Optimism was previously one of the great gifts America offered the world. The idea that anyone, no matter where they came from, could find their way to America and through hard work, effort and accomplishment, make a grand life in the United States. There was boundless enthusiasm for what could be accomplished and wide-eyed grandeur at what the coming generations might accomplish. This previously was a limitless commodity, but that confidence in the American Dream has slipped.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll asked a simple question that cuts to the core of where American life is right at this moment: Will life for our children’s generation be better than it has been for us?
The answer to that question up till now has been a defiant and unequivocal YES. The result of this latest poll shows that things neither are going well now, nor are they showing promise to improve for the next generation, as 76 percent of those polled no longer have the confidence that our children will live a better life.
In 2001, 49 percent were confident of things getting better and 42 percent were not.
There is no doubt that since 2000 the intensity and uncertainty surrounding American life has escalated. It’s like a terror threat level. We all live on heightened alert.
From 9/11, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, devastating hurricanes and tornadoes, the unpredictability of climate change in general, the radical increase technology has brought to the speed of life, the massive financial collapse in 2007/2008 left many in ruins, stagnant wages for decades in the face of increases in the cost-of-living, depletion of natural energy reserves, pollution, lack of water reserves, disease, crime, drugs, guns, corporate greed, an across-the-board slippage in the quality of life, health care, infrastructure and education, and a dangerous partisan polarization among both political parties that has resulted in no solutions, only gridlock and smoldering hatred.
There is no getting around the fact that many of these issues deserved attention previously and dialing in could have helped to mitigate, prevent or at least decreased the current impact they may be having on society – but Americans are by nature a reactionary society. We tend to have to be hit over the head with a calamity before we pay any attention.
Previously residents in the U.S. could choose to not pay attention to hot-button issues of the day, stick their heads in the sand and go about their lives oblivious to the news, but it’s hard to miss the twin towers collapsing. People are trying to move on with their hectic, stress-filled lives, but the American fabric is torn. Climate change doesn’t care about your soccer schedule or impending conference call.
The gloom in this poll cut across gender, wealth, race, geographical region, age and ideology. The overwhelming conclusion is that consumer confidence in the American dream is failing. It’s really hard and hateful out there for folks these days, especially for older Americans on fixed incomes. We’re lacking the support structure, money and political will to care for people or be good stewards for our environment or country.
I find it amusing that Jimmy Carter tried to address energy conservation, reliance on foreign oil, terrorism and tending to our natural resources during his presidency in the 1970s, but was voted out of office. Nobody wanted to stop the American party train to discuss downer topics like conservation. Instead we went with Ronald Reagan’s masquerade of pick-up trucks, cowboys and American flags. Nothing wrong with imagery, but it has turned out to be rather hollow, as we have seen more recently with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Our politicians don’t like acting on issues if they don’t have immediate resolutions that play well in 30-second commercials. Nor does anyone want to get serious about campaign finance reform, so we could have regular Americans, not just the wealthy, running for political office. This leaves us in a quandary. If there are no easy answers to the serous problems confronting our country, and the public and politicians don’t want to make the necessary sacrifices to create solutions, then we as a society can only sink further into the abyss.
We see this playing out in real-time with President Obama. He has delivered on many of the big issues he promised to address coming into office. The country is certainly on far better footing than where it was when he came into office in 2008. But between the color of his skin and complexity of issues at hand, Congress refuses to allow for level-headed compromise to find solutions and the public has no true will to push for action.
America remains a great country, it’s just a bit tarnished. This is a young country and it is going through growing pains. The simplistic version of what we need to do is get over being spoiled and selfish. This isn’t any huge surprise. The predominance of our society that presided over the rise in America’s power is either still alive or passed away relatively recently, within the last 30-40 years. Aside from the world wars that have been fought, these generations of Americans have never been told NO about much of anything. Life generally only improved, and things were supposed to keep getting better for the following generation(s).
That has always been the message emanating from America, so it’s not surprising we are having behavioral issues when it turns out everyone is not a winner. Our country’s response is childlike. Confronted with the reality that we can’t have what we want, in this case continued increasing prosperity, we pout and throw a fit. I’m not sure what happens if one of the older generations doesn’t first make the conscious decision to sacrifice some of what they have in terms of comfort in order to make changes to benefit future generations. I suppose the change in attitude could come from a younger age group, but they fail to vote, so they lack any political power. Millennials are chatty on social media, but not so great in terms of actually getting out there live and engaging, and certainly they have entitlement issues.
Admittedly this is a hard one to crack. Everything isn’t going to go to Hell at once, so it requires placing faith in trying to fix something proactively that we may personally never see the benefit from, but will help out our kids. Clearly folks feel things are not getting better or we wouldn’t see such a resounding negative result from this recent poll, yet we make no effort to change.
It’s like dealing with addicts; they know their behavior is wrong but they abuse themselves anyway. It’s a way to self-medicate and numb oneself from outside forces. That is what America is doing. We keep living a lifestyle we all know is not sustainable, but crave the lust. Like any major change in America, it requires a cataclysmic event. Sorry folks, you can’t keep your cake and eat it too. The cake is all gone.