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Can Americans be saved from themselves?

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President Barack Obama and Jon Stewart believe if only Americans were more civil to each other, future Tucsons might be averted. Would that it were as simple as that.

In fact America faces a much deeper, more intractable, crisis that no one has a clue how to deal with, largely because it's denied: a huge epidemic of mentally disturbed people, many with power and influence. That doesn't mean all Americans are unstable, delusional or paranoid; there's Senator Bernie Sanders, after all.

Now no one actually knows how many Americans have mental-health issues. The World Health Organization has found that 26 per cent of Americans have mental disorders of some kind or another, the highest rate on the planet, most of which goes completely untreated. But this was a clinical study and didn't examine political or cultural manifestations of mental disturbance in the United States, a vast canvas. For all we know, the real total of those with mental disorders could be as low as that 26 per cent and as high as the sky.

Of course the total depend on one's definition of a mental disorder. Take the following facts, for example. According to a 2010 poll:

» 67 per cent of Republicans (and 40 per cent of all Americans) believe Mr. Obama is a socialist;

» 57 per cent of Republicans (32 per cent overall) believe he's Muslim;

» 45 per cent of Republicans (25 per cent overall) agree with the Birthers that the President was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president;"

» 38 per cent of Republicans (20 per cent overall) say Mr. Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did;"

» and 24 per cent of Republicans (14 per cent overall) say Mr. Obama "may be the Antichrist."

As of this Friday at 9:24 a.m. there were exactly 311, 890,178 Americans. So, among other things, 124,756,071 Americans believe the President of the United States is a socialist. If only. Does this make them a) surprisingly shrewd, b) supremely ignorant, c) paranoid, or d) off their rockers? Choose one.

Some of these Americans are the Republican members of Congress who united last month to oppose government funding for New York firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers who were heroic "first responders" on 9/11 when the Twin Towers fell. As a direct result of toiling in those ruins, many became ill, often seriously, some terminally. Yet the Republicans -- whose cynical exploitation of 9/11 defines egregious political opportunism -- refused to support the bill unless the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 per cent of Americans were extended. I realize you'll think I'm fabricating this story since it's too crazy to be true. Except it's true. Check out for yourself Jon Stewart's remarkable program on December 16 featuring four damaged but eloquent first responders. This was not a comedy program.

Another influential American is John Shimkus, a Republican who's represented Illinois in Congress for the past 14 years. Mr. Shimkus believes nothing needs to be done about global warming. "I do believe in the Bible as the final word of God," he says. "And I do believe that God said the Earth would not be destroyed by a flood [after Noah's flood]."

Yet another is Darrell Issa, a senior California Republican, now chairman of an important congressional committee, who described Mr. Obama as "one of the most corrupt presidents of modern time."

An even more prominent Republican congressional leader is Paul Ryan, whose "Roadmap for America's Future" sets out the core policies that the new Republican-led Congress is expected to follow. It's been summarized as follows:

It provides the largest tax cuts in history for the wealthy; raises taxes on the middle class; ends guaranteed Medicare benefits; erodes health-care coverage; partially privatizes social security; and makes deep cuts in guaranteed Social Security benefits.

This was the platform that was supported by Tea Cuppers and other Americans furious at Mr. Obama for the economic meltdown. This is now the platform for a country which, according to UNICEF, ranks last on child poverty among 24 wealthy countries, with 42 per cent of American children living in low-income homes and about one in five in poverty. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is considering foreign aid to America to help meet its maternal and child health crisis.

This is a country, too, where the socialist President can choose for his new chief of staff a VIP at JP Morgan Chase and for the head of his National Economic Council a VIP at Goldman Sachs. According to The Market Oracle, a business-friendly financial markets analysis website, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are "a powerful pair that is more responsible for destroying the entire U.S. financial system than 95 per cent of the American public has any awareness of." But Mr. Obama is aware. A grateful business community is prepared to show its appreciation in donations to his next presidential campaign.

A prominent group of neo-cons and other hawks are pressing for an illegal American attack on Iran. Most had also promoted the illegal invasion of Iraq and are once again confident that success, as in Iraq, would be fast and relatively painless -- at least for them. Given their track record, they of course have considerable influence.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a PhD in history, the most powerful Republican in the United States for much of the 1990s, a potential contender for the Republican nomination in 2012, much-quoted by the mainstream media, has stated that Mr. Obama and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi are part of a "secular-socialist machine" that's as dire a threat to the United States as Hitler or the Soviet Union were in their day. As my esteemed colleague Professor J. Douglas Myers pointed out to me when I received my own doctorate in history, "It just shows that any damn fool can do it."

The United States provides vast sums of money to allies like Saudi Arabia, much of which goes to promote Muslim fundamentalism that breeds anti-American terrorism, and to Pakistan, much of which goes directly into the pockets of the Taliban to help fight the Americans fighting against terrorism (or something) in Afghanistan.

Sarah Palin, the most popular Republican in America, was offended that the way she targeted certain Democrats in last November's elections, including Gabrielle Giffords, was linked to the Tucson murders. She compares this assertion to the blood libel that Jews killed Jesus, and later Christian children, to use their blood in the baking of matzo for Passover.

Of course we Canadians have no right to complacency in this area. We have our own plausible candidates: folks who argue that the Alberta tar sands are ethical or that humans and dinosaurs moseyed around the earth together. An apparently deranged man killed a cop in Toronto this week. But how does Canada, or any other country, possibly begin to compare to the dishonour roll of America's mass and serial murderers, far and away the longest of any nation on Earth? Which logically raises the subject of murder weapons and popular culture.

No examination of the magnitude of American mental instability is incomplete without the singular role of the National Rifle Association being factored in. The tragedy in Tucson has elicited much concern about America's gun laws but only passing analysis of the politics of guns in American life. This fascinating and critical subject, illuminating the question of who's really running the asylum, will be pursued next week.

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