The issue that the most Americans regard as the most important one facing our country right now is terrorism. Fear is more powerful than reason. Not that there has ever been a reason to doubt that.

The American public’s priorities are a bizarro version of Short Attention Span Theater, with issues constantly flickering in and out of consciousness based solely on what is being shouted about by people invited on cable news shows by producers in search of ratings. Whereas the truly important issues never really change—economics, poverty, peace, war, the health of humans and of the world around us—we imagine that the important issues are constantly changing, often from day to day, simply because the television has caused us to think of them after a long fallow period.

The important issues do not change, America. They are the same now as they were four years ago and four years before that. They will be the same during the next presidential election as they are now. They are the issues that have the most impact on the most people, the issues prone to cause the most human suffering, the issues that dictate whether humanity will flourish in the long term, or decline. Because they do not change, they are boring. Terrorism, which involves guns, is exciting, and will always win the battle of airtime with, say,
“establishing a viable public health care system” or “creating rules for shared economic prosperity with poorer nations.” But it is not more important than those things. It does not affect more people. It is a real world sideshow of marginal importance, able to lend a fulfilling sense of patriotic purpose to our lives which is mostly dependent upon our own imaginations. And while the public is indulging in the fantasy of a world in which they must be part of an amorphous fight against the terrorist enemy of the moment, the real issues are being dealt with by powerful people who are quite happy to be allowed to make choices without the public’s attention.

The only sense in which terrorism is the most important issue facing America is this: it has the power to distract us from the real issues and cause us to divert our efforts and resources towards less important and beneficial causes. By that standard, the terrorists are indeed winning.

I look forward to all of these thoughts being echoed during tonight’s Republican debate.

[Photo: AP]