In the Suburbs: A note of optimism amid an avalanche of pessimism
At last! Despite the gloom-and-doom speeches by this year’s candidates, vowing to fix our broken America and keep us from falling into an economic abyss, targeted for more terrorist attacks and more woes, one writer in the New York Times last week, dared to ask, “When Did Optimism Become Uncool?”
The writer, Gregg Easterbrook, author of “The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse,” began with: “Given Donald J. Trump’s virtual lock on the Republican presidential nomination, you’d think he’d be a bit more upbeat. Instead his campaign began last summer with, ‘our country is going to hell,’ then declared, ‘we’re becoming a third world country,” and by this month had progressed to the United States ‘losing all the time.’
“This election season,” Easterbrook continued, “the impending apocalypse has been issue No. 1 for presidential aspirants on both sides ... Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, declared the United States ‘near an abyss.’ On the left, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says the economy has been ‘destroyed’ for all but the wealthy few.”
Easterbrook added that a Gallup poll in April revealed that only 26 percent of all Americans call themselves “satisfied” with the way things are going in the United States. He pointed out that this feeling of dissatisfaction has been around since January 2004 when Americans last told pollsters “they felt good about the nation’s course,” said Easterbrook.
Then he tossed out his optimism curve. “Yet a glance out the window shows blue sky. There are troubling issues, including the horror of mass shootings, but most American social indicators have been positive at least for years, in many cases for decades. The country,” Easterbrook pointed out, “is, on the whole in the best shape it’s ever been in. So what explains all the bad vibes?”
On the one hand, he blames social media and cable news, which, he explains, “highlight scare stories and overstate anger.” But Easterbrook’s real message is that “optimism itself has stopped being respectable. Pessimism is now the mainstream … If you don’t think everything is awful, you don’t understand the situation ...”
I couldn’t agree more. The election aside, I hear from friends, people in my diner and the average man on the street that this country’s never been in such a bad way and it will probably take an act of a supreme being, not a politician, to turn things around.
But Easterbrook takes a whole different path. Despite views about the unfavorable economy, he reminds the reader that, “Job growth has been strong for five years, with unemployment now below where it was for most of the 1990s … The American economy is No. 1 by a huge margin, larger than Nos. 2 and 3 (China and Japan) combined. Americans are seven times as productive, per capita, as Chinese citizens.”
Easterbrook reinforces his optimism by saying, “Pollution, discrimination, crime and most diseases are in an extended decline; living standards, longevity and education levels continue to rise. On the other hand, he points out, “Today progressive thought embraces Judgment Day, too. Climate change, inequality and racial tension are viewed not as the next round of problems to be solved, but as proof that the United States is horrible.”
In one other piece I found on Politico.com from January, several experts on the economy and government were interviewed about whether we would face a recession in 2016. One expert, Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote, “If we want to grow into the future that awaits us, we need a public sector that’s functional and amply funded enough to deal with climate change, aging boomers, poverty, inequality and immobility, geopolitical threats and who knows what else?
“The risk this year is that we elect someone who has no idea and no intention to build back this functionality.”
I agree with Bernstein’s overall premise.
I do not profess to be an expert on the direction our country is taking, but I definitely liked Easterbrook’s philosophy and found it refreshing. Yes, there is certainly plenty wrong with our country, but the damage can be fixed and I can only hope that a new president will take us in that direction.
Said Easterbrook, “The optimistic view is that it’s still morning in America and if we fix what’s wrong, the best is yet to come.”
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.