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Dr. Helen

Why Don’t Americans Trust Each Other?

December 2nd, 2013 - 6:40 am

I just read this AP article about the lack of trust we feel for each other in our society:

WASHINGTON (AP) — You can take our word for it. Americans don’t trust each other anymore.

We’re not talking about the loss of faith in big institutions such as the government, the church or Wall Street, which fluctuates with events. For four decades, a gut-level ingredient of democracy — trust in the other fellow — has been quietly draining away.

These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question.

Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say “you can’t be too careful” in dealing with people.

An AP-GfK poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling.

Why the lack of trust? According to the article:

There’s no single explanation for Americans’ loss of trust.

The best-known analysis comes from “Bowling Alone” author Robert Putnam’s nearly two decades of studying the United States’ declining “social capital,” including trust.

Putnam says Americans have abandoned their bowling leagues and Elks lodges to stay home and watch TV. Less socializing and fewer community meetings make people less trustful than the “long civic generation” that came of age during the Depression and World War II.

University of Maryland Professor Eric Uslaner, who studies politics and trust, puts the blame elsewhere: economic inequality.

Trust has declined as the gap between the nation’s rich and poor gapes ever wider, Uslaner says, and more and more Americans feel shut out. They’ve lost their sense of a shared fate. Tellingly, trust rises with wealth.

The article goes on to give some more explanations about why we don’t trust each other–racism, poverty etc. My guess however, is that it is the emphasis on race and poverty that is often the problem. People grow up on a steady diet of victimhood and are told daily that if they are not Bill Gates, rich, successful and white, they should feel resentful and mistrustful. Added to this, the government and school systems fuel the flames of resentment and make people feel that others are taking a piece of the pie that should belong to them. Hard work and financial success is no longer valued and being honest, decent and hard working is seen as a “sucker’s game” with the only “reward” being paying higher taxes, being called a capitalist pig, and people resenting you. In addition, the erosion and downright mockery of morality, a fear and disdain for men who are Shriners or in an Elk’s lodge or even an all-male bowling team and you have a recipe for people bailing out of these clubs to sit alone watching TV and feeling mistrustful of the world. The final straw is cable TV and 24 hour news coverage to add fuel to the fire and it is a wonder we trust each other at all.

That’s a bit of my analysis–though it is just the tip of the iceberg on why we have lost trust. Most people can no longer even show up on time to meet someone, attend a class or a meeting which worsens the trust issue.

If you have some more ideas about why we have lost trust in other Americans, please add a comment.

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All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
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"Why Don’t Americans Trust Each Other?"

Seeing a majority of my fellow Americans reelect Obama didn't help.
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
My loss of faith in other people is mostly due to incompetence and lack of caring on the part of people out in the work world, who are supposed to be providing services. It has become the norm for people to not show up for appointments (say, at your home when you need something worked on), without even calling to say they won't show. It is also commonplace for doctors and nurses to neglect to do things and screw things up because they aren't paying attention to the patient's chart or basic information about what the patient needs. This is the most frightening aspect of apathetic incompetence, since we will all have to depend on the medical profession one day.
That said, I am often struck by the honesty and decency of people in other situations, like when my lost purse was returned to me with all of the money inside.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
We encounter a lot more strangers than we used to. Trust is still plenty high with people we know, or who are vouched for--even if a credit bureau does the vouching when buying a car or VISA does it when paying for groceries. All in all, my trust is a lot higher in strangers than it would have been a hundred years ago because of all the impersonal mechanisms that allow me to trust more widely than I could have before. From the AAA decal on a tire repair shop or the McDonald's brand when passing through a small town, I have all kinds of ways to trust strangers in limited, appropriate ways. In short, I think this article is glib crap.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
I totally agree with your opinion Dr Smith. People are bring ripped off as soon as communication to the outside begins.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree with Syberpunk about retail, and want to add that the reverse also applies: if you abide by the old rules of good citizenship, there are few obvious or short-term rewards. Instead of respect, you find yourself devalued and taken advantage of. It takes real character to stick to a code of honor in the face of this tawdry onslaught.

Believers in cultural relativism and situational ethics obviously don't take their own futures seriously. I used to envy my children for the lives it seemed they'd likely have; now can only pray that my grandchildren will be good shots, resourceful, brave and willing to fight the good fights alone. Our founding fathers must be withering in shame at the sight of what we have become.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm surprised no one has mentioned the decline in traditional religion, and religious values. I think that all branches of Christianity always taught that lying, cheating, stealing, or going back on your word were just wrong in their own right, regardless of how it affected you. A lot of kids no longer hear that every Saturday or Sunday.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
To extend the idea further, we're barraged with the idea that religious believes are for the ignorant, stupid, and backwards.

The religions once common in the country taught lying, cheating, stealing, and going back on your word were bad.

Ergo, thinking lying, cheating, stealing, and going back on your word is bad is for the for the ignorant, stupid, and backwards.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
Most people can no longer even show up on time to meet someone, attend a class or a meeting which worsens the trust issue.

An excellent point, as I have come to expect from you, Dr. Helen. Trust is not just about things like not stealing or lying. It is also, and just as importantly, about doing what you say you will do and not doing what you say you won't do. I discovered about thirty years ago that people didn't trust me because I all-too-frequently didn't do what I said I would do. It was embarrassing and humbling to learn that, and I set about mending my ways.

I have had to tell far too many people that "Nobody cares why you didn't do what you said you would do. People care only whether you did it."
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
Citizen 1: "Did you hear about the big conspiracy/coverup?"

Citizen 2: "Conspiracy? Coverup? There's no proof of a conspiracy/coverup."

Citizen 1: "I knew it!! You're part of it. Damn those Pepsi Brothers."
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
I haven't lost trust because I am trustworthy. It's actually pretty simple.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
The decreased expectation of trust is realistic. Most people are not trustworthy. We've all been ripped off by mechanics or plumbers or contractors or doctors. People try to defraud us via the internet or the telephone. Friends, neighbors, or relatives promise to do something but don't. How many times have we heard "I'll get back to you." from a customer service or tech support person and then gotten no follow-up? How many times have bosses promised something (a raise, a new PC, another employee to reduce the amount of overtime, etc.) without fulfilling the promise?

Despite the above, my default position is to trust someone. But, I apply game theory rules. Lie to me once, and I'm wary. Lie a second time, and I'll never trust you again. That used to work well. Now, so many people are untrustworthy that I may need to change my default choice.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
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