It’s scarcely all bad, of course. Look inside America and you see plenty of good, but there is another side of us, the disintegrating side. In frightening developments, continued dismaying conditions and new revelations, much of what we saw in 2015 leaves plenty to work on in 2016.
There was, to start with, the shocking, saddening discovery that the death rate of working-class, white, middle-aged Americans began going up in 1999. That’s the exact opposite of what’s happening in every other group in the country and a great many abroad. In them, it’s the longevity rate that’s going up.
What’s happening is that many with no more than a high school education are killing themselves through suicide and alcohol and drug abuse. An instigating factor is thought to be tough economic conditions, but something else likely keeps people from coping: an accompanying sense of meaninglessness.
Such an empty feeling of no purpose could well be related to the decline in religion especially found in the working class. According to the Pew Research Center, more people than ever are saying they are unaffiliated with any faith, and a 2015 Gallup poll says confidence in organized religion has sunk to the lowest level ever, some 42 percent of the population.
W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor associated with the American Enterprise Institute, says research shows religion is highly helpful in keeping marriages together and in raising children likely to exercise self-control. Others say that the religious are healthier and live longer than the nonreligious, and Wilcox says religious rituals do lend meaning to life.
Scoot over now to universities that in some cases went bananas in 2015 as administrators kept cracking down on the open exchange of ideas and some students likewise kept screeching that no one should voice views different from theirs because, well, that would be intolerant. Ruinously high tuitions, made possible through an ill-begotten federal loan program, continued to plague indebted graduates, some of whom seem to have been insufficiently educated to get good jobs. And, meanwhile, the humanities kept up their disappearing act.
Next, let’s get political, noting the incredible autocracy of an Obama administration that never saw a constitutionally dubious executive order it didn’t like. While we got a bunch of these in 2015, debasing precious principles, we'll get a chance to vote for a new president in 2016.
But look at some of those running. For one, there’s the rude, crude, uninformed, essentially wacko GOP candidate Donald Trump. Then there’s the hysterically screaming Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders who doesn’t seem to have noticed our perilous debt and would like to spend the nation into oblivion. And don’t forget another Democrat, Hillary Clinton, who seems to find truth a very nearly impossible thing to live with.
Race relations lately have seemed as badly tattered as anytime in many years. There was in fact reason for deep concern in some police shootings of blacks, but that was hardly reason for a condemnation of police forces in general, leading to less proactive police protection in some cities. A consequence in 25 of our largest cities was an overall rise in homicides of 11 percent, as shown convincingly in an analysis by Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald.
Last but 1,000 miles from least is the ongoing dissolution of the family with ever more single-parent homes. Most of these are in low-income groups, and here is a crucial issue because children from these homes are more likely to drop out of high school, turn to criminal activities and remain impoverished than those with two biological parents around.
While there are obviously many more examples of disintegration, the main thing is that we the people turn to what’s best about us and find creative ways to start putting the pieces back together again.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.