A nation divided foresees rough time ahead
Published: Jan 10, 2023 06:02 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/Global Times

Illustration: Xia Qing/Global Times

Optimism has often been described as one of the defining characteristics of Americans. Starting with the colonists who came to the continent to forge a better life for themselves and their posterity, this mind-set has come to be reflected in everything, from culture to politics. The notion of material, technological and even social progress is simply assumed, and yet, as Americans rang in 2023, four out of five people there believed the new year would be worse. 

A Gallup poll, conducted on a representative sample of US residents in December, shows around 80 percent are convinced that taxes will rise and the economic situation will get worse. Given a choice whether prices will rise at a "reasonable rate" or at a high rate, some 65 percent of the polled think it will be the latter. 

A majority of those polled also predict rising unemployment, falling stock markets, and more labor union strikes ahead. Nearly three quarters expect higher crime, 90 percent expect internal political conflict, and 85 percent predict international discord.

Given everything that's been going on, one is tempted to conclude that people with any sort of optimism are simply out of their minds. 

Across the board, those who identify as Democrats - the party currently in power - tend to be more optimistic. They also tend to believe the media and the government more, and disregard the evidence of their own eyes and ears in favor of the narratives pushed on them by the political establishment. 

One example is that 69 percent of Democrats polled believe unemployment will go down, even though labor shortages have become chronic. Meanwhile, the media constantly cite official figures that claim massive job creation - but never publicize the corrections, months later, that reveal the real numbers as being much more modest. 

In comparison, optimism among independents is in the 30-40 percent range, and its graph resembles that of the Republicans, who are deeply pessimistic about almost everything.
A major outlier is the belief that Russia will get weaker in 2023 - shared by nearly four out of five Democrats and about half of all Republicans. 

However, this could be the exception that proves the rule, as Americans generally can't independently verify what their media tells them about Russia. Meanwhile, 73 percent of US adults agree that China's power will grow, which is more in line with the reality they can readily observe. 

When it comes to the internal political situation, only 13 percent of Democrats and 5 percent of Republicans predict political cooperation, while the vast majority can see, hear, and feel it getting worse by the day. This suggests that narrative management techniques do have their limitations.

That hasn't stopped the current US government from insisting that everything is actually fine, its policies are working, and things are getting better - even as the evidence of eyes and ears shows otherwise. The media, intended to hold politicians to account, routinely accept these claims without question and attack critics as "deniers," further fueling the perception that the political system is not functioning as intended. 

Ivo Andric, a former diplomat who was also Yugoslavia's Nobel Prize winner for literature, recorded a sage observation about the human condition in one of his notebooks half a century ago. A long time under foreign domination, or a bad government, he wrote, can "confuse and cripple" a people's understanding of common sense, to a point where they cannot tell apart good and evil, or what's beneficial from what is obviously harmful. 

One doesn't need to have Andric's experience or acumen to understand how closely this state of affairs maps to the current US situation - and that it cannot go on forever.

The author is a Serbian-American journalist. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn