We're in the midst of an election period for the United States. These are exciting times if you care about politics, confusing times if you don't, but either way, it's scary. The last few weeks and months have been somewhat like the WWE's Royal Rumble. In the right corner of the fight you have a raging egomaniac saying whatever comes to mind (Donald Trump) and a strict social conservative (Ted Cruz) trading jabs, while periodically attacking each other's personal lives.
On the left you see Bernie Sanders and on the right you see Hillary Clinton. Trying desperately to find their way into the ring are a few libertarians and other fringe candidates other than those big four named above. Every so often a washed up or current celebrity jumps into the action, says something minimally controversial and then leaves. Election season is a lot like running through a rain forest blindfolded: you don't know what's coming next, and you're right to be concerned.
If you judged America by the sights and sounds of an election year, your views and opinions of the country may well be negative, as it seems everyone in the nation has an inflammatory opinion more startling than the last. Despite what it looks like now, the U.S. is a far kinder and forgiving place than it seems when the politicians are haggling for votes. Here are fifteen myths that people need to stop believing about the United States.
15 It is a Democracy
Don't misunderstand, there are some aspects of the American system that are "democratic" in nature, but the United States is by and large, a republic. "What is the difference, oh wise one?" You might ask. Well, in the most basic of terms, a democracy is a system in which citizens are directly involved with the creation of law and policy. A republic, in contrast, exists when people elect representatives who determine policy on their behalf.
Such a system was considered advantageous over true democracy because at the time of independence the founding fathers believed that the general population would monumentally screw the country up if they were allowed to have too much control over it. The same may well be true today, not that having these elected officials in charge has always been a walk in the park.
This minor fact barely matters, and in reality, adds up to little more than a "fun fact" wrapped up in semantics.
14 The Country is Based on Religious Freedom
Many people often try to pretend that the United States was based on the idea of freedom from religious persecution.
To make a long story short, the usual story is that the Puritans who were the main settlers in the colonies, did so because they were experiencing religious persecution in England. While this was true, that they were in a precarious situation, they first tried to settle in what is now Holland. At that time (16th century) Holland was very tolerant, with Jews, Catholics, and even atheists practicing as they saw fit. This was not pleasing to the Puritans, so they set sail for the new world. Once there, they were completely intolerant, essentially banning all behavior that did not conform with Puritan standards.
This may be an interesting factoid to throw at someone the next time they say that religious group X should be allowed into the States because it has always been a haven for persecuted people. No it has not, but nice try.
13 Lincoln Freed the Slaves for Altruistic Reasons
President Abraham Lincoln is often the subject of great adoration for the Emancipation Proclamation, which was the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States. I could say that it ended slavery, but that would be slightly inaccurate and an oversimplification. Many have been educated to believe that Lincoln was a great man who loved people regardless of race and simply wanted African-Americans to be free. This was not true. Lincoln was racist, in that he was quoted more than once saying that whites were superior to blacks, but this was not uncommon at the time.
Altruism, by the way, refers to selflessness and doing what is best for others. This was not why Lincoln "freed the slaves". Rather, it was a political move that he had hoped would destabilize the Confederacy during the Civil War and beyond that, simply a massive middle finger to the South.
12 Americans are Either Democrat or Republican
While it is true that these are the two dominant parties in every American election, and have been for over one hundred years, not all Americans fall into one category or the other. Many are independent and simply vote for whoever they consider to be the lesser of two evils every four years. According to a recent (early March) Gallup poll, nearly 40% of Americans consider themselves independent.
While the two main political parties for the most part take on the form of social and fiscal conservatism for the Republicans and modern liberalism for the Democrats, virtually every citizen has at least some deviation from even their chosen party.
There are Americans further to the right than the Republican Party, further left than the democrats, millions of libertarians (socially liberal and fiscally conservative), communists, anarchists, and so on. Literally, the country is not just red and blue.
11 Terrible Travelers
This is one of the most common and unflattering stereotypes that people around the world have of Americans. Picture the bloated, disgruntled, middle-age dude in an undersized Hawaiian shirt hollering at a cook in a restaurant in any foreign country because his wife's meal was spicy and now she's crying. Or imagine the same guy shouting at a cab driver in Europe because his English isn't too sharp and there was a miscommunication resulting in a late hotel check-in.
