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Why Don’t Americans Trust Each Other?

According to the AP: "only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted."

by
Helen Smith

Bio

December 3, 2013 - 12:35 pm

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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.

*****

Cross-posted from Dr. Helen

image courtesy shutterstock / auremar

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Why don't I trust my countrymen? Well, just a year ago or so, 50.4% of them unmistakably stated that they, the illegals, the unions, the children, the community (organized or unorganized), and the State had more entitlement to my possessions, my rights and my future than I have. When traveling with thieves, I keep my hands in my pockets and my back toward the wall.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perhaps it has something to do with half the country trying to screw the other half?

I assume other people are going to disagree with me, but when I'm talking to other Constitutionalists, I also assume they're generally trustworthy people.

If I invited someone to my home who later told me they supported Obama and his policies, I wouldn't be comfortable leaving them alone in my living room. Those folks don't have any compunctions giving up my freedoms along with theirs, and so many of them openly demonstrate a disregard for my morality (hard work, don't lie, don't steal, don't cheat).

Why should I trust them?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (7)
All Comments   (7)
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The problem isn't so much TV or income inequality. The problem is that people see each other as competition or threats.

They are competition as far as social standing, for jobs, "Keeping up with the Joneses," etc. All of this has the effect of breaking down society.

They are seen as threats because someone might take their job, might try to rob or hurt them, or might simply be seeking to knock them down a couple of pegs in social standing or otherwise usurp one's standing or power.

Really we're going back to humanity's animal nature, something which our society, when it was still allowed to have morals and ethics, had done a good job of keeping under control. However, the more the economy declines, the more bureaucratic the work environment becomes, the more unstable and lawless government gets, the more people will revert to their baser natures simply out of self-defense. That's not a good thing particularly because it is that state which dictators can most effectively use to gain power.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
There is a moment in the movie Doctor Zhivago that illustrates the point. Our heroes are walking through a snowstorm and are about to meet some other people. The first instinct of everyone involved is to hide. In a situation of anarchy, when civilization has broken down, other people are potential enemies first, potential friends only later.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you've ever been camping, the scariest thing one can hear at night isn't an animal outside the tent, but the unmistakable sound of a biped creeping about.

Even in a house, like a place in the country, if something goes bump outside in the night or is rattling around, it gets your attention. The worry really isn't about animals but humans stalking up on the house. Those noises really get your attention.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
No mor'es (morals/ethics) held in common. Just recently (a generation or two ago) there was a "glue" that most were familiar with; common values were shared, expected, and common. Today the culture is fragmented, compartmentalized. "Every man is a law unto himself".
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mam, your reasons all sound accurate to me. Other factors may include what some call the Oprahfication of American public life--it's hard to know how someone who tends to approach life emotively is going to react as emotions are fleeting and erratic. Also I think the disciplined paranoia that characterizes a good lawyer's approach to things has seeped into everyday life and is a much more corrosive phenomenon than many people seem to realize.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why don't I trust my countrymen? Well, just a year ago or so, 50.4% of them unmistakably stated that they, the illegals, the unions, the children, the community (organized or unorganized), and the State had more entitlement to my possessions, my rights and my future than I have. When traveling with thieves, I keep my hands in my pockets and my back toward the wall.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perhaps it has something to do with half the country trying to screw the other half?

I assume other people are going to disagree with me, but when I'm talking to other Constitutionalists, I also assume they're generally trustworthy people.

If I invited someone to my home who later told me they supported Obama and his policies, I wouldn't be comfortable leaving them alone in my living room. Those folks don't have any compunctions giving up my freedoms along with theirs, and so many of them openly demonstrate a disregard for my morality (hard work, don't lie, don't steal, don't cheat).

Why should I trust them?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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