Think for a moment about the stark raving absurdity of The Donald’s assertion at the Republican National Convention: “I am the only one who can keep America safe.”
Even in an election cycle in which this would-be despot appears to use every public appearance to become more and more preposterous and unelectable, this statement is the crown jewel in a campaign totally unmarred by truth or humility.
Because the truth, however uncomfortable, is this — life in the modern world is not accompanied by any guarantee of safety. And anybody who makes such a guarantee is a liar and a charlatan.
You probably feel as though there’s a new terrorism-fueled atrocity every week. The most recent of these — the truck rampage in Nice, France, and the attack in Munich, Germany — have only fueled the flames of fear, much of which has been directed toward particular religions and nationalities.
Here’s the truth, however. Terrorism-related attacks in the U.S. have been declining steadily since the 1970s. The events of 9/11 were a notable outlier, but the trend holds true generally apart from that.
So it’s not so much that terrorism is becoming more prevalent or violence is becoming more common — it’s more about how likely we are to hear about it, thanks to modern communication technologies, and how likely it is that the latest atrocity will be leveraged as propaganda in a politician’s electoral bid.
Can We Ever Truly Guarantee Our Safety?
Let’s cut to the chase here. No — we cannot. You’d have to be a fool to think your safety is something you can guarantee with 100% confidence. Again, anybody who claims to have the answer for assuring our safety is an accomplished liar hoping to be elected or re-elected.
So let’s rephrase the question. What price are we willing to pay to improve our safety, seeing as we cannot possibly guarantee it?
To help formulate an answer, let’s compare the relative risk of dying from a variety of “avoidable causes,” of which terrorism is just one.
- You’re far more likely to be killed by a toppled piece of furniture than you are to be killed by terrorists.
- Toddlers kill more Americans in an average year than terrorists do.
- Your chance of dying in a car crash is 1 in 113, compared with your 1 in 20 million chance of being killed by terrorists.
Let’s repeat that. Your chance of being killed by terrorists is 1 in 20 million — full orders of magnitude lower than your chances of dying in your own car on the way to work.
Now that we know the above facts, how willing are we to:
- Get rid of all the furniture in our house?
- Outlaw reproduction and banish every toddler in America?
- Sell our automobiles or ban car traffic altogether?
The answer, of course, is we’re not. Nobody has seriously considered the above measures, because even considering them is lunacy.
So why do we take seriously a man who claims barring people of a certain nationality or religion from entering the United States will keep us one iota safer?
If you want to read more about how absurdly out-of-proportion the average American’s fear of terrorism has become, I highly recommend Daniel Gardner’s masterful book entitled “The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t — And Put Ourselves in Greater Danger.”
In it, he observes, among other things, that the pervasive fear of airplanes immediately following 9/11, in pushing more Americans to drive to their vacation destinations, claimed far more lives than the World Trade Center attacks themselves.
The World Is Getting Safer Every Day
I wanted to end on a positive note after all that darkness and negativity. One thing you probably won’t hear on cable news is the simple and encouraging truth that the world is safer today than it’s ever been. Incidents of just about every type of violence — domestic, international, sectarian, religious, you name it — is less common now than they have been at any point in our history.
But politicians don’t get elected and re-elected by telling the electorate that the world is getting safer. No — they achieve job security by telling you the sky is falling, we’re all going to die, and they’re the only ones who can save us. Donald ripped out the most popular book from the despot’s handbook, and he reads it almost verbatim at every public appearance.
To return to the question posed in the title, the answer is this — no, we’ll never be able to guarantee our safety from terrorists. It’s just not possible.
But I’ll tell you one thing we can do, which is stop publicizing their actions. They very purpose of terrorism is twofold:
- To use fear to force us to change our behavior
- To encourage further acts of terror by making journalists and pundits complicit in spreading the terrorists’ message.
By any conventional definition, Donald Trump is a terrorist. Let him be the first one we silence.
Header image by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
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