"We have been children long enough. We must now unshackle our minds and begin acting as independent beings."– Noah Webster, First American Dictionary
Or, Are Stupid White Men Really Stupid?
Two framed pictures hang on my office wall. Each is accompanied by a timely message.
The frame atop holds a portrait of colonial patriot Samuel Adams. (Yes, the beer guy. My hero on so many levels.) Below the picture are his words, written at America’s birth: "The liberties of our country, the freedoms of our civil Constitution are worth defending at all hazards; it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors. They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood. It will bring a mark of everlasting infamy on the present generation – enlightened as it is – if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of designing men."
When I look at the framed document and I see the idealized portrait - Sam Adams of the set jaw and steely eyes - I feel as though he is reaching across the centuries and speaking directly to me, admonishing me to beware the artifices of designing men.
Then I lower my eyes. What I see lowers my spirits as well. For immediately below the Sam Adams quote hangs another frame. This one contains a front page from the London Daily Mirror. Above the newspaper’s headline floats another picture, this one of a befuddled-looking, newly "reelected" George W. Bush. The headline reads: "HOW CAN 59,054,087 PEOPLE BE SO DUMB?"
Now, while I’ve asked myself the same question innumerable times since November 4th, I’m not so sure the answer is as simple as the British tabloid would have us think. But think we must. So it is this lower frame, and the many messages and subtexts its simple words convey, on which I cannot help but concentrate my attention and this article.
If we’re not dumb, then how can 59,054,087 people – Americans all - appear so dumb?
For what did cause so many of our countrymen to behave so strangely on Election Day, 2004, and thus to appear stupid – very stupid - in the eyes of the rest of the world? We are after all, the melting pot, the world’s amalgam. Intelligence distribution is Gaussian.
To understand the Mirror’s headline one must understand its readers. The headline is not an indictment of American intellect by jealous Europeans as xenophobic propagandists like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh would have us think (Forgive the writer’s indulgence. I’ve always wanted to use the words Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Think in the same sentence, if only to prove it could be done.)
No. By judiciously avoiding the word Americans in referring to the 2004 Bush voters, and simply calling them "people," what the Daily Mirror’s headline does is articulate what seems an enigma to our foreign earth mates. To most of them America is smart enough, like it or not. America is the most commercially and scientifically advanced society on Earth, like that or not too, and ours is the only society we know that’s made it off Earth as well. So, to them, the sheer unexpectedness of our apparent and hopefully temporary stupidity is what has the thinking world reeling – not our actual stupidity. Our countrymen’s behavior has proven particularly vexing to Europeans. But they see this not as an American failure of intellect, but a human failure, thus the word people. So – unlike many of us - they’re asking legitimate questions, so is their press.
Look at the 2004 election from their point of view. The vast majority of Americans are descended from European families, even those Americans who trace their heritage to Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Africa. European blood courses the veins of most Americans. European blood is shed on American battlefields. To a greater extent than all others combined, Europe is the foundation of American culture. In fact, even the most fundamental genetic science long ago proved our common lineage.
As such, Europeans do not hate America or Americans, quite the contrary. How could they? Neither do they think us stupid out of proportion to the world’s general population. No. They see us as themselves, their brothers and sisters who’ve left behind abusive parents to strike out on our own. We proclaimed that we did not need kings and overlords. We can govern ourselves! we declared. And by extension, so could they. The familial metaphors are profound.
So, when it seems that we cannot, when we – we who are free to select from all of our extraordinary people not just some arbitrary nobility – still select inbred dynastic fools to lead us, when we allow the most commonplace of buffoons to guide the supertanker of state that is America, Europeans take notice. When we get it wrong twice, they feel the sense of failure and disappointment even before we do ourselves. They have no skin in the American game, so they don’t fool themselves into denial. Their newspapers don’t sell well here. Their journalists can be objective. We’re cut from the same ancestral cloth. If we’re stupid, then by extension so are they. Europeans realize this, so they ask, how can it be? Is it in our blood? Are white people genetically doomed to self destruction?
To many of my readers, these may appear radical musings, even for me. But I assure you, I do not arrive at them lightly. I spend a great deal of time abroad, particularly in the capitols of Western Europe, and not as a tourist. In fact not a month has passed this year that has not found me working in a foreign city: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Rome, Stockholm. Between times I might be in Oklahoma or Texas, LA or New York. I mediate among a very diverse group of humans, far more than most.
Wherever I may be, I drink the water, read the newspapers, or have them translated for me. I speak with my many friends in pubs and restaurants and coffee shops and the places where we work. I do this on both sides of the Atlantic, both sides of the Pacific. I watch their TV news programs. Many of my colleagues produce these programs, write these newspapers. I know what they think, and I know why they think it. Many of them consider their American journalistic counterparts cowards and whores. I find that I think it too. Sometimes I realize what’s happening, then I fight it back. Other times not. For there is but one constant among the variables: whether I’m in Paris Texas, or Paris France, I’m American. England or New England: American! American to the bone.
