America's metastatic cancer

How rampant distrust is killing us

The Capitol.
(Image credit: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Schools. Churches. Synagogues. Supermarkets. The victims of the last massacre, in Buffalo, were still being buried this week when another disaffected young man armed with an assault weapon slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. So far this year, this broken nation is averaging 10 mass shootings of four or more people every week. The same country recently passed 1 million COVID deaths — far more than any other nation. Tens of millions of people believe the 2020 election was stolen, and democracy itself stands on crumbling ground. Sharply conflicting abortion laws will inflame the rancor between blue and red states. Even the supposedly nonpartisan Supreme Court has split along the seams, with justices openly expressing scorn and suspicion of the enemy faction. These are all symptoms of an underlying metastatic disease: a lack of trust. The reason Australia had a per capita COVID death rate one-tenth of ours, The New York Times recently reported, is that Australians trusted their scientists, their government, and each other, while Americans emphatically did not. In a very real sense, 900,000 Americans died of distrust.

Americans cannot trust that our kids will go to school without being shot. We can't trust people to wear masks in a pandemic, because so many insist they have a right to infect others. We can't pass sensible gun-safety laws because some people passionately believe they need weapons of war to defend themselves against government tyranny. Many Americans no longer trust organized religion, corporations, capitalism, their employers, or the media. We do not share a common set of facts and values. We have self-sorted and retreated into our own worlds, our own websites, social media feeds, cable networks, and communities. Separated by impenetrable walls of tribal loyalty, we cannot come together to solve our problems, even when they are killing us. Thoughts and prayers.

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.