The Great Unasked Question in Presidential Debates

And how this relates to rates of death from suicide and violence

Imagine Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Donald Trump being asked the following twofold question in a presidential debate:  Which country comes closest to being what you’d like the United States to be?  Why did you pick that country?

Trump would probably respond that the USA is already great and will be even greater if he wins a second term.  In his thinking, it would be a step back for the USA to be like some other country.  No doubt, his thinking would be based on such economic factors as per-capita income or GDP per capita, and not on such social factors as crime.

Warren would probably pick Sweden and explain that it has universal healthcare and highly progressive taxes.  Chances are, she wouldn’t know that Sweden’s taxes aren’t as progressive as the myth says they are.  And for sure, she wouldn’t say how she proposes turning the USA into a country that is 95% white, like Sweden.


Since Sanders had honeymooned in the Soviet Union, he might pick Russia or one of the other former Eastern Bloc countries, because of their legacy of Marxism.  He certainly wouldn’t mention that these countries have a high suicide rate, as well as a shortened life expectancy from alcoholism, just as was the case when they were socialist utopias under communism.

Come to think of it, a country’s suicide rate might be a pretty good indicator of how satisfied or dissatisfied citizens are with their lives.  Another good indicator might be a country’s death rate from violence, as this indicates the level of social cohesion.

Tables at the following links show how the USA and other countries rank in these two indicators:

Highlights follow:

Let’s begin with the rate of deaths by violence, a rate calculated as the number of violent deaths per 100,000 population.

Of 183 countries ranked from the highest rate to the lowest rate, Honduras is 1st and Japan is last.

The USA is 88th, although some American cities have a higher rate than some of the highest-ranked countries.  For example, Baltimore’s rate would put it in second place, right below Honduras and right above El Salvador.

Central American and South American countries dominate the top ten.  Venezuela, which has been a darling of the American left, ranks third in the rate of violent deaths.

Most African countries and most Caribbean countries also rank very high in violent deaths.

Russia ranks 55th, or 33 places above the USA.  Perhaps alcoholism and violence go hand in hand.

European countries and Canada have low rates of death by violence.  Maybe that’s partly due to having different racial demographics than the countries with higher rates.  But it’s become dangerous to talk about this in the political climate of today, when so many people have come down with the fevers of social justice and can no longer think clearly when the subject of race is raised.  Therefore, being a coward, I won’t go there.

Switzerland, a country that I consider to be one of the most civilized (and prettiest and cleanest) countries, ranks 180th out of 186 in the rate of violent deaths.  However, it doesn’t rank so well in the rate of suicides, landing in 75th place out of 186 countries.

At No. 47, the USA doesn’t rank so well in suicides, either.  Part of this poor showing is due to a sharp increase in suicides among teens and among young adults 20-24 years old, especially males.  Theories on the reasons range from broken families, to drug addiction, to the ill-effects of social media.

One would think that countries that rank high in violence would also rank high in suicides, as both suggest a feeling of alienation and/or a tearing of the social fabric.  Likewise, one would think that countries that rank high in poverty would also rank high in suicides.  But such relationships don’t seem to exist.

Prosperous Japan, for example, ranks 26th in suicides but 183rd in deaths from violence.  Similarly, S. Korea ranks 10th in suicides but 144th in violent deaths.  Some of this may be due to a cultural tradition of the elderly not wanting to be a burden on their families.

In a similar vein, most of the Central American countries with a high rate of violent deaths and a high poverty rate have a low rate of suicides.

Conversely, some Scandinavian countries have high suicide rates but low rates of violent deaths.  This could be due to physician-assisted suicides being legal in those countries.

Culture and unreliable reporting may explain why Muslim countries have low reported suicide rates.  Because suicide is a social stigma among Muslims, coroners and other authorities might be classifying suicides as natural deaths instead of suicides.

Some countries have low rates of both suicides and violent deaths.  Italy is one of them, in spite of the stereotype of Italians being mobsters.  Italy ranks 142nd in suicides and 171st in violent deaths.   Israel is another, ranking 139th in suicides and 144th in violent deaths.  Maybe the explanation is that both Italians and Jews put a high value on families.

In any event, if I were a debate moderator, I’d ask the question at the beginning of this commentary, along with other questions that would test candidates’ knowledge and reveal the contradictions in their beliefs.

That’s why I’ll never be asked to be a moderator.

About Craig J. Cantoni 15 Articles
Community Activist Craig Cantoni strategizes on ways to make Tucson a better to live, work and play.