While these people are an unpleasant occurrence around the world, they are not exclusively American and they are the incredibly vast minority. Millions of Americans who travel are eager to learn and respect local customs and languages; humble and grateful for any and all experiences they can take in while visiting foreign lands.
10 Uneducated and Ignorant
This point ties in well with that which precedes it. Much like the vast majority of Americans being gracious and polite travelers, contrary to the stereotype, many are genuinely thoughtful, intelligent people. The example of the bucktoothed, inbred, cross-eyed hillbilly spouting off his hatred for anyone non white and non Christian is a very vocal minority.
Let me clarify this and say however, that while many Americans are informed and intelligent, the current generation, with their safe spaces and nervous breakdowns at slogans like "Trump 2016" may indicate that young people are getting stupider, but this is not specific to the United States.
9 Those "Selfish" Americans
During any election period, the words "selfish" and "charitable" are thrown around enthusiastically. Election time or not however, Americans have a reputation around the world of being selfish. This is, like a few other points on this list, true but only for a fraction of the population. First off, in terms of volunteering time or money, Americans are among the most "giving" people in the world.
The only real "measure" of charitable support is published by Charities Aid Foundation (a charitable organisation that supports and promotes other charities) in the form of the World Giving Index. Since 2013, the United States has placed first twice (2013 and 2014) and second once (2015), only behind Myanmar. Go figure.
Many Americans are also against taxation and wealth redistribution, which can result in a "selfish" reputation. They work their butts off to achieve financial comfort and make lives for themselves, and don't want to see their income being squandered by their government. This doesn't make Americans selfish. Hating taxes and wealth redistribution does not equate to selfishness. Rather, many find the excess and inefficiency of government repugnant, and believe, that taxation through force (the government way) is theft, and that private charity is a vastly more effective method of helping poor people than an uncaring bureaucracy. In this way, much of the developed world could learn a thing or two from these Americans.
8 The "Wild West" that Wasn't
One of the most fabled times and areas in the United States is the "Wild West" otherwise known as the "frontier". Basically, as Americans moved west, away from the original colonies, the popular myth as it stands right now, is that the frontier was a wild, disastrous place in which gunfights, brutal bank robberies and all other manner of barbaric crime were commonplace.
These days, virtually across North America, politicians and government types like to refer back to this "nightmare" of disorganized chaos to scare people into accepting government regulation. Uber is one example, and in Canada and the United States, people pushing for regulation have argued that allowing such a company to operate without strict guidelines is akin to the Wild, Wild West. (It's not, Uber is a great company, with a great product).
The problem is, however, that the West was not so wild. There were crime sprees and terrible acts from murder to theft, but there is strong evidence to support the claim that the Wild West, for all its lack of regulation and government oversight, was actually far safer than many American cities are today. Moreover, there is a popular misconception about the origin of high levels of violence on the frontier in the mid and late 1800's.
About six years ago, in The Independent Review, economic historian Thomas DiLorenzo wrote that prior to the middle of that century, Native Americans and American settlers seldom saw conflict. Rather, he claimed that the greatest times of violence during the 1800's occurred after the United States government began to expand its influence westward. In summation, the next time someone argues that allowing something to occur unchecked is too "Wild, Wild West" for their tastes, remember that historical sources are torn over how wild the West really was.
7 Fattest Country on Earth
Granted, there are some truly gargantuan human-shaped creatures living in the United States. It speaks to the massive success of their society that even poor people are so well-fed that they break their scales. Approximately 66% of the adult population of the United States is overweight or obese. But that is only good enough for 27th fattest in the world. Several island nations such as Tonga and Samoa are above the U.S. along with Middle Eastern countries Kuwait, Qatar, Lybia, and Saudi Arabia. In summation, the U.S. is pretty fat, but at this point, most developed countries and plenty of developing countries have that fact on their national resume.
6 All Americans are Zealous Extremists
The largest religious denomination in the United States is protestant, with about 38% of the country. Next is Catholicism, at roughly 23%. The third largest denomination is listed as non-religious, including agnostic and atheist. Two percent of the population is Jewish, six are "other religion" and the rest are either Mormon or other smaller Christian groups.
While some violent and vocal groups may dominate the sensationalist news stories, these are a very loud and unpleasant minority; one of which many in the country are ashamed. Most Americans, whether religious or not, are kind, compassionate people, and many who do have religious prejudice just hold it in. Among those who do participate in any religion, there are those who are strict followers, tons of moderates, and a few who are followers in word alone. This is the same virtually anywhere.
