The Death Gap

There’s always a lot happening these days. Kamala Harris has dropped out of the nomination race. Phone records obtained by the House Intelligence Committee show that Devin Nunes was an active player in the Ukraine scandal.

Nunes in particular has sought to undermine the investigation by alleging that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Intelligence Committee chairman, had coordinated or otherwise communicated with an intelligence community whistleblower who initially raised concerns about Trump’s apparent efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political foes. But the phone records contained in the committee’s report show that Nunes himself had engaged in his own behind-the-scenes communications with the very people at issue in the whistleblower complaint. Nunes never revealed those communications during the weeks of committee testimony. The congressman has discussed the possibility of suing news outlets, including The Daily Beast, for reporting on his private handling of matters related to Trump’s actions in Ukraine.

So busted.

But now I want to follow up on the last post. Along with all those social disruptions that plague “red” voters, add reduced life expectancy. Paul Krugman writes,

Back in the Bush years I used to encounter people who insisted that the United States had the world’s longest life expectancy. They hadn’t looked at the data, they just assumed that America was No. 1 on everything. Even then it wasn’t true: U.S. life expectancy has been below that of other advanced countries for a long time.

The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation.  …

… A 2018 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at changes in health and life expectancy in U.S. states between 1990 and 2016. The divergence among states is striking. And as I said, it’s closely correlated with political orientation.

I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population. In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.

Four years is a pretty big gap. A significant gap, I would say. And that’s a gap that didn’t exist twenty years ago. Back to Krugman:

One thing that’s clear, however, is that the facts are utterly inconsistent with the conservative diagnosis of what ails America.

Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”

But European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy. And even within America these evils are concentrated in states that voted for Trump, and have largely bypassed the more secular blue states.

This is symptomatic of something massively wrong, and it isn’t just racism. This population has been racist going back to the dawn of white people, whenever that was. This is someething else.

9 thoughts on “The Death Gap

  1. Yes, it IS something else!

    It's the fact that the Red-state Governors and legislatures didn't want PPACA (AKA:  ObamaCare) or Medicaid help in their states!  The result?  Poor and middle-class people not getting basic health care needs, or practicing proactive diet, exercise, and other preventative measures!

    It's the fact that those same states care all about corporate profits, and don't care at all about the quality of the air, water, or food, that people need!

    It's also those same states that don't take any gun control measures, and instead allow "open-carry," and have "stand-your-ground" laws!

    The same states ban abortion, and don't allow Planned Parenthood and other women's organization to council women on prophylactic measures, and do tests for medical issues that relate only to women.

    I could go on, but you all know the reasons at least as well as I do!

  2. I think it's the steady diet of rage these people consume. I get angry about the abuses from the administration but I'm fighting for the things I believe in. They are fighting against values of equality and justice they think are the root cause of the declines they perceive. 

    G U L A G is right – the decisions by GOP governors and legislatures have accelerated the decline. As he pointed out, the red states that denied Medicare expansion robbed their poor of access to health care. "Right to work" has cut into employment rights and benefits. Cutting taxes (Brownback) drove some states into a choice between bankruptcy and eliminating services.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but there's your four years – jobs, health care access, lack of essential services and the despair that comes with cataclysmic defeat. Reminds me of: 

    My wife is Russian, from Belarus – she grew up in a communist empire.  When that empire fell, a significant part of the male population became dysfunctional alcoholics. In the USSR many had been functional heavy drinkers before but they fell apart with the disintegration of the USSR. (This is also a reason they idolize Putin – he restored a sense of swagger arrogance and defiance – sound familiar?) My wife looked outside Minsk because there wasn't a lot of available prospects – she wasn't looking for an American.

    If Trump is defeated, some of these people will come unglued. He's all they have.

  3. This is a feature, not a bug. It's how things are supposed to work, according to conservatives. It's how things are supposed to work, according to people living in the states with dismal health stats who are too brainwashed or who lack the mental horsepower to consider alternatives.

