As American Life Expectancy Plunges, Political Bigwigs Stay Busy Not Noticing

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Life expectancy in the U.S. plummets down, down, down, driven chiefly by the multitudinous gun deaths of children. Amurica outstrips the world with its hordes of kids shot to death, whose blood hydrates the idiocy of a second amendment deformed into pimping for gun manufacturers and their great friend, the currently beleaguered National Rifle Association. The NRA and its fans love to yammer about “responsible” gun owners. Well, we had three recent grisly demonstrations in just one week of how such gun owners behave toward young people: 16-year-old Ralph Yarl shot and injured in Kansas City, Missouri, when he went to the wrong house to pick up his siblings. This was followed a few days later by 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis shot dead by a homeowner in Hebron, N. Y., when she and her friends pulled their car into the wrong driveway by mistake. Then on April 18, two high-school cheerleaders were shot, one injured critically, when one got mixed up in a grocery store parking lot and very briefly got into the wrong car, in Elgin, Texas. Yup. Those supposedly responsible gun owners sure are model citizens.

Another part of the mortality problem here in the heart of the Exceptional Empire is the ghastly U.S. performance in re covid. Far more Americans died – and still die – of the virus proportionally, than citizens of other countries. For that you can blame our privatized, for profit, dysfunctional health care system, which enriches insurers at the cost of public health. Well over a million Americans perished in this plague and many millions more suffer serious, permanent debilities from long covid. Back in August, the Brookings Institute reported that 16.3 million working age people cope with long covid, and who knows what that dreadful statistic portends for their longevity. We Americans did not have the benefit of a zero covid policy that postponed our rendez-vous with the virus until it evolved to become weaker and less lethal and until treatments and vaccines were available. No. China had zero covid. WE had minimal lockdowns, and even then, nincompoop right-wingers and our corporate overlords absolutely freaked out: “Get those shirkers back to work, even if they drop dead in the slaughterhouse!” And of course, lots did.

Then there are deaths of despair – in its massiveness a nearly unique American phenomenon. These seemingly ubiquitous encounters with the Grim Reaper from suicide, drug overdose or cirrhosis of the liver predominately afflict middle-aged whites – for obvious reasons, namely, this demographic has suffered a stupendous decline in its living standards in recent decades due to Wall Street-enforced deindustrialization. Good jobs just don’t exist in their old numbers anymore, and many people cannot “adjust” to this. As a result, according to Health System Tracker, “the U.S. has the lowest life expectancy among large, wealthy countries, while it far outspends its peers on health care.”

But just to harp on the obvious, worst of all are guns, our American obsession, for which we are willing to sacrifice babies on Moloch’s altar during our routine school shoot-‘em-ups. And don’t forget the multitudes of kids who get their hands on their parents’ firearms and accidentally kill themselves. There are 430 such unintentional fatalities in the U.S. per year. So children die in both ways from guns in vast numbers. No other country has this problem. And it’s safe to say that if it did, no other country would react with such a ghoulish, ferocious determination to do nothing about it.

Americans “are dying younger than in China, Cuba, the Czech Republic or Lebanon,” wrote David Wallace-Wells in the New York Times April 6. “You may think this problem is a matter of 70-year-olds who won’t live to see 80…But increasingly the American mortality anomaly…is explained…by the deaths of children and teenagers.” And every time some maniac slaughters a classroom of 9-year-olds, our idiot politicians mumble garbage about thoughts and prayers and do absolutely nothing. They’ve long bet that school massacres will just become part of the scenery, like covid deaths and endless overseas wars, and that nothing much beyond a few moronic bromides will be required of them every time such an easily preventable tragedy strikes. And they’ve been proved right.

Wallace-Wells observes that half this increase in youthful death – “one in 25 American 5-year-olds now won’t live to see 40” – is due to guns. We are a very violent culture. What Wallace-Wells calls our “exceptionalism of violence” means that “from age 25 to 34, Americans’ chances of dying are, by some estimates, more than twice as high, on average, as their counterparts’ in Britain and Japan.” Guns and drugs account for much of this, yet I don’t hear our congressional GOP loudmouths screaming for a military assault on NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, as they thump their chests and proclaim their eagerness to invade Mexico to crush drug cartels.

Indeed, the bizarre and self-defeating U.S. fixation on military cures to almost every problem abroad has much to do with its insane gun violence here in the so-called homeland. Americans fantasize that they live in a war zone. Shopping at Walmart armed to the teeth, gassing up the SUV with the AR-15 at the ready, Americans have strange dreams, which they transform into self-fulfilling prophecies, as psychotics, freely able to purchase weapons of war, open fire on schools, nightclubs, banks, and it doesn’t matter how many armed guards patrol the premises. The fatality statistics are off the charts. As you might expect in a country that features 400 million privately owned firearms, many possessed by what are apparently some very disturbed individuals, whose cerebral cortexes have been marinated in nonstop, garish Hollywood images of bad guys getting blown away.

The Gun Violence Archive, cited by David Rosen in CounterPunch April 13, “reports that in 2022, 44,305 people were killed and another 38,567 were injured by guns…more Americans died of suicide (24,090) than homicides, murders and unintentional killings. Worse yet, nearly one thousand children under 11 years were killed (314) and injured (682) by guns – and nearly 5,000 teens (age 12-17) were victims of gun violence with 1, 381 killed and 3,803 injured.”

That’s the price, in blood, of our national gun cult whose adherents clothe themselves in its high-fashion uniform of lethal armament and pig-headedly insist on their supposedly God-given right to parade around in public or to congregate at government buildings, as happened a few years back in Michigan, looking like they’re ready to commit mass murder. And that’s all they CAN commit. They are not a “well-regulated militia,” of the sort invoked by the second amendment. Indeed, if they wanted to preserve freedom by overthrowing the U.S. government, an organization that has if not a near monopoly on international violence certainly until recently the lion’s share, along with phenomenal firepower as it bristles with deadly weaponry from its “homeland” military bases to the local police departments – well, good luck.

The American refusal to wrestle this catastrophe into some semblance of the normalcy which prevails most everywhere else on the globe is a form of psychosis. To take just two days, April 23 then 24, 2023: 53 people shot and killed in 50 different places on April 23; 20 people shot and killed in 19 separate locations the next day. April 24 was actually a really good day – only 20 gun fatalities! But the larger numbers are typical of every day so far in April. As far as I can tell from the Gun Violence Archive, our all-American gun owners did not take a single day off from shooting people this month. But no one notices. If all 53 slaughtered on April 23 had been killed in the same place, it would have made headlines. For a day. Otherwise, one murder or merely two or three in different places barely gets noticed.

Meanwhile I see on twitter that GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy nuttily advocates arming Taiwanese citizens with AR-15s, to deter China from reunification. Oh, and don’t forget his obligatory groveling about opening a branch of the NRA in Taiwan, of course. The lunatics literally insist on foisting their madness on the rest of the world, so other nations can replicate the bedlam we have here. Newsflash: the world doesn’t want it. All it has to do is look at the U.S., where, thanks to gun-mania there were, excluding suicides, 20,138 firearm deaths in 2022. Moloch is a demanding deity.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.