Why wont the US resolve issues?

From an outside perspective it seems strange that a developed nation such as the US still hasn’t resolved some issues that pretty much the rest of the western world finished decades ago. Some examples:

Death penalty - (We decided it wasn’t a good idea)
Abortion - (We figured out it needs to be legal)
Healthcare - (Turned out it works better if socialized)
Gay rights - (The conclusion was that gays are humans and should have rights)

The proponents of the death penalty and all other of these now obsolete ideas have since come around. Some even want to re-write history to show that though it may have seemed like they were against gay rights or whatever, they really weren’t and were deep inside really on the side of the (now considered) good guys. Yet the US seems mired in these and other really bizarrely out of date debates, which must in the end distract from issues that are still intellectually open to debate.

So two questions:

  1. Why is that?
  2. Do you expect the US to join the Resolved Club on these or other issues anytime soon?

I think part of it is that the USA remains the most religious secular democracy in the world, save perhaps for Turkey. As such, you have a gigantic portion of religious people, especially of the “nutbag” propensity, who will fight tooth and nail against all manner of abortion, women’s rights, gay rights, and whatnot. It’s the same group that tends to favor the death penalty as well – what with it being so popular in the old testament.

It really is kinda true that the USA may as well be two different countries – the liberal west, northeast, and parts of the north conflicts in opinion with the conservative south and midwest on just about every issue. Resolving them is next to impossible, because there are so many strong voices disagreeing, with no side willing to budge. I think Gay Marriage may resolve itself soon; public opinion has definitely shifted in favor. But the others? Especially health care, where there’s so much money on the line to keep the status quo? No chance in hell.

Death penalty - The first abolitiuon of the death penalty occurred in the U.S.
Abortion - Abortion is legal in the U.S. and has been for forty years.
Healthcare - - - -
Gay rights - The movement to establish civil rights based on sexual orientation began in the U.S.

So, of your four claims, one is completely false and two have histories that you have ignored.

My guess would be that the reason that the U.S. has not embraced all of your bullet points is that it is a very large nation with its own history, or, actually, mutiple histories that are quite different than the European one. It is easier to organize changes in social attitudes in smaller groups. Many of the U.S. states have laws that do not include the death penalty and laws that protect rights based on sexual orientation. However, since most such laws are written at the state level, there is not yet a national consensus on those topics. (It would be interesting, for example, to see what the consensus on those topics is in Bavaria when compared to Germany.)

Religion probably does play a certain role in the issue. Of course, that is only one aspect and religious pressures can go both directions: e.g., there are strong anti-death penalty efforts on the part of many religious groups and several such religious groups promote civil rights based on sexual orientation or promote universal health care.

That the U.S. was a “frontier” nation fewer than 125 years ago probably plays a role in the situation, as well, with a mythology that promotes the notion of “rugged individualism” and a corresponding belief that one should take care of one’s own problems.

Federalism plays an important role as well. By our constitution and our history, internal issues are generally left to the states. So you can see a state like New York with no death penalty, legal abortion (pre Roe v. Wade), protection for gays. MA has it’s own state healthcare system. The south, primarily, is on the opposite side of those issues.

I don’t think you said what country you are from, but if you had a government structured so that each province or county or subdivision was somewhat autonomous, then it would have taken you all much longer to come around. It’s easier to convince 1 legislative body than 50.

Wait a minute.

Are you of the impression that gays enjoy more rights in most of “the western world”?

I hate to burst your bubble, but that is quite certainly not the case. Unless your definition of “the western world” only includes Canada or something, in fact gays in American enjoy the same rights as gays in most of “the western world.”

The only right gays in the USA lack is full marriage equality. But that’s true in most Western countries. Same sex marriage is still the exception, not the norm. So far as I am aware there are only eleven countries on the planet that allow full blown same sex marriage, and the fact that it’s legal in SOME U.S. states puts the States ahead of a lot of places.

Thank you for the thorough response. I’d like to nitpick a bit though.

I don’t think any of my claims are false. I didn’t claim that the movements didn’t start or aren’t present in the US, only that they haven’t been resolved (ie: there is no national consensus). All the points I mentioned are still being debated and there seems to be no massive majority for or against it nationally, which you give evidence for.

I also did not ignore the US history of the issues, I am ignorant of the US history on the issues. I’m on this board mainly to fight my own ignorance, since I am one of the most ignorant on this message board (except perhaps on issues such as city planning, Swedish policy and poker).

Would it be fair to summarise your explanation as a mix of two facts:

  1. The US is a huge and diverse nation, meaning consensus comes slowly.
  2. Although diverse there’s certain cultural factors (frontier, rugged individualism) that creates a strong bias.

I buy that to a certain extent but spontaneously find two problems with it:

  1. This would indicate that the US would be poorly equipped for social progression. Historically this seems to fit badly with the facts, as you point out. Has there been a change over time, or have you as a nation arrived at a “plateu” because of your cultural bias towards certail policies?
  2. Is the “frontier” and “rugged individualism” memes an exception to the plurality of cultural frameworks?

