The two faces of the USA

The USA has always had and always will have two very distinct aspects. One is that of an open society that is progressive and often leads the way for the rest of the world. The other is that of a dark society that can be as fundamentalist and extreme as the Taliban. Both aspects coexist, occasionally clash and often swap places at the helm of the superpower.

To Europeans, some of what goes on in the United States is inexplicable: How can someone fanatically and passionately champion the free distribution of murderous weapons? How can entire groups of people see abortions as the work of the devil and throw bombs at those who want them to be fully legalized?

The roots of such phenomena run deep and the ultraconservative part of society always finds allies in powerful interest groups and lobbies that help it win even the most ludicrous of battles.

The recent mass murder of 20 schoolchildren has put the debate regarding stricter gun control back at the top of the agenda. It has also revealed some of the fundamental problems of the American republic, which can also be encountered in all other Western democracies. The political leadership in the US cannot find a solution to the problem of gun violence because efforts for tighter control are constantly resisted by an extremely powerful lobby with an influential propaganda machine and a very generous view of political money. The lobbies and political funding have effectively eroded the American political system and we have seen evidence of this in every major reform effort, from that of the healthcare system to gun control.

The big difference between America and Greece – and the rest of Europe as well – is that to a large extent the lobbies and pressure groups act with a certain amount of transparency. How much money a senator received from the National Rifle Association or other lobbies is public information. Nevertheless, the dysfunctions this industry of political influence create are becoming all too blatant. There is a part of the American elite that is aware of this and is making efforts to curb the influence of lobbies and to limit the amounts of money politicians can receive. These efforts normally stumble on other interests that want to maintain the status quo.

Following the Connecticut shootings, US President Barack Obama has vowed to implement tighter gun controls, and he should be able to achieve this following the tragedy. Surely the massacre is enough to prompt the widespread reaction of society against a group of gun-obsessed lobbyists. How this campaign unfolds within the next few months will show the rest of the world whether the US has what it takes to correct the mistakes of the past and to take on extremist groups.

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