5 Everyone is a Gun Nut
Much like several other points in this article, this is a case of a small minority ruining it for the rest of the country. There are Americans who are completely gun-crazy and others use firearms for crimes, but most gun owners in the States are honest, good, law abiding citizens.
The reason for the United States' enthusiasm for guns goes back to two factors. The first of these is belief in self ownership and personal responsibility. It's very simple, who is primarily in charge of self defense? The answer is: each and every individual. Furthermore, going back to the birth of the nation, there has always been popular distrust in government. Therefore, one major reason for the second amendment was to help citizens protect themselves from tyrannical government. While the media may love to spout off "facts" about gun violence in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of people use guns to protect their lives on a yearly basis.
4 Americans Are Rude
Anyone who thinks Americans are rude has not met enough of them. More often than not, a person who considers Americans rude is mistaking familiarity and casual attitudes for social ineptitude. While many Americans are informal (which some people misconstrue as rude), they are among the most friendly, welcoming people on the face of the Earth. This over-familiarity can be off-putting, it is well-intentioned.
3 Americans Love War
This stereotype is hard to go about analyzing. There is no doubt that since the advent of violent video games and other media that present war as entertainment, young people around the world have come to fantasize war and killing. It certainly hasn't turned a generation into braindead killers, but at least some desensitization is occurring.
Speaking realistically, many Americans hate war, and are repulsed by the ongoing conflicts around the world. Among veterans and families of veterans and soldiers, many of these people hate war the most, but believe that such sacrifice is necessary to keep their country safe from outside invaders.
Looking to cinema, while war movies have been popular in the United States for many decades, they are seldom made to glorify the act of war, but to shine light on the experiences and bravery of soldiers, and to demonstrate the brutal reality of armed conflict.
2 Lack of Respect for Authority
Many Americans love authority, but only when it is working for them. A social conservative who sees a cop wailing on a civilian for smoking dope may say something to the effect of "if that clown had cooperated with the man in uniform, this wouldn't be happening". The social liberal sitting next to him (or arguing with him on Facebook) would likely retort that the person being beaten had not hurt or victimized anyone and therefore, did not deserve to be accosted in the first place.
To look at an economic situation, a conservative would likely scoff at the idea of a union lobbying a governing body in search of a minimum wage hike, arguing that government has no right to tell businesses how to operate, and that people who want higher wages should increase their skills and usefulness. The liberal would likely say that an authority that puts a minimum wage law in place is just sticking up for the working man who can't do so for himself.
Finally however, there are some Americans (the number seems to be growing) who see the authority (local, state, and federal) figures in the United States as a bunch of crazed lunatics, drunk on their own power. From blue collar laborers to entrepreneurs, these people just see themselves as capable, intelligent people whose lives are being run by unnecessary and sometimes abusive levels of social and economic authority, and want to make their own way in the world, free from encumbering bureaucracy.
Disrespect for authority to many Americans is normal, as they see authority is a metaphorical cage, and believe that humans were never meant for such a life.
1 "The Land of the Free"
The last two points on this list compliment each other perfectly. Number two was whether or not Americans like authority, and this is essentially a brief look at how much authority there is in the country. Don't get me wrong, the United States is fairly high on the scale of freedom in the world. With that said, the freedom the people so often brag about is becoming more and more limited as the years go by. In many parts of the United States, marijuana is still prohibited and quite ruthlessly we might add. Mary Jane is just one social example, an equivalent economic example is strict regulation of certain businesses, such as minimum wage laws.
Licenses are required for an obscene amount of jobs, and many consider that kind of government oversight to be a cash grab. Taxation is rampant and there seems to be an ever-growing number of regulations at the state, federal and municipal levels. This can vary from state to state, and certainly does, as many aspects of life fall under state jurisdiction.
Most people who have gone through the public school system will argue that without government, life is a dreadful nightmare, and that these regulations are all for a reason. On the other hand, many also believe that they have no reason to have their lives so heavily influenced by government. This whole "are we free" thing is really up to whoever you talk to. But next time there is any question, try to not pay those taxes one year, you'll find out how free you are for sure. Still though, compared to many other countries out there; in particular those that are communist or run by religion, the United States is still a paradise.