There’s just less consensus here. I’m curious about something though. European nations used to have the death penalty, anti-gay laws, and illegal abortion. What changed? I don’t recall massive grassroots movement seeking change. It seems like one day the consensus was that murderers should be put to death, abortion should be illegal, and gays should be in the closet, and then the next day it was the reverse. Did I miss the national debates on these issues? What caused the transition?

You probably burst someones bubble, but not mine. My claim is that these issues aren’t resolved, ie: there is no national consensus. In the US a person can hold the belief that abortion should be illegal, the death penalty is good and that gays shouldn’t have the same rights as heterosexuals, without being considered a social pariah or political nutcase.

You’re from Sweden, right? How many people live in Sweden? How many US states have more people than Sweden? How many US states have more religious and cultural diversity than Sweden?

And, similar to what RickJay said, I think you are over-extrapolating the situation in Sweden to “the rest of the Western World”. Can you validate your statements about the rest of the Western World?

I looks like the issue of abortion is not so “resolved” in Europe. Link.

I’ll happily sign a document saying that Sweden is a puny nation that sucks and that USA is number one, if that will help. If it will help, I will also define the “Western World” as whatever nations DO have a national consensus on these issues. That way nobody has to get defensive. :wink:

Size, size, size.

While the US is one country technically, it is really more like the EU, with the states being countries. The states share a culture that is more homogenous than the EU but the comparison stands well I believe. Because of the vastness of the population, consensus on anything is difficult to achieve. There will always be a very large contingent of people who will oppose an issue, and the sheer numbers mean that while the proportions might be similar, the number of affected is not. State’s rights issues, along with problems of federal law have also hampered progress in certain areas considerably. Lastly there is a “culture war” going on, between the religious right and just about everybody else.

  1. Because the United States has fifty separate states (plus territories) in addition to one federal government. If I’m a member of the House of Representatives out of South Carolina it doesn’t really matter to me what most of the nation feels about issues like abortion or the death penalty. All I care about are what my constituents feel about the issue and how I can keep them happy so they will continue electing me. This means that a lot of issues aren’t really “resolved” because we can have different laws throughout the U.S. as a whole provided they don’t violate the U.S. Constitution.

I’m a little confused by what you mean by resolved. By resolved do you really mean “outcome which I like?” Both Texas and Hawaii have both resolved the death penalty debate though they have done so on opposite ends of the spectrum. Even the U.S. Government continues to have the death penalty though they hardly use it these days.

re: Gay rights in European countries. I don’t really follow that particular issue overseas but I do have a question. In places like France, Great Britain, Germany, etc., etc. did popular opinion lead to a change in laws or was it the courts that came to the conclusion that gays should have the same rights as heterosexuals?

There is no national consensus because of the large cultural and ethnic diversity in the United States. For example, if you lived in San Francisco (or post on the SDMB) you are considered a social pariah if you don’t believe in legal SSM. If you live in Appalachia you can’t get elected to dog catcher if you DO believe in legal SSM. Most other areas of the country are a mix.

I don’t think it is possible to compare small European countries with a shared cultural history to a large and diverse nation like the U.S.

Strawman and No True Scotsman.

Wanna go for a hat trick? :slight_smile:

Don’t overlook the huge difference between a parliamentary system and the US system of separation of powers—not to mention the dual sovereignty almost unique to the US. It’s only slightly flippant to say that parliamentary systems are set up to get things done that the great majority agrees on, but the US system is set up to ensure that nothing is done unless the great majority agrees.

Resolved to me means “theres’s a national consensus and no real debate on the issue”. I actually forgot the mother of all resolved issues: Evolution! It boggles my mind that a nation as advanced can still be unresolved on such a no-brainer. The small christian party has a few fringe politicians that believe this (sect members) but they don’t discuss the issue and usually try to wriggle out of any questions about it since they realise it is embarrasing.

I don’t know enough about the history in the nations you mention to comment intelligently, but I don’t recall any massive upheavals on the issues in my life time. Right now a small nation that used to be part of the Soviet Union is making a complete ass of itself by trying to curtail gay rights. Politically it’s very embarrasing, a huge faux pas. It’s just not done in polite society.

No I don’t, I was only trying to insert humour in order to keep the discussion on a level that would educate me on the issue I am intrested in, without having it derailed by any ignorance contained in my OP. I’ll happily conceed any point in order to do so.

Except that within the United States, it’s the large states with cultural diversity that are more liberal.

Like most issues, it comes down to “the South just sucks”. Lop off the states that committed treason and we’d be statistically wealthier, healthier, and better educated. We’d likely have universal health care and gay marriage would be legal. I’d miss barbecue though.

Death penalty, should be used more often
Abortion, why is it ok to kill babies in the womb but not when they come out?
Healthcare, econmics will dictate this, we do have medical care for everyone right now if you have no money.
Gay rights, marriage, let each religion decide how they want to handle it, states should do only civil unions.