Back in April, The New York Times ran and article explaining why they think Americans are angry. I don’t think much has changed since then, which is why this article is still relevant. The Times started with an assessment of economics and then moved to this statement:
So why does it feel more like a 1 a.m. bar brawl?
The answer may have more to do with political parties than economics, or at least with the interaction of the two. Today’s voters have sorted themselves and polarized into partisan groups that look very different than they did in the late 1980s. And members of each side like the other side less than before. Americans aren’t annoyed only by the economy; they’re annoyed with one another.
and concluded with this paragraph:
Democrats and Republicans like each other a lot less now than they did 60 years ago, in part because they have sorted into parties based on attitudes on race, religion and ethnicity. These attitudes and emotions have been activated in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Add to this the fact that the country is becoming less white and that nonwhites are disproportionately more likely to be Democrats, and an explanation for the anger emerges.
I applaud the Times for pointing out one thing – It’s not the economy, stupid. You might remember a political slogan from not so long ago that stated “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was the idea that all happiness and success in the country comes down to economics. 2016 is showing that life goes beyond economics.
It’s so much more. And thank God for that. It goes beyond money. It goes beyond materialism and having a lot of stuff. It goes to something much more intangible. Dare I say what the Times won’t even say – Maybe it’s spiritual. The Times would never go that far, but I’m willing to go there. God forbid we acknowledge the spiritual in public.
The Times hints around the edges of the bigger issue, but never quite gets there. They are still focused on very tangible things – skin color, religious affiliation (what church you go to), and ethnicity (what countries you can trace your heritage to). These are all things that a person can trace in very tangible ways.
Tangible problems are great because you can usually just throw money at a tangible problem and fix it. Tangible items are things.
Unfortunately, people don’t work that way. Or maybe that’s something that’s really fortunate. There isn’t a law that we can pass to change how people feel. Because what it really comes down to goes beyond the differences the Times point out. Something more foundational – trust. We have a trust problem. We don’t trust one another. We don’t trust our institutions. We don’t trust our government or leaders. We don’t trust that others will look out for one another’s safety and well being. We don’t trust that other people will mind their own business. We don’t trust that other people won’t harm us.
These are basic building blocks of a society. And they are crumbling right before our eyes. When we remove trust, then everything that is built on it comes tumbling down. When people trust one another then you can send your kids outside without worrying if they will be kidnapped or worse. When you trust other people, you can live in your home without feeling the need to have a weapon for self-defense. When you trust institutions, you don’t feel the need to demand many things from them. When you trust your government and it’s leaders, you don’t feel the need to listen for every utterance coming out of the capitol nor think about government and politics constantly. You certainly don’t pay attention to political campaigns for well over a year without a break. When there is trust, you don’t entertain the thought that if one political party wins over the other, then the nation will literally fall apart, or worse.
If we want to change the anger that Americans are experiencing and expressing then one way to do that is to build trust with one another again. We can build trust in a variety of ways. The biggest thing about this though is that trust takes time, effort and energy. It requires vulnerability on our part. It requires human touch. It requires looking at someone eye-to-eye. It requires listening so we can understand someone else. It requires patience. It requires doing what you say you will do. It requires a lot of each one of us.
Anger is easy. Trust is much harder – it takes work. Anger is about “right now.” Trust is about today and tomorrow and the next day, etc. Anger is about being a victim. Trust is about taking responsibility. Anger feels justified. Trust is about humility. Anger is selfish. Trust is about interconnectedness – both you and I and others. Anger leads to violence. Trust is the way of peace.
So what’s it going to be America? Are we going to continue to throw a two year old temper tantrum, or are we going to buck up and be adults?