But unlike their counterparts in the American media, my foreign friends ask valid questions. They ask the same questions more and more independent Americans are finally asking ourselves in the absence of a relevant corporate media here. For example, if it’s accepted that it wasn’t widespread American stupidity, then what was it that caused Americans to "reelect" little Bush, and by doing so allowing ourselves to be cheated out of our freedoms and liberties by the artifices of the designing men with whom he’s surrounded himself?
What indeed. And, what caused so many Americans (59,054,087 if one believes the Daily Mirror and the vote count) to reward this profoundly failed president and his designing men with a second term? What motivated so many of our countrymen, after observing this guy, this mutant prince, this chronic incompetent whose proximate tenure proved him neither intelligent nor rational nor honest nor temperate, what caused us to unbridle such a dismal failure by providing him a docile, if equally corrupt legislative majority of more designing men to do his bidding and pillaging in our name? What blinded nearly 60 million Americans to the folly of casting their collective lot with big-money-globalists and against their own? against their nation’s economy? against their families? against their freedoms? against their futures? against their civil liberties? against their – and our - blood-won civil Constitution?
What persuaded a majority of the lowest income white guys from those areas the Europeans see as America’s provinces (the red states) to enable and support federal policies intended to ultimately repeal the dividend tax? the estate tax? to impose a wartime tax refund for people (the noblemen) in the top 2% income bracket most of whom live in the blue states? What made agri-workers in the breadbasket states endorse the very president whose $200 billion in welfare to corporate farms will be spent to continue automating their jobs into oblivion? What inspired them to vote for economic programs that would provide an additional $70 billion in annual tax breaks to designing men who move American manufacturing jobs offshore? Why did lower-middle-income workers believe it would benefit them to redistribute their Social Security withholding to Wall Street (the blue heart of the bluest state) on the heels of a market collapse while the actual Social Security surplus edges toward two trillion dollars? Are the adjusto-tabs on their polyester baseball caps being pulled so tight that blood flow is cut off from their brains? These are the questions I’m asked.
It should be evident that stupidity alone would not account for this widespread illogic, though in speaking and corresponding with representative samples of any but the absolutely wealthiest Republican voters it becomes clear that if not stupidity alone, then willful ignorance as well is prevalent among them. But neither can these "attributes" alone account for such self-destructive behavior among so many millions of so called Americans. Even idiots have survival instincts. Even sheep recognize the slaughterer’s shackle and pike.
What then? What specifically, caused a substantial majority of non-union, blue collar middle-income white males in this country to twice vote in favor of an economic plan that would reduce their overtime pay-rates, while diverting more billions of their earnings to the designing men who quietly consider themselves these working men’s masters. Why did white collar white men vote against genetic research whose advancement would create countless American skilled jobs forever and healthier lives for their descendants? Was it their religious beliefs? If so, have not the sciences blessed this country as generously as all of the gods of all her religious factions combined? What made such Americans endorse a policy of spend and borrow that will inevitably send interest rates thought the sky, and eternally indebt their children to foreign banks? What? and what? and why? and why? ad infinitum.
Last month a Dutch woman asked me what caused 55% of white American women to endorse a policy wherein a bunch of (designing) men would be allowed to make these women’s reproductive decisions for them? How do I answer that? How, when I wonder myself what it was that made these free American women willingly hand over control of their very bodies to a bunch of right wing creeps with little boy haircuts whom few of such women would deign to acknowledge in a social situation? How would you answer?
Last May I found myself engulfed by a Roman anti-Bush rally. Citizens of this city built from the spoils of conquest were demanding Bush and Berlusconi end their illegal war in Iraq. Afterwards, walking past a billboard showing the mud-caked and bloodied little feet of children killed in that war, I asked my companion to translate the caption below the disturbing picture. "The Work Of Bush," she answered.
Emboldened, she asked me a question – three questions. Why, she said, are so many American women quietly abiding the violent physical destruction of so many thousands of (Iraqi) children at the hands of a marauding army? Why have they not protested more vigorously? Did they not understand the unspeakable horror of such a rampage? I could not answer her.
After all, the infanticide’s been proceeding unabated for three years now. Have such American women still failed to take notice, or do they just not care? I did not know then. I still do not. After all, 55% of white American women voted for Bush again.
Further, what motivated a staggering 78% of the most ardent and absolutely milky whitest American followers of Jesus to first enable and then endorse the murder of 128, 000 innocents (so far) and the maiming of countless more of God’s children, most of whom literally were women and children. What made them do so in the shadow of His very cross? This, while a comparable 75% of non-Christian American whites voted to end such brutality in 2004. Could it be that in the eyes of white evangelicals, humans lose their right to life once they’re actually born? That makes sense.