    Those who are smarter than this, and who have options, move. We move, and when we return for a visit, we listen to the excuses put forth by these people who don't want to change their lives in any significant way. The trap they're in feels nice and cozy and they like it that way. That especially includes the mental / information bubble they've grown accustomed to (the brainwashing).

    I don't have much compassion for these same people who want to hold me and the rest of the country back. To say nothing of laughing at those of us who took the risks to leave, who gambled on being able to make it somewhere new and expensive, opting for a lifestyle radically different from what was left behind. This is just primate behavior – if I can't have something nice, then neither can you. Monkeys should not have the dominate say in how a country is run, or at least in how MY corner of the country is run.

  4. It would be better if we had cultural anthology studies of life in deep red state America.  I can only use the examples I know to try to lend some understanding to the death gap.

    In one county I worked on an itinerant basis, there were two towns, neither of any significant size.  It like it's surrounding area, voted red by wide margins for years and years.  One of the towns was supporting five churches.  It was failing to support one school, with class sizes so tiny as to preclude having one teacher per grade.  Even grouping two grades together was not making a workable student teacher ratio numbers were so low.  

    I doubt if one could find a militant secularist in the whole county.  What you could find is a hot spot on a cancer per thousand map.  You could also find high levels of Radon gas.  

    So the political party they support claims the problem is a failure of values caused by militant secularists that don't exist in their area.  The problem they do have goes largely unaddressed.  So the death gap increases.

    To generalize from one example is foolish.  Let us just say in this case the town votes for people offering solutions to imaginary problems they do not have while dying from real problems they do have.   At least they have plenty of choices for the cemetery they want to be buried in.   

  5. Red state Indiana has become an often named example of deindustrialisation and deaths of despair. I can vouch first hand that Gary looks like a no man's land, as do many smaller towns around the state that relied on one or two manufacturers. The situation isn't simple though:

    Outsourcing and offshoring of low tech jobs was only round one. Round two has just started. This is why Andrew Yang needs to be taken seriously as a messenger if not a presidential candidate:

    The US needs an industrial policy and economic policy to provide for everyone as well as possible. Republicans see that as getting government in the way of capitalism and the godly invisible hand of markets. That is largely a bad joke since corporatism has replaced capitalism in many aspects of the economy.

    Harris dropping out is probably more confirmation the Clintons have become political death. If she runs again she should have the sense to stay clear of her sister and all the other HRC campaign leftovers.


  6. If Barr is correct, that in essence the death gap and the problems that feed it are due to the "collapse of traditional values" and "militant secularists" then why is that a problem for the conservative, "evangelical" paradises these red states are?  Aren't they supposed to be devoid of "secularism" and still holding on to "traditional values" as features of being states under the exclusive, as red states, guidance and leadership movement conservatism?  Put another way, if Barr is correct, wouldn't we be seeing a death gap in blue states, and especially those bastions of militant secularism that are devoid of traditional values like "the coasts," "San Francisco," etc?

    Its not rocket science, and you shouldn't need all your teeth to understand that the business end of the death gap showing up in red states is just another measurement of the failure of conservative policies.  The fundamental premise behind conservatism, that taking something away from someone helps them has always been ridiculous, especially when you consider these red states are typically last in all the positive quality of life indicators, while leading in the negative ones.

    • Remember the stink they kicked up when Obama talked about them "clinging to guns and religion"?

      When the truth hurts that much, it's time to take a hard look at where you're going.

  7. I've said for a long time that today's base Republicons are at heart losers who cannot make it with a level playing field, after having centuries of life with a heavily-weighted-in-their-favor economic and social system that propped up the losers at the expense of, well, you know who THEY are!

  8. I remember before the fall of the soviet union social scienctist's watching the russian life expectency dropping and repeatedly citing it as a warning sign of a collapseing social structure.

    In the Russian model increased alcoholism was cited as predominaint immediate cause.

    Here it is opiods and guns. 

    Looks like the same pattern adjusted for different countries. The despair of the american public driven by the fear and hatred peddled by faux news, thuglicans and other members of the right wing noise machine is replicating the despair felt by the russian citizens in the US


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