Friday, January 01, 2016

America’s Self-Destructive Whites

Much of the base of the Republican Party consists of working class whites, many with no college education.  I suspect that many have never traveled overseas and - except perhaps in the military, if then - and have a limited view of the world.  Especially if they are far right evangelicals who statistically have the lowest education levels of those calling themselves Christians.  Rather than attempt to adapt and accept a changing world and society, they rage and seek to impose their beliefs on all.  Anything is more acceptable than having to think and re-evaluate long held beliefs and prejudices.  In the long term, the behavior is also self-destructive.  A column in the Washington Post looks at the phenomenon.  Here are excerpts:
Why is Middle America killing itself? The fact itself is probably the most important social science finding in years. It is already reshaping American politics. The Post’s Jeff Guo notes that the people who make up this cohort are “largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president.” The key question is why, and exploring it provides answers that suggest that the rage dominating U.S. politics will only get worse.

For decades, people in rich countries have lived longer. But in a well-known paper, economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that over the past 15 years, one group — middle-age whites in the United States — constitutes an alarming trend. They are dying in increasing numbers. And things look much worse for those with just a high school diploma or less. There are concerns about the calculations, but even a leading critic of the paper has acknowledged that, however measured, “the change compared to other countries and groups is huge.” 

The only comparable spike in deaths in an industrialized country took place among Russian males after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when rates of alcoholism skyrocketed. 

A conventional explanation for this middle-class stress and anxiety is that globalization and technological change have placed increasing pressures on the average worker in industrialized nations. But the trend is absent in any other Western country — it’s an exclusively American phenomenon.  

Deaton speculated to me that perhaps Europe’s more generous welfare state might ease some of the fears associated with the rapid change. Certainly he believes that in the United States, doctors and drug companies are far too eager to deal with physical and psychological pain by prescribing drugs, including powerful and addictive opioids. The introduction of drugs such as Oxycontin, a heroin-like prescription painkiller, coincides with the rise in deaths.

While mortality rates for middle-age whites have stayed flat or risen, the rates for Hispanics and blacks have continued to decline significantly. These groups live in the same country and face greater economic pressures than whites. Why are they not in similar despair? 

The answer might lie in expectations. . . . . other groups might not expect that their income, standard of living and social status are destined to steadily improve. They don’t have the same confidence that if they work hard, they will surely get ahead.

The Hispanic and immigrant experiences in the United States are different, of course. But again, few in these groups have believed that their place in society is assured. Minorities, by definition, are on the margins. They do not assume that the system is set up for them. They try hard and hope to succeed, but they do not expect it as the norm. 

The United States is going through a great power shift. Working-class whites don’t think of themselves as an elite group. But, in a sense, they have been, certainly compared with blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and most immigrants. They were central to America’s economy, its society, indeed its very identity. They are not anymore. 
Donald Trump has promised that he will change this and make them win again. But he can’t. No one can. And deep down, they know it. 

Some may think that I am unsympathetic, but having gone through the coming out process, been fired from my job for being gay, forced into bankruptcy, and having had to work hard and struggle to rebuild, I do know that giving up hope and/or merely lashing out at others who are different is not the answer - no matter whatever sound bites Donald Trump may throw to you. 

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