Culture

What If American Life Expectancy Declined Again and the Elite Cared More About Trump’s Tweets?

A medic escorts a 39-year-old woman to an ambulance after she was revived from an opioid overdose in Salem, Mass., August 2017. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
Too many of our nation’s citizens live in the depths of hopelessness and despair.

The news came and went so fast that you might have missed it. American life expectancy has declined. Again. In 2015 and 2016, in fact, the average American life span declined for two years in a row for the first time in more than 50 years. The preliminary numbers for 2017 are looking grim as well. Multi-year declines are typically attributable to war or disease outbreaks. In America? Our decline is based largely on our capacity for self-harm, as the Washington Post explained:

The 2016 data shows that just three major causes of death are responsible: unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and suicides, with the bulk of the difference attributable to the 63,632 people who died of overdoses. That total was an increase of more than 11,000 over the 52,404 who died of the same cause in 2015.

To put that overdose number in perspective, in one year more Americans died of overdoses than were killed during the entire course of the Vietnam War. The toll dwarfs the number of homicides. It’s almost double the number who were killed in car accidents. It’s a stunning number, and it’s supplemented by a terrifying surge in suicides. The rate hit a 30-year high in 2014 and just kept on climbing.

Earlier this week — after the news of decreased life expectancy barely caused a media ripple — Vox’s German Lopez tweeted this:

Government and the media are simply not up to the task. Think, for example, of the intensity of last month’s debate over the size of the child tax credit in the Republican tax bill. I shared the disappointment of a number of conservatives that the tax benefits for families weren’t larger, but I was under no illusion that even hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks would make a material difference in family outcomes. Yes, people respond to incentives, and positive tax changes help more than they hurt, but no reasonable person thinks that any single policy or series of policies in Washington will put the fractured family back together again.

Addiction is life-destroying, yes, but it’s also soul-destroying. Politicians, pundits, and reporters can do things that help. They can do things that hurt. They cannot, however, solve the crisis that is breaking the American heart. Given that reality, think how much easier it is to move on to other things. Politicians can do something about “Dreamers.” They can send troops to defeat terrorists. They can adjust tax rates.

Each of those things is important in its own right, but even as we keep our eyes fixed on Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, we cannot forget the larger challenge that faces us all. Too many of our nation’s citizens live in the depths of hopelessness and despair. We in the media and in politics respond by shying away from uncertainty and complexity and focus instead on the things we can change. So we talk more about lesser matters, and while our attention is turned elsewhere our friends and neighbors slip further and further away.

READ MORE:

The Break the Opioid Crisis, Repair the Family

Eliminate Government Incentives to Overprescribe Opioids

In the Opioid Crisis, Keep Your Eye on Heroin and Fentanyl

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More