Rick Holmes: Take a deep breath, America is doing great

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Rick Holmes

Before we get too far into 2016, I sure wish America would take a deep breath. Things are not nearly as bad as some of the loudest voices in the room would have us think.

It would help if the people delivering the news on TV were less hysterical than the people that deliver the weather. The weather dolts see a snowflake and want to turn it into a blizzard. The cable news guys want to turn every shooting into a war, every event into a crisis.

And it would be easier to keep our perspective if we didn’t have a dozen or more presidential pretenders competing for the attention of the most disaffected slice of the electorate – and if the rest of us didn’t have to watch their desperate pitches to New Hampshire primary voters. I find myself yelling at the TV, telling them to stop bad-mouthing America.

Stop running down the economy. America is doing pretty well these days, better than Europe, China or pretty much any country you could name. And the future looks bright. A recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations found that when it comes to innovation, which is the key to sustained growth in developed economies, the U.S. is way out in front in every category: higher education, investment in research and development, involvement in knowledge-intensive industries. Our entrepreneurial culture attracts bright and ambitious people from all over the world.

Take a deep breath, xenophobes: Immigration and trade are a big part of America’s economic strength.

I’d like the commander-in-chief wannabes to stop promising to make America’s military “the strongest in the world” - because it already is. The U.S. spends $610 billion a year on defense, more than the next seven countries combined. The U.S. is also the world’s largest arms dealer, with more than half the market, bringing in more than $36 billion in sales in 2014, for what that’s worth.

That doesn’t mean we can fight every battle, win every war and boss around everyone on the planet. But we’ve got plenty of military might. What we need is a commander-in-chief who knows how to use it wisely.

We also need a president who understands the nature of the threat. Terrorism is the weapon of the weak. Islamist radicalism is not an “existential threat” to the United States, and those who think otherwise should take a deep breath and think about it: Can you imagine elections cancelled, Congress disbanded, mullahs outlawing booze and bikinis and Americans putting up with it? Of course not.

Let’s get real about ISIS and similar cults. They can kill, but they cannot convince. A Pew Global Attitudes poll found them to be overwhelmingly unpopular even in countries with majority Muslim populations. In the marketplace of ideas, freedom, opportunity and modernity – America’s ideas – will beat out medieval jihadism every time.

America has nothing to fear from bad ideas. The hand-wringing over Islamic “radicalization” is sadly reminiscent of the 20 th century “red scares” we should have learned something from. The New York Times recently quoted several constitutional scholars proposing the First Amendment be weakened to give the government more authority to shut down websites that might be used by ISIS recruiters.

Take a deep breath, people. America is not Russia or China. We don’t need thought police, and we don’t need to give the NSA back-door access to all the devices holding our most personal information.

Yes, gun violence is a concern. America averaged a mass shooting every day over the past year, and I don’t understand why the only one some people care about is the massacre in San Bernardino. Right-wing radicals have killed almost twice as many Americans as Islamist radicals have in the years since 9/11, but you don’t see the government trying to shut down white supremacist websites.

Gun-lovers and gun-haters could use a reality check. Gun homicides in America declined sharply from the ‘90s to the first part of this century, and have held steady in the years since, though gun suicides are inching higher. That’s in spite of more guns than ever concealed in civilian pockets, not because of them. Take a deep breath, gun owners; this isn’t the Wild West.

While I’m offering chill pills, here’s one for Bernie Sanders. The economy isn’t working for many people, I agree, and billionaires and corporations wield too much political power. But America is not ripe for a “revolution.”

I’d like to see campus activists take a deep breath, too. Black lives lost to police violence and the war on drugs do matter. Insensitive faculty e-mails and historic connections to slavery don’t. Injustice is more than hurt feelings.

Most of all, I wish Donald Trump would take a deep breath or just shut up. America is already great. Stop running down my country.

It’s unfortunate, but true, that hyperbole pays off, at least when it comes to TV ratings and votes in presidential primaries. But we don’t have to buy everything they are selling. Take a deep breath, America. Things are a lot better than the hucksters would have us believe.

Rick Holmes writes for GateHouse Media and the MetroWest Daily News. He can be reached at rholmes@wickedlocal.com. Like Rick on Facebook at Holmes & Co., and follow him @HolmesAndCo.