Dr. Helen

Why Don't Americans Trust Each Other?

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.