfortunately, we’re frequently suckered into believing that anyone has the ability to live out that fantasy if they’re just willing to work hard enough. Other cultures are a little more realistic in that sense, I think. A little less naive.
There is no “us” in America, but there is “me”. I think our tendency to enhance personal freedoms at the expense of social responsibilities is part of the problem. What people do not realize is how much their success is dependent on society providing a foundation for them to succeed. It’s like personal freedom privatizes the benefits of the system (enabling some to become uber wealthy or influential), while socializing the risks (anti-science-anti-maskers end up in limited public hospitals just like everyone else).
I see the ability to come together in trying times (WWI &WWII) as an expression of the privilege of individualism. Individualism is the baseline, coming together is “allowed” only when necessary, then we can return to the baseline.
This type of thinking has existed to some degree since ancient times:
Think of the fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper -----a grasshopper that has spent the summer singing while the ant worked to store up food for winter. When that season arrives, the grasshopper finds itself dying of hunger and begs the ant for food. However, the ant rebukes its idleness and tells it to dance the winter away now. The moral of the fable has been “An idle soul shall suffer hunger” and “Work today to eat tomorrow”.
I think you’re on to something here. Our national history and folk mythology (not sure if that’s the exact term, but bear with me) are basically the story of immigrants coming to our shores, in many cases with little more than the clothes they were wearing, and then setting about hewing a successful life out of the wilderness through hard work and grit. There’s also a sort of background of limitless opportunity in that mythology as well- the notion that you CAN do anything/be anything you want- you’re the only limitation there.
Now we all know that this national mythology is not perfect or even 100% accurate- it sure wasn’t for slaves or their descendants, for example.
But what happens is that we hold up successful people as both examples of the truth of the mythology, and as people whose thoughts are somehow more valid because they are successful. An example might be Mark Cuban. His popular portrayal as a billionaire businessman and owner of the Dallas Mavericks is kind of founded on the unspoken notion that his billions are due to his excellent business acumen. Which is completely false. The guy got extraordinarily lucky. Like more likely to have been hit by a meteor lucky. He basically took a successful website (broadcast .com) and sold it to Yahoo! at the VERY moment when the stock market had lost its mind before the dot-com crash. It wasn’t him holding out for that moment either- it was Yahoo’s offer. He was smart enough to take it, sure, but who wouldn’t be? In essence he won the lottery, and didn’t build his fortune the long way, like the other billionaires who didn’t inherit their fortunes.
Since then, he’s been on easy mode, since being a businessman and investor is a lot easier when you’re sitting on a billion dollars. But we hold him up like his success is his own doing.
Trump is the same way; he inherited a boatload of money, and then proceeded to maybe become a billionaire. But somehow he’s this super businessman because he’s purportedly very wealthy.
Basically we confuse the trappings of success with the actual success itself.
As for cults, killers, white supremacists, corrupt politicians, religious nuts, etc… the US doesn’t have a lock on those sorts of things. We just publicize them more, and I think give them greater legal leeway than a lot of other countries do.
More often than not, people who become self-made millionaires or billionaires, benefit from both good fortune and their own work ethic. Yes, more often than not, these people work their asses off and sacrifice more of their personal time and time to just fart around than 99% of the population. But they also get lucky. Sometimes lucky means taking advantage of a windfall; other times it’s succeeding in spite of themselves. Self-made people are typically hardworking, tough, and brilliant on one hand, and lucky on the other.
It’s not that they’re lucky, it’s that Cuban’s wealth was almost entirely due to this one insanely lucky windfall.
I mean, he’d have been successful without it, but probably two orders of magnitude lower at best. Like tens of millions in net worth, not billions. But he did get the windfall.
What I’m saying is that people are willing to lend more credence to things he says about the stock market, business world and politics because he’s a billionaire. Which would be fair if he was like say… Larry Ellison, Charles Koch or Jeff Bezos because they built their wealth the long way and have the experience that goes with that. But Cuban doesn’t. He was moderately successful, and then <WHAM!> he was a billionaire overnight. We’re lending him credence due to his wealth that he doesn’t really merit.
Most people know him because he was such an attention whoring blowhard owner of the Dallas Mavericks back in the late 1990s, and the Mavs went from futility to being a watchable product after the acquisition of Dirk Nowitzky. Cuban, like Trump, is great at self-promotion.