A dangerous gulf exists between Americans’ concerns about their lives, their country and their future, and the priorities, proclivities and pre-occupations of the country’s mainstream politics and media. Other liberal democracies should heed the lessons.

In 2013 I collaborated in a survey that investigated the perceived probability of future threats to humanity in four Western nations: the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Across the four countries, over a half (54%) of people rated the risk of ‘our way of life ending’ within the next 100 years at 50% or greater, and almost three-quarters (73%) rated the risk at 30% or greater. A quarter (24%) rated the risk of ‘humans being wiped out’ in this time at 50% or greater.

The US stood out from the other three countries in several respects. It had the highest percentage (30%) who thought humans might be wiped out (19-24% in the other countries). It had a much higher level of agreement with fundamentalist responses to global threats, with 47% agreeing or strongly agreeing that ‘we are facing a final conflict between good and evil in the world’, and 46% that ‘we need to return to traditional religious teachings and values to solve global problems and challenges’. (The results presumably reflect the strength of religion in the US, especially ‘end time’ thinking among Christian fundamentalists.) In the other three countries only 30-33% agreed with these two statements.

The survey also included questions about how concerned people were about a range of personal and societal issues. The US stood out here too, with higher levels of concern about many societal issues, especially political and economic. Two thirds (65%) were moderately or seriously concerned about ‘the state of politics in my country’, compared to 42-53% for the other three countries; 64% were concerned about ‘corruption of politicians/officials’, compared to 39-47% in the other countries.

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