PRESS EDITORIAL: Americans are getting ‘a heck of a lot meaner’

Americans are getting meaner. Can we blame the pandemic? Let’s hope so. Maybe that would mean behavior will improve when the virus is reined in.

During the pandemic years (who knew we would be counting this health disaster in years?), it is well documented that bad behavior exhibited as rudeness, outright hostility and anger-driven violence has increased.         

Psychologists say much of this stems from the overall stress of coping with the pandemic. And it is obvious to everyone that some of it is caused by aggressive objection to Covid protocols.

Regardless of the cause of the nasty behavior, its primary targets are the people who are paid to help the public in one way or another.

How appalling is it that nurses and doctors are verbally abused by some of the patients they are trying to save from the ravages of Covid-19. They’ve told of sick people in hospitals objecting to masks, railing against vaccination, going so far off the deep end as to blame health workers for spreading the disease.

If there was any glamor left in the occupation of flight attendant on jetliners, it has been blown away by the abuse to which these essential employees have been subjected. The were 5,779 reports of unruly passengers on planes in 2021, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Flight attendants have been physically assaulted. One female attendant had teeth knocked out by a passenger. Others have had to call on orderly passengers to help subdue bad actors. Much of the rage has been caused by opposition to federally mandated airline mask rules, but passengers have found other excuses  to misbehave, including seat belt rules (apparently another affront to America’s cherished freedoms) and liquor restrictions.

A statement issued by the president of the flight attendants union described the situation in stark terms: “We’ve never before seen aggression and violence on our planes like we have in recent months.”

Less dramatic but more pervasive is the rude treatment employees of supermarkets, minimarts, fast food restaurants, coffee shops and other retail businesses routinely experience.

 A spokesman for a trade association in Madison, Wis., was quoted in the New York Times: “People are just—I hate to say it because there are a lot of really nice people—but when they’re mean, they’re a heck of a lot meaner.”

A survey taken last summer of 4,200 McDonald’s workers by the Service Employees International Union found that 44% of them had been physically or verbally abused over mask-wearing rules.

Mistreatment of store workers is on the rise even here in Ozaukee County in the northern Midwest, a region where folks have long been considered, for want of a better word, “nice.”

Disagreement or anger with the officials and institutions that make rules is understandable. Taking it out on the workers who have to administer the rules is a foolish, narcissistic indulgence and, worse, a cruel display of contempt for the basic civility expected of civilized humans.

Some doomsayers in the national media have expressed worries that political hatred could push the nation into a new civil war. Whether or not a civil war is a far-fetched fear, it is evident that the country is already engaged in a war on civility, which in itself is a troubling sign for a democratic society.

Without mutual respect among citizens as displayed in words and actions that are thoughtful and reasonable, society doesn’t work very well.

How do we get that back? The end of the pandemic (on the way but not yet in sight) may help.

In the meantime, we can take some comfort in the realistic belief that the majority of Americans are sensitive to the responsibility to refrain from acting out their fears, frustrations and resentments in unrestrained meanness, and hope their example will persuade, or embarrass, the angry ones to settle down and get along.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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