The American Death Cult

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, October 7, 2017)

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Keith Olbermann was only half right when he tweeted, “@realDonaldTrump, the @GOP and @benshapiro have sold their souls to the NRA and the death cult.”

Not just pro-Second Amendment conservatives belong to this cult, we all belong to the American death cult.

The latest mass shooting in Las Vegas merely reinforces our cultural dependency on violence. And this dynamic is not just coming from the Republicans or the political right. We all participate.

When a Planned Parenthood medical director attending a professional conference openly describes abortion as “violence” and “killing,” it shouldn’t require an undercover conservative journalist to spark the outrage, we should all be saddened this barbaric procedure (regardless of its legal status) is considered an expression of freedom and civil justice by many. We had a presidential nominee hesitate in a debate to even rule out abortions up to the very moment of birth…and was cheered for her brave stance. The theater of the macabre, American presidential campaign style.

While the liberals turn a blind eye to the unborn, the conservatives aren’t occupying the moral high ground either. Their support for the unborn is not matched by a similar respect for the living. From their callous refusal to join the civilized world in ensuring affordable, basic health care for all of its citizens to their tepid condemnations of neo-Nazi marches, conservative America has little empathy for the weak and most vulnerable in our society. Live and Let Die could be their anthem. Its Calvinist theology as public policy.

Why do Americans tolerate such high levels of violence?

Few advanced countries tolerate violence and death like Americans do. Our media and entertainment sources soak us in it. Our politicians nurture it. Our companies package it. Our economic elites profit from it. We all grind on it.

“We have the best military in the world,” crows President Trump, stating the obvious. He even told The Washington Post there should be more military parades with F-16s over Brooklyn and Marines “marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.” And, on cue, the Democrats cry “Fascist!” at Trump’s suggestion.

Democrats, have you been to a football game or NASCAR race in this country? We already do this. Every day. What Trump is saying is not new.

With every mass shooting in the U.S., we confirm our own American exceptionalism. We are different than France, or Germany or Canada by choice. We are not just bad asses to our external enemies, we will put our own people in the rifle scope’s cross hairs.

That is who we are and neither the Democrats or Republicans have any real incentive to change this foundational aspect of American society.

But most Americans want better, more effective gun control — so why hasn’t it happened?

Americans, like most people, want to feel safe. But personal safety has a yin yang quality that gun control advocates don’t seem to understand. Yes, the statistics strongly suggest that bringing a gun into a household increases the chance a household member will die from gun violence (including suicides). But, for many, guns make them feel safe. The overwhelming majority of gun owners have good intentions. Whether motivated by security or sport, their gun ownership poses no proximal threat to society-at-large.

Still, a June 2017 national survey by Pew Research Center shows 84 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support an expansion of background checks to include private firearm sales and purchases at gun shows.

Gun control advocates rightfully suggest the public understands these types of gun control laws are just good common sense.

Unfortunately, public opinion doesn’t matter in the case of gun control. Why? Because few Democratic politicians are voted out of office for supporting gun rights. In fact, Democrats use their support for gun rights as evidence of their independence from rigid liberal orthodoxy.

Furthermore, politicians raise millions amidst America’s self-inflicted carnage, particularly on the political right.

According to Geoff West of, an campaign finance watchdog group, “Gun rights interests have given about $41.9 million to candidates, parties and outside spending groups since 1989, with 89 percent of the funds contributed to candidates and parties going to Republicans. And in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, they let loose another $48 million (at least) in outside spending.”

In contrast, gun control interests have given only a fraction of the amount in the same time period. “They’ve given $4.2 million since 1989 (and) 96 percent of their contributions to parties and candidates have gone to Democrats,” says West. “In the 2016 cycle, gun control groups accounted for $3 million in outside spending versus $54.9 million from gun rights organizations, including $54.3 million from the NRA.”

Money is not always a direct measure of political influence. It is, however, a good proxy for influence in this case.

There simply is no stomach for gun control in America. If this country was not compelled to change gun laws after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings of 20 children, there is no event that will bring about meaningful gun control.

The same media outlets that saturate their mawkish news coverage of each mass shooting with cloying appeals to our worst fears, inevitably remind us that we, as a country, can show our unique strength by going on with life as normal.

“Don’t let the S.O.B. change us,” former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman told CNN’s Michael Smerconish, after 58 people were senselessly murdered at a concert in his city.

So, there you go gun control advocates. Change our gun laws? Apparently, doing so means the homicidal maniacs win.

In the privacy of our thoughts, many of us know, short of confiscating all guns from the civilian population (which will never happen), no law, new regulation, or enhanced background check will really reduce the gun violence in America. Mass shootings are a by-product of our tolerance for violence. And that is a cultural problem, not a legal one.

The American death cult needs the violence. It nourishes the American exceptionalism narrative that justifies the U.S. spending more on defense than the next eight countries combined. It rationalizes why we, as a society, spend as much money on guns and ammunition as we do on educational tutoring for our children.

We indulge in violence at all levels of our social lives. Our most popular music is violent. Our favorite national sport is violent. Our movies are violent. Even the everyday language we use to talk to each other is laced with profanity and violence, and usually unnecessary given the context of most conversations. Like a nervous tick, we use profanity as the conversational equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

With each mass shooting we remind ourselves that we can care, we can feel compassion, feelings that for many is increasingly hard to find in their daily lives.

We even feel pride and envy when the heroes are inevitably marched out by the media as symbols of our resolve and resilience against inexplicable treachery. It prompts hero fantasies that we play out in our heads.

We are a warrior culture that values the acquisition, use and taming of violence. A modern-day Sparta minus the awesome head gear. Guns are just one element of this social disorder. Mass shootings are just one symptom.

We know, collectively, without the guns and violence, we are just a more populated version of Canada (minus universal health care, of course).


About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.