A statistic that I found out in June caught my attention was a startling one. In 2020, the number Americans drove less than usual due to the pandemic. However traffic deaths rose 7 percentage points.
I couldn’t figure it out. Why are Americans driving so recklessly during the pandemics? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTA), motor vehicle deaths rose 18.4 percent in the first half 2021 compared to 2020. According to the agency, driving under the influence, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt are all contributing factors.
Why is America driving so recklessly?
While these gloomy statistics were rattling around my brain, a Substack Article from Matthew Yglesias reached my inbox this week. It was titled, “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.” Not only is reckless driving on the rise, Yglesias pointed out, but the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on.
Yglesias is correct.
Teachers are seeing a rise in disruptive behavior. The Wall Street Journal reported in December: “Schools have seen an increase in both minor incidents, like students talking in class, and more serious issues, such as fights and gun possession. In Dallas, disruptive classroom incidents have tripled this year compared with prepandemic levels, school officials said.”
This month, the Institute for Family Studies published an essay called “The Drug Epidemic Just Keeps Getting Worse.” The essay noted that drug deaths had risen almost continuously for more than 20 years, but “overdoses shot up especially during the pandemic.” For much of this time the overdose crisis has been heavily concentrated among whites, but in 2020, the essay observed, “the Black rate exceeded the white rate for the first time.”
In October, CNN ran a story titled, “Hate Crime Reports in U.S. Surge to the Highest Level in 12 Years, F.B.I. Says.” The F.B.I. According to the F.B.I., attacks on Black people increased from 1,972 to 2,871 between 2019 and 2020.
The number of gun sales has increased dramatically. In January 2021, more than two million firearms were bought, The Washington Post reported, “an 80 percent year-over-year spike and the third-highest one-month total on record.”
As Americans’ hostility toward one another seems to be growing, their care for one another seems to be falling. A study from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that the share of Americans who give to charity is steadily declining. In 2000, 66.2 per cent of households made a donation to charity. In 2018, only 49.6 per cent had made a charitable donation. As worship service attendance dropped, so did the share of those who gave to religious causes. In 2018, however, the 42 percent drop in households giving to secular causes was a significant change.
This is not even to mention the parts of the deteriorating climate that are hard to quantify — the rise in polarization, hatred, anger and fear. I remember going to college many years ago and not worrying about the possibility of saying something that would make me feel excluded. Now, college students I know fear that one errant sentence can lead to social death. That’s a monumental sea change.
Not all trends are bad. For example, teenagers seem to be less likely to use substances. Many of these problems are a result of the temporary stress caused by the pandemic. I doubt as many people would be punching flight attendants or throwing temper tantrums over cheese if there weren’t mask rules and a deadly virus to worry about.
But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it is like to live in a society whose structure is changing from the bottom up just as much from the top.
What is the matter? The short answer: I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s causing the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness I’ve just described.
We can easily gather all the usual suspects, including social media and rotten political discourse. Many people saw it as permission when President Donald Trump said that it was okay to hate marginalized groups.
Some of our poisons must be sociological — the fraying of the social fabric. Last year, Gallup had a report titled, “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.” In 2019, the Pew Research Center had a report, “U.S. Has World’s Highest Rate of Children Living in Single Parent Households.”
Some of these poisons must be cultural. In 2018, The Washington Post had a story headlined, “America Is a Nation of Narcissists, According to Two New Studies.”
However, there must also be a moral or spiritual problem at the heart of this. Over the last several years, Americans have been acting more in an antisocial and self-destructive manner over a wide range. But why?
As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I know that the situation is dire.
Source: NY Times