What inspired a majority of white veterans - and this one hurts most on a personal level - those who know the stink of burned and rotting flesh, of cordite and kerosene, those who know what it means to feel your wingman’s presence – to know absolutely – that he’s on your flank, at your twelve, got your back no matter what the odds – what makes such vets allow lesser men, men who were not there when we turned around, yet reappear as if by magic whenever it’s time to once more send our young to burn and rot, to kill and be killed on foreign soil based upon fear – fear and deception – what made most veterans support such scum? Have we too forgotten what was done to our generation by "men" such as these, safe in their Washington and Texas easy chairs? It appears we have. So soon. So very soon.
Elderly. What drove our white seniors to enrich those who consider the fixed-income elderly as excess baggage and a no-longer-useful element of society? What so enraged or so terrified Americans of the generation that faced down the Axis and the Soviets that they would vote for false security at the expense of the respite they’ve already paid for in blood, sweat, tears, money? What made these people throw in with those who will obviate their every social and financial contribution to our way of life by taking the money that American seniors themselves have set aside for an honorable and safe twilight of their glorious years. The fake conservatives in power today are uniformly on record as disdainful of anything "public," such as Social Security, Medicare, and aid for the disabled. They brag about it. So what, then, drove a majority of our Caucasian elderly to empower these savages who want to divert every public penny to war costs or to themselves thus leaving our social programs bankrupt – deliberately bankrupt? What?
The answers to these questions are many and varied. None of them are flattering. None of them reflect the actions of a smart, rational or informed electorate. Many of them represent dangerous reactions by a downtrodden, emerging, easily-frightened, and politically ignorant white middle America. All of them are an inherent threat to representative democracy. All of them remain unchanged by the facts of these last five abjectly dismal American years. All of them should be disturbing – very disturbing - to real Americans.
Europeans seem to understand the founding principles of our democratic republic better than we. What will it take to awaken the real Americans?
That’s right, real Americans! By that I mean those of us – right, left, and center - who understand that representative democracy demands participation and who participate. (A "God Bless America" bumper sticker is not participation.)
By real Americans I mean those of us smart enough, aware enough, awake enough, American enough to know the difference between true patriotism and blind jingoism.
(A note to my legion of fuming detractors: after you look up the meaning of "jingoism," get all judgmental on me and scrawl another of your angry, pointless, and unimaginative name-calling diatribes, let me help you with your research by answering the inane assumptions and mostly irrelevant questions you’ve already been programmed to ask me: I am a white guy and in that despised top 2% of Americans in both income and IQ. I report every penny of my income, none of which is derived from writing or any other form of environmental pollution. I am not a pacifist. I’m a veteran and unlike your poop-suited war-president, my USAF crewmates remember me as I do them. I’m prone to political compromise in the public interest. I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist party. I have no prison record, and have never taken an illegal drug. I eat meat. I drink mostly coffee, beer and Jack Daniels and have since childhood. I dislike all wines except Champaign (from France!), which I especially enjoy in the company of one or more like-minded women (from anywhere). I’m not sure what latte is. In my teens I was a member of the Young Republicans. I once walked away from a job as US Foreign Service Officer because I would not engage in overt propaganda. I’ve three times held a Top Secret government security clearance, and three times I’ve obeyed its rule and its spirit to the letter. I’ve been married to the same long-suffering, amazing, and still beautiful gal for 40 years. My children respect and love me and even call me on the phone. I recognize wedge efforts at "gun control" as precisely that, but consider civil liberty a far more powerful weapon than any firearm – and one whose ownership is proportionally more threatened by this government’s attempts at control. I am a real American. And yes, I am a Hollywood Liberal and damned proud of it. At least most of you got that right. So, if you must waste your time and mine by calling me names, call me that one. Just spare me the other crap. Come up with something new, and add a comma now and then – it won’t use up that much of your crayon.)
As for the remainder of our countrymen and women, it should be apparent by now that few realize better than do I how tempting it is in this frustrating age to blame their apparent stupidity simply on actual stupidity. But, to do so would be a mistake. It would be a mistake that would mean their manipulators have manipulated you and me as well.
At this point things have gone too far to blame the still-widespread denial on stupidity: No WMD. No al-Qaeda connections to Saddam. Destruction of the world’s oldest civilization for no plausible reason. Terrorism run rampant as we spend and kill mindlessly. No yellowcake. No aluminum tubes. The Downing Street memo. Traitors in the White House. Remember the Road Map? How about the mission to Mars? Ha! I could fill the page with this administrations lies and failures. But the point is this. Continued denial by Bush’s supporters in the face of such evidence does not derive from their stupidity alone. It is much more serious than that, much more serious.
We must step back from our anger and realize this.
