So how are your Independence Day celebrations going thus far? Enjoyable, I hope, with lots of time with family, friends, and fun. If so, you might want to avoid looking at the Washington Post until at least tomorrow, because not everyone wants to see you in a joyous, celebratory or hopeful mood. The Post’s resident Debby Downer, Robert J. Samuelson, chooses to burn up his 4th of July ink on a subject without such a hopeful perspective. It’s titled, “Americans are historically unhappy. But there’s a lesson to learn here.” Man… that just makes you want to run out and toss a couple more brats on the grill, doesn’t it?
Samuelson launches into this cruise down happiness lane by saying, “it would be astounding if Americans were not in a sour mood over the July 4 weekend.” Really? Why the long face, Bob? It sounds like something has you down. By way of explanation, the op-ed writer points the finger of blame at Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute. She’s compiled a list of polling statistics supposedly showing why we are (and should be) relatively miserable this year.
Public opinion polls show that on a long list of subjects Americans are angry, pessimistic, disillusioned and fed up. They fear for themselves, their children, the economy, the United States’ role in the world and for their own happiness.
We know this because Karlyn Bowman, the public opinion guru at the American Enterprise Institute, has done us the favor of collecting a long list of statistics that describes the national mood. Here are some of the most interesting, gathered with the help of Samantha Goldstein, her research assistant:
First of all, I’m going to have to throw the flag on a couple of the figures being cited here. The author cites a University of Chicago NORC poll on “happiness” in general showing that only 14% of Americans said they are “very happy.” Sure, that sounds on the low side, but more than 60% said they were “pretty happy.” So more than three-quarters of American voters were at least somewhat happy. That’s a lot. Meanwhile, only 23% said they were “not too happy” and virtually nobody said they were “very unhappy.” That’s a huge margin in favor of people being at least generally happy.
The next poll being picked out of thin air shows that only 35% of Americans consider race relations in this country to be “generally good.” Pardon my saying, but with the 24/7 focus being put on racial unrest at various protests and riots in our larger cities by Samuelson’s newspaper and most of cable news, is this any surprise? Of course, if you step away from the television for a little while and take a walk outside, there seem to be lots of people of all stripes getting along just fine. Also, I would note that many of these protests are populated by huge numbers of white people marching alongside Black and Hispanic protesters. Seems to me like they