Unhappiness burns in America, kindled by cynicism, stoked by boundless contempt, flaring out on all sides and in every direction. The flames leaping off the hot rock of hate have consumed the agora of our unhappy republic.
Is it because the economy’s exploded and people’s portfolios and pensions have been decimated? No. Is it because we are embroiled in an endless quagmire of foreign conflict and war? No. Is it because pestilence, disaster and famine have racked and wrecked our fair nation? None of those.
Americans are unhappy, divided, cynical, full of loathing, brothers and sisters, because of each other. And why not? Everything in our public discourse teaches us to be distrustful, resentful, contemptuous of each other, of the “others,” of those who refuse to see things the way that we see them.
On the cable television channels, the paid hacks inflame every resentment, peddle every fear, wedge every division, twist every bit of breaking news to fit a prearranged narrative that it’s “those people” who are ruining our lives, those people who are destroying our country, those people who obstinately impede all our noble goals and aspirations – them over there, the dreadful, insolent others.
On Facebook, trolls launch flame-wars, incinerating all thoughtful discussion with malicious accusation and unfounded innuendo. Discussion revolves not around the search for truth or careful analysis of cause and effect, but the reptilian brain’s desire to settle the score, to have the last word, to position oneself to boast that most self-satisfying phrase, “I told you so.”
On Twitter, we burn pariahs at the proverbial stake at the slightest hint of gaff, with glee. We relish in it. We parade the victim through our electronic streets for the masses to gawk and spit at, to peg with the rotted fruit of our righteous indignation. We pay no heed to intention or nuance. We sit comfortable in the bosom of our respective tribes, protected in our bubbles, giddy at having caught up one of the others so that we may mete out sanctimonious public humiliation.
The Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron recently conducted a poll on behalf of Ohio media outlets finding 68 percent of Ohio voters are not happy and almost as many people think nobody can do anything about it.
From the Columbus Dispatch:
Through an unusual approach to polling by Bliss director John Green, the survey allowed respondents to define the issues themselves rather than select from a list of pre-determined prompts. What came through the most clearly was Ohioans’ frustration.
“The frustration is really uniform, but people have different ideas not only of what the specific problems are but how they might be addressed,” Green said. “Because there’s this sense that the issues have not been addressed effectively by political leaders, whether on one issue or another, there is this kind of openness to something new.”
He said he was particularly struck by the dissatisfaction with the political process itself. Such exasperation, he said, has rarely been a top priority.
America’s political process fully reflects her public discourse. Every finger is too busy pointing to offer any sort of a hand. Massive, systemic problems go unaddressed. Everyone rushes merely to place blame. Jobs evaporate. Wages stagnate. Children go hungry. Medical debt bankrupts working families. A drug epidemic sweeps the country.
“The government isn’t responding to these real problems,” Green said.
“I’ve seen this before in polling and read about this in history,” he said. “Things reach a point where people of all backgrounds are so frustrated that they’re willing to try something completely new. … When people get really, really frustrated, they’re much more likely to accept things that are a big departure from the norm.”
Experience from human history instructs us that often “something new,” this “departure from the norm,” is the window through which the demagogue and the despot climb.
Historically, there are two ways for a civilization to be destroyed, from the outside and from within. The great commercial republic of the United States boasts the most advanced military in the history of civilization. As of June 27, 2016, no force on Earth presents a serious existential threat to these United States… from the outside.
But the threat from within is a different matter. The division in this country, the hatred of the others, the utter lack of political redress, the mounting frustration of a people recognizing that their elected representatives either don’t know their problems or, more likely, don’t care, is bound to combust.
And this dispatch from yrs. truly is no clarion call for kum-bah-yah, brothers and sisters, this is a warning flare, to seek shelter, to bunker down, to hold on tight.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.