In early October 2016, as the most staggering presidential election campaign of our lives was nearing its end, I wrote this about the man whom, I suggested, heartland working-class whites might consider dispatching to the White House as an American version of a "suicide bomber":
"In relation to his Republican rivals, and now Hillary Clinton, he stands alone in accepting and highlighting what increasing numbers of Americans, especially white Americans, have evidently come to feel: that this country is in decline, its greatness a thing of the past, or as pollsters like to put it, that America is no longer 'heading in the right direction' but is now 'on the wrong track.' In this way, he has mainlined into a deep, economically induced mindset, especially among white working-class men facing a situation in which so many good jobs have headed elsewhere that the world has turned sour.
"Or think of it another way (and it may be the newest way of all): a significant part of the white working class, at least, feels as if, whether economically or psychologically, its back is up against the wall and there's nowhere left to go. Under such circumstances, many of these voters have evidently decided that they're ready to send a literal loose cannon into the White House; they're willing, that is, to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them."- Advertisement -
And I wouldn't take back a word of that, not in a country in which you can indeed feel a sense of decline still growing, in which, as TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon has recently made clear, epidemics of self-disrespect, self-loathing, and self-harm are distinctly the order of the day. And speaking, in fact, of suicide and presidents, as Menon makes strikingly evident today, in that very same heartland, among that very same white working class, suicide itself is rising to epidemic proportions and the suicide bomber in the White House is giving it quite a helping hand. Tom
America's Suicide Epidemic
It's Hitting Trump's Base Hard
By Rajan Menon- Advertisement -
In 2017, 47,173 Americans killed themselves. In that single year, in other words, the suicide count was nearly seven times greater than the number of American soldiers killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and 2018.
A suicide occurs in the United States roughly once every 12 minutes. What's more, after decades of decline, the rate of self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people annually -- the suicide rate -- has been increasing sharply since the late 1990s. Suicides now claim two-and-a-half times as many lives in this country as do homicides, even though the murder rate gets so much more attention.
In other words, we're talking about a national epidemic of self-inflicted deaths.
Anyone who has lost a close relative or friend to suicide or has worked on a suicide hotline (as I have) knows that statistics transform the individual, the personal, and indeed the mysterious aspects of that violent act -- Why this person? Why now? Why in this manner? -- into depersonalized abstractions. Still, to grasp how serious the suicide epidemic has become, numbers are a necessity.
According to a 2018 Centers for Disease Control study, between 1999 and 2016, the suicide rate increased in every state in the union except Nevada, which already had a remarkably high rate. In 30 states, it jumped by 25% or more; in 17, by at least a third. Nationally, it increased 33%. In some states the upsurge was far higher: North Dakota (57.6%), New Hampshire (48.3%), Kansas (45%), Idaho (43%).- Advertisement -
Alas, the news only gets grimmer.
Since 2008, suicide has ranked 10th among the causes of death in this country. For Americans between the ages of 10 and 34, however, it comes in second; for those between 35 and 45, fourth. The United States also has the ninth-highest rate in the 38-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Globally, it ranks 27th.
More importantly, the trend in the United States doesn't align with what's happening elsewhere in the developed world. The World Health Organization, for instance, reports that Great Britain, Canada, and China all have notably lower suicide rates than the U.S., as do all but six countries in the European Union. (Japan's is only slightly lower.)