Most Americans – a substantive majority in fact, and whether liberal or conservative or anything in between – are neither stupid, nor do we all want different things from our government. What most of us want is honesty. We’re not getting it. If we force them to give us that, the rest will follow. But only those capable of critical thought realize this.
Many Americans simply refuse to accept such a view. It’s an ugly view of our beloved country. It’s really ugly. There is so much that is already ugly in the world of those who allow others to think for them – the world of Fox "news" and Ann Coulter. For these easily-led people to accept that we Americans are the proximate cause of so much of the ugliness would test their self-discipline too rigorously. Accepting that our beloved country and its form of government have fallen victim to criminals represents a monumental psychological obstacle to them – a cognitive dissonance - not unlike that faced by the mother who won’t accept that her child is the serial killer the police have been hunting. We’ve all seen such tragic people on the "news."
Making such ugliness even more difficult to accept, is that, just like the mother, to accept reality is to also accept that the killer came from her genes from her very womb. Similarly, the voter who enabled the Bush administration must accept some responsibility for the mass murder, the war crimes, the suffering that proceeded from their actions. So they stand in strident denial. They ride beside us on the freeway. They’re the ones with the bumper stickers that say things like, "Power Of Pride," whatever that means. They can bellow all they want, what their jingoism says to me is they’ve put self above country. Whenever you see such a bumper sticker, it should say it to you as well.
To not accept the glaring reality of what has happened to our beloved representative democracy is to put self above country. To do that yet live under her sky is patently un-American. Like the rest of us, the now growing majority of us, these people too must put pride behind them and do what is right – what is right for America. Their mindless flag waving makes me sick. If they don’t get what America means, then it is not their flag!
Though the manipulators of media and government do count heavily on their base being a little light in the critical-thinking area, that’s not stupidity. Laziness, credulity, naïveté? Yes. But not stupidity, not all of them, not even most. Be angry with that. It will allow you to focus on the right target. To focus on stupidity, however apparent it might seem, will be to waste your rage on the wind.
Add to this dissonance the realization that we’ve been raised and educated to expect "good government." Everything we’ve been taught about America since childhood is that it is the beacon of good government. How then can one accept that at the moment, ours is the most dangerously corrupt government in the world, run by a gaggle of universally failed incompetents? Has adding high treason to the crimes of this White House further cemented their base of adamant intractables?
How does one who loves his or her country accept that, especially when his or her vote contributed to the atrocity?
By facing it, that’s how? By being an adult, that’s how. By being an American, that’s how! By being an American, that’s how! By being an American, that’s how! By being an American, that’s how! How many times must it be said before it sinks in? Must we fall first? We surely will if America is left to the artifices of the designing men who’ve taken charge of her government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Conclusion: Though I cannot answer all of my European friends’ questions any better than I can answer those I ask myself, what I do know is this. Many Europeans have conveniently forgotten that before us, they were history’s fools. Many more have not. The latter realize that we are their families’ descendants. Our ancestries are common. Our future is too. Europeans eat cheeseburgers. Americans eat pizza. The world has gotten very small. A terrorist’s shrapnel kills all her people with comparable efficiency.
Thus, most Europeans do not think Americans are stupid. Neither do they want to think it. Inexperienced? Yes. Naïve? Yes. But not stupid.
Europeans see our countrymen’s behavior for what it is: naïve nationalism. They see us as falling victim to the same propaganda that has devastated them throughout recorded history. Today’s Americans – or half of us - are just the latest iteration of history’s fools. They wonder if we too will be its victims? Will we follow the disastrous path to fear-bred despotism that our country’s founders escaped? Have we already taken our first steps along that path?
We must wake up and regain our country from the criminals, fools, and traitors who’ve assumed it. We must regain it for human posterity. We must regain it for our children. Yet, instead, we are close to falling victim to the same exploitation that caused our ancestors to lose control of their destinies in decades and centuries past.
The vast majority of Americans are honorable people. But Americans are people who’ve been lied to by those in positions of trust for so long and so often that they’ve lost their ability or their desire to recognize the truth. Our countrymen and women won’t be brought back to rationality through anger. Only reason can accomplish that. And now, perhaps as no time before, as their leaders scramble and plot to save their own worthless skins, and do so with no thought of what their actions have done to the greatest country the world has ever known, perhaps, just perhaps, reasonable Americans are ready to put their pride behind them and literally, literally listen to reason.
I despise the hypocritical traitors of the corporate press, right-wing media, fundamentalist pulpit, and what today passes itself off for the Republican party as much as anyone can. My words have made that apparent. But we cannot let our anger become our enemy’s weapon. For to do that would be to follow our European predecessors to ruin. If they are more aware than we, it is because they learned a very hard lesson from a very stern master: history.
Will our countrymen ignore that lesson? Now that would be stupid.
Dom Stasi is a media executive and writer living in Los Angeles