Is America a Broken Nation?

Is it appropriate for sports celebrities to help fix a broken nation? Basketball coach Steve Kerr hopes so but doesn’t expect much.

Two of the most ambiguously euphemistic words in the English language are the adjective, “appropriate” and its negative, “inappropriate.” They often appear in the news in the context of sexual assault. It was the word Bill Clinton chose when he finally admitted that he had “a relationship with Miss [Monica] Lewinsky that was not appropriate.” The word appropriate saved his having to name the act of which he was accused, which he had previously categorically denied when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

In the wake of the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Golden State Warriors basketball coach Steve Kerr expressed his despair at the growing banality of murderous violence in the United States in these terms: “We need our leaders to step up and unite the country with the appropriate words and actions, and we’re not getting that right now.” It was an implicit but obvious criticism of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, but also of the failure to act of the entire political class.

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Appropriate:

Adapted to a situation or event one prefers not to describe 

Contextual note

If Clinton’s reason for using “appropriate” was to avoid the embarrassment associated with the nature of the “mistake” for which he was impeached, Kerr, in a demonstration of civilized politeness, uses the term here to avoid expressing his very real anger toward Trump and Congress.

Kerr’s restrained description of what has become a broad social problem contains two other words that merit our attention: broken and expect. Kerr cites a girl from a Santa Fe school where a shooting occurred: “She said, ‘I expected that this would happen to us at our school at some point.’” Kerr’s conclusion: “That’s where we’ve gotten as a country. We’re broken right now.”

The basketball coach regrets that the culture has become one of shouting and shooting. Cultures are defined by what people consider as “normal” or “usual” behavior — what they expect to see in their daily routine. Verbal and physical violence have always existed in every society, but well-ordered societies find the means to keep criminal violence marginal. Broken societies don’t.

Historical note

Steve Kerr’s father, president of the American University in Beirut, was assassinated by two Lebanese terrorists in 1984, in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war. Steve was 18 at the time, a student at the University of Arizona. This loss of his father gave him a particular reason for reflecting on the issue of firearms and gun rights. His experience of life in a nation engulfed in civil war also gives him serious perspective on what a “broken” country is like.

Kerr was born in Lebanon and educated in the Middle East (Lebanon, Egypt) and then California. This gave him a view of the world and cultural contrasts that few Americans share. Kerr has a theory about at least one historical trend that led to the election of Donald Trump. He elaborated on this in the aftermath of Trump’s election in 2016: “You look at society, you look at what’s popular. People are getting paid millions of dollars to go on TV and scream at each other, whether it’s in sports or politics or entertainment, and I guess it was only a matter of time before it spilled into politics.”

His theory has some merit. We may even wonder if Trump’s abrasive manner has not created an effect of addiction. Americans have come to “expect” and accept exaggerated rhetoric and killings in public places. A significant part of the electorate, Trump’s voters, now seem to expect political leaders to be brutal, violent, vulgar, narcissistic and crass. This, however, is not something Trump created, but rather a phenomenon he understood how to exploit.

Americans increasingly call for blood to resolve what they have been told are their insoluble problems. That is the basic meaning of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” But we mustn’t forget that the civilized and urbane Barack Obama was proud of nothing more than being known as the assassin of Osama bin Laden.

As the great investigative reporter Seymour Hersh revealed, several years after the event, it wasn’t a risky military operation but  a cold-blooded assassination, not too dissimilar to the Saudis’ treatment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The project initially included the denial of premeditated murder, by first keeping it secret and claiming a week later that bin Laden had by chance been killed by a drone. It also included dismembering the body and dumping it in unidentifiable places.

Yet this trophy, from what was initially described as a heroic assault on a well-defended compound by the Navy SEALs, became the emblem of the Democrats’ commitment to violence. It epitomized Obama’s update of Teddy Roosevelt’s slogan, “speak softly, strike silently and, most of all, advertise your big stick.” Some time later, showing off her own puffing pride, accompanied by distinctly sadistic laughter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton similarly claimed the scalp of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died”.

The difference between Trump and his predecessors, which has given Steve Kerr the impression that America is “broken,” is that the US president has let loose the rhetoric that impels more people to feel virtuous about using their own big sticks to maim and kill rather than to merely threaten.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.] 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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Author: Peter Isackson