One index—amongst all the indexes trotted out to show our people’s health, medical care, spending habits—that I have not seen is one to gauge how mean people are.
People seem to have become more mean over the years.
In this context, mean means a/k/a is defined as "pettily offensive or unaccommodating; nasty." American College Dictionary, 1962 ed., p. 754. The dictionary is 50 years old, but the definition would seem to be as accurate today.
Parts of our population have a history of being the brunt of meanness. I would say that with a couple of hundred years of enslavement followed by over a hundred years of discrimination, people of dark skin in the United States have taken a disproportionate share of institutionalized meanness. People who, as a group, are newly arrived to the United States often are treated in a pettily offensive, unaccommodating and/or nasty manner. The words inscribed into the base of the Statue of Liberty ask to "give us" all sorts of people who are disadvantaged. Once those people arrived, they usually met poverty, hostility, and discrimination ("Irish Need Not Apply").
People today seem to be mean on a more personal, daily level.
"Road rage" is a recently-coined term for a phenomenon that, probably, has been around since automobiles first were introduced. Only in recent years have I noticed occurrences of road rage on a frequent basis. In daily disagreements over political or social issues, it is not enough to argue one’s point. A lot of people have to characterize—if not outright call—their opponent or opponents "stupid." In some instances that might be accurate. The people from that church in Kansas have a First Amendment right to demonstrate, but that they are—in my opinion—stupid to blame the deaths of United States military personnel on acceptance of homosexuality, on a more widespread basis, as an expression of their supreme deity’s will.
The inclination to meanness has grown. The fringe groups we once knew were"out there" now are mainstream.
Last week’s Republican National Convention seemed to focus meanness in the Tampa Bay convention center. Every speaker seemed to make catty observations about President Obama or aspects of his policies. It should be acceptable, at a political convention, to argue cogently against an opponent’s position. The Republicans seemed so smarmy about it.
The nadir seemed to be Clint Eastwood’s improv with the chair. Clint’s bit was the kind of thing that happens when a comic cancels and someone, at the last minute, is shoved into the line-up without warning. ("Just do 12 minutes up there. I don’t care if you have to drag a chair up there as a prop and talk to it. Do 12 minutes!") Clint did not use the phrase "fuck yourself," but responded to the silent chair in such a fashion as to make obvious that was what the invisible president had said.
There was another element to the Republicans’ messages. Paul Ryan was the lead example. He lied. He lied repeatedly. The bit about the Janesville factory is one example of the lack of candor in his convention address.
Negative political ads utilize meanness. Unfortunately, negative ads—by both major parties and nationwide—are effective. The American people these days apparently like their candidates to be pettily offensive or unaccommodating, and nasty.
I will watch parts of the Democratic National Convention. (The last time I checked, the Cubs National League Baseball Club had been mathematically eliminated from the post-seasons, so baseball will not be high on my list.) I hope the Dems are not as nasty as the Republicans. I also will be polite to people. That usually helps the overall tenor of social interactions.