Shellys: Something troubling is happening to America; what will we do about it?

·4 min read

Something troubling is happening in this country and to this country. It is hard to put your finger on it, but you just know and feel it to be true. It is not to say that bad things have not happened before, but we have always come through to the other side. Respect for the rule of law and our behavioral norms and values kept us grounded. We have had an abiding belief in the American Dream and faith that anything was possible with hard work. Since the beginning, this country has been an experiment by imperfect people trying to make something of themselves, but now something new and confounding is happening. In many ways we are becoming unrecognizable to ourselves and the world. It is something we must figure out, sooner than later.

Walter and Linda Shelly
Walter and Linda Shelly

We have tried to thoughtfully consider the state of affairs in this country. We have relied on our backgrounds in sociology and political science, yet we haven’t arrived at definitive answers to our question: What is happening? There is evidence that we are not alone in these concerns for our democracy and our way of life. Listen to cable news commentators or read the headlines in any newspaper. Columnists write about rudeness, meanness, and Covid rage. Walt came across a Jan. 13 column by David Brooks in the New York Times: “America is Falling Apart at the Seams.” Yes, we thought, he gets our concerns and asks the same questions. We believe key points from his column are worth sharing.

Brooks begins with a statistic: In 2020 traffic deaths increased 7%, yet the number of miles driven fell 13%, which led him to ask, “Why would Americans drive so much more recklessly during a pandemic?” He refers to an article by Matthew Yglesias titled “All Kinds of Bad Behavior is on the Rise,” which pointed to incidents of bad behavior on airplanes, rising murder rates in cities, increasing drug overdoses, and increased drinking by Americans.

Brooks tells us that nurses face abusive patients. Both minor and serious disruptive behavior have become everyday occurrences in our classrooms. We have seen the highest increase in hate crimes in 12 years. Gun purchases soared in January of 2021. He says that we are “increasingly treating one another with hostility.”

Our “care for one another seems to be falling.” Charity giving has dropped from 66.2% in 2000 to 49.6% in 2018. Religious giving has also dropped, as has church affiliation and attendance.

Then, there are the things that are hard to quantify – “the rise in polarization, hatred, anger and fear.” We recognize that there are times when we must challenge a rule or a law in order to secure a necessary change. Those who engaged in “civil disobedience” did so knowing that their disobedience came with a price, and they accepted their punishment. Today, however, accountability is a rare thing.

David Brooks suggests that “something darker and deeper seems to be happening…a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.” He asks, “What the hell is going on? The short answer: I don’t know.” Maybe he is on to something, when he uses the word “dissolving.” Think of the imagery the term evokes.

He points out the “usual suspects” – social media and “rotten politics.” “When President Trump signaled it was OK to hate marginalized groups, a lot of people were bound to see that as permission.”

Brooks refers to all the aforementioned behaviors as “poisons.” He would add the following to the list: the sociological - the “fraying of the social fabric;” the cultural – we have become a nation of narcissists; and the spiritual or moral factors – “Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways.” He asks, “But why?” He closes with “As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.”

Where does that leave us? It seems to leave us with our unanswered questions and apprehension. Perhaps we might find some answers by being better informed, building human bridges, getting into the fray of politics, holding people accountable, being models for that which is good, and never giving up on our hope and belief that we are not too late to correct our course. If we have the will, we may find a way.

Walter Shelly retired after 40 years as a professor of political science at West Texas A&M University. Linda Shelly retired after 33 years of teaching sociology at West Texas A&M University and Amarillo College.

This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Shellys something deeply troubling is happening in America right now

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