Trusting other Americans

  • On a cruise to Scandinavia, an acquaintance was impressed by those countries’ affluence, and even more impressed by their welfare systems. A conservative, he noted that the welfare systems were paid from taxation, a high level of taxation which, he was surprised to find, seemed to be accepted by most people. As a US conservative, he could not understand this acceptance of high taxes until an American guide had suggested that, in general, Scandinavians trusted the government, whereas “Americans don’t trust the government”.
  • It was Xmas in Minnesota when, in a discussion about snow and ice on roads, somebody described an accident where a stranger’s car flipped and ended upside-down in the snow and ice. They could see the driver hanging upside down, held by the seatbelt, so they called the emergency services, but did not try to assist the driver because they were warned not to help in case they were sued if something went wrong with the driver. This was an unnecessary fear because Minnesota has a Good Samaritan law that (approximately) says (1) you should call the emergency services in the case of an accident, and (2) if you try help the accident victim then you cannot be sued if something goes wrong. Even though the law is on the books, many Minnesotans behave on the basis of what they believe is correct – Americans don’t trust other Americans not to sue when given any excuse.
Whenever there is talk about Tort Reform (especially in the context of health care) proponents highlight “frivolous” lawsuits, but do not address the reason why there are so many frivolous lawsuits (and ignore the worthy lawsuits). One reason Americans don’t trust other Americans is that they know their own minds – they would sue if they thought there was even a remote chance of success. As a colleague from Virginia once said “Why not? They’d do it to me.” Perhaps jury members have similar feelings when awarding damages, particularly against impersonal corporate entities such as hospitals or restaurant chains.

Not trusting other Americans is part of US culture, and has been since Independence (and before). Supporters of the proposed US constitution (Federalists) saw the constitution as a means of protecting the rights of a minority (themselves) from domination by the majority, using code words such as “domestic faction and insurrection” (Federalist Papers, 10). Opponents to the proposal (Anti-Federalists) saw a mechanism to protect “All those aristocrats whose pride disdains equal law” (Antifederalist Papers, 10).
In a similar vein, some proponents of the recent healthcare bill not only see the legislation as an attempt to help their fellow Americans obtain improved healthcare, but also see the attempt as a moral quest to protect the lives of innocents who do not have health insurance. Some opponents of the change see the attempt as misguided and possibly counter-productive, but do not see it as malicious in intent. Possibly knowing their own their own malevolence(?), and ignoring the moral argument, other opponents of reform do not trust those other Americans who support the healthcare bill (a sizeable proportion of the population), because they believe the legislation shows an authoritarian desire for the government to control people’s health care (socialism) – these are often the same people who show an authoritarian desire for the government to control women’s bodies by denying abortion for moral reasons (protecting the “lives” of innocents). If one understands its view of life, the Roman Catholic church takes a consistent moral standpoint by supporting universal health care and condemning abortion.

And talking about Americans not trusting other Americans, after a gunman in Tucson – armed with a Glock 19 pistol – killed six, and injured many others, sales of handguns (especially Glock pistols) were much higher. How a gun-toting populace could have stopped the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords by a deranged individual is not exactly clear.

Fear the government that is introducing socialism? Fear other Americans who might shoot you with their Glocks.

Update 2011-01-29

Well-known liberal Representative (and presidential hopeful) Dennis Kucinich has engaged in what has already been labelled a frivolous suit. Displaying a lack of personal (and oral) responsibility, Kucinich claims $150,000 for injuries suffered when biting on an olive pit hidden in a sandwich wrap bought at a House of Representatives cafeteria on 17 April 2008 – he says he “sustained serious and permanent dental and oral injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures, and has sustained other damages as well, including significant pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment.”
Matt DeLong notes:
Gawker dug up an old CSPAN video from five days after the incident in which Kucinich addresses the House floor but does not appear to exhibit any outward signs that he has recently experienced “serious and permanent dental and oral injuries”
The suit was settled out-of-court, and according to the the Kucinich web site “The parties have exchanged information and after some investigation and discussion have resolved the matter for an amount all parties believe reflects the actual out-of-pocket expenses related to this incident” [my emphasis]. Americans do not trust other Americans.

Update 2011-02-11

A story from the Associated Press, as reported by MSNBC, told how “A woman whose car crashed off an overpass in Kentucky and burst into flames was pulled out by passersby hailed as ‘modern-day heroes’”. In comments to the MSNBC report, one person said:
True American heroes- Yes! Now lets hope the person that was in the car is ok, if not some A**hole lawyer will try to take ‘the Heroes’ to court and say they cused her to be injured and are at fault. Don't laugh it has happen. Good Luck guys [Original spelling and punctuation]
I leave without my comment, other comments: “God Bless him. He put his self in danger to try and save a human being. What a Wonderful person. God knew whom to put where to get the job done,.....ALSOME”; and “God put the right people in the right place at the right time. God Bless them all”.

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