Few Minnesotans were shocked at last week’s news that metal detectors will go up at entrances to the State Fair.
If anything there was surprise that the fair board hadn’t acted sooner. But then it’s understandable that officials would cling as long as possible to the gauzy myth of the fair as a joyous gathering of neighbors who share the unifying specialness of living in a state where everyone is above average.
The cold reality is different, of course. Last year’s fair ended with a shooting near the main gate that wounded three people followed by a fight that injured a woman and caused a stampede inside the grounds. Police blamed rival gangs.
That incident wasn’t the impetus for adding security. Sadly, metal detectors are now standard issue for all major events, and the State Fair, with 2 million visitors a year, is as major as it gets in these parts.
“It’s just another layer of security,” State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer said in announcing the change. “When you have 2 million of your friends and neighbors in one place, you want to make sure that everything is safe and secure and that people feel that way.”
That’s a major challenge, especially because the wider motivation for tighter security is the broad societal sense of eroding trust.
In recent decades, social scientists have measured the incremental decline in confidence that Americans have in one another and in their institutions. The decline has been steepest since 2017 when trust in government plunged by 14 percentage points, according to a Pew Center survey. Only a third of Americans now trust their government to do “what is right.” Faith in media, business, religion, charitable organizations and fellow citizens is falling as well.
Although there’s no single root cause, an article in this month’s Stanford Social Innovation Review offered a list of prime suspects: public and private corruption, poisonous public rhetoric, rising economic inequality, breakdowns in the rule of law, a perception that individual voices and votes don’t matter, a sense that elites have rigged all systems to benefit themselves, and media/social media outlets that spread disinformation to exacerbate division and social grievance.
This “truth decay” lies at the heart of our distrust. Without fact-based consensus, it’s difficult for society to hold together. The resulting social dissonance leads to anxiety, fear and insecurity. There’s an irony here. Although we live in perhaps the safest era of human history, it doesn’t feel that way. The potential for danger is heightened in a country bristling with firearms — one gun for every man, woman and child, with 67 million left over.
That’s 393 million guns altogether. Most are owned and used responsibly, but those that are not too often take lives.
It’s popular to believe that our “collapse of confidence,” as the conservative scholar Yuval Levin called it in last Sunday’s New York Times, can be repaired by figuratively linking arms, building bridges and tearing down walls. Perhaps. But, in the meantime, it makes sense to put in metal detectors.