It’s a Big, Beautiful Dangerous World

The other day one of my favorite columnists, David Brooks, wrote a depressing piece about the state of the Republican Party, of which he used to be a member.

His premise was that the party is spiraling downward, becoming ever more obsessed with the grievances of its disgruntled base.

“The level of Republican pessimism is off the charts,” he wrote. “A February Economist-YouGov poll asked Americans which statement is closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

“Over 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

That made me wonder how I would have answered that question. I suppose, if I was stuck with just those two choices, I would be with the “everything is beautiful” crowd. (By the way, on the list of the worst songs ever is, in fact, “Everything is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens. Listen to it over and over again and you’ll want to order a MAGA cap.)

Ray Stevens has written a lot of clever songs. “Everything is Beautiful” was not one of them.

But it seems to me that both descriptions of the world are wrong. Let’s take the negative view first. “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

None of that is supported by the facts. Yes, for sure, terrorism is a problem, but far-right domestic terrorism is a far greater threat then international terrorism. And your chances of being directly touched by a terrorist act are a whole lot less than your chances of dying in a car crash.

Crime? Well, murders have spiked in the last year or so, but the overall trend is down, and down dramatically, since the 1990’s.

And as for illegal immigrants, the only thing they really threaten is our economy if they leave. They commit crimes at a much lower rate than everybody else. For the vast majority of illegal immigrants the only thing that’s illegal about them is their immigration status. Look, I agree that people should come to this country the proper way. I agree that illegal immigration is not a good thing, but it is hardly dangerous to anyone except the immigrants themselves.

So, that bleak view of the world just isn’t supported by the facts. But, on the other hand, the rosy view is a little naive.

“It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated.”

Really?

Our world is big only if you ignore the size of the universe and it’s beautiful only if you set aside small floating continents of plastic in our oceans, melting polar ice caps and charred forests, the result of uncontrolled wildfires.

As for those “mostly good people”, well, I suppose I might agree, but only with a heavy emphasis on “mostly.” The Taliban and the Proud Boys are not good people. Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are not good people. And Trump got 75 million votes in November and Putin has been generally popular in Russia, which does not reflect well on wide swaths of human kind.

A more nuanced and accurate view would be that most people are mostly good most of the time. But some people are bad most of the time and all people are bad some of the time. I know. A guy would go broke if he tried to sell bumper stickers on that theme.

“We must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated?” I like that sentiment, but I don’t want to embrace the Taliban, the Proud Boys, Trump or Putin. I want to fight them and what they stand for. So, can I make an amendment? Let’s try: “We should find a way to see what’s good in people we otherwise disagree with, but within reason.” Here again, try to put that on a baseball cap and make a buck.

Finally, do we not want to be isolated? Literally, there is a strong streak of isolationism on both the right and the left. The only difference between the policies of Trump and Biden on withdrawal from Afghanistan is four months. I hope I’m wrong, but there is good reason to believe that that will be a humanitarian disaster. Yet, I think a lot of that 75% of Biden voters actually embrace being isolated from the rest of that big, beautiful world.

So, if I didn’t have to pick between either just the naive or the dystopian statements, what would I write about the world?

I would say that: It’s a small world in a big universe, with a great deal of beauty but some remaining big environmental threats (chief among them climate change), where most people are good most of the time, but in which there are some seriously bad people who we must be aware (and wary) of and that, for those people with whom we just disagree we should find a way to try to understand them and make ourselves understood and, finally, if we isolate ourselves in a mostly beautiful but somewhat dangerous world, that world will only become less beautiful and more dangerous.

I’m printing tee shirts, people. Can I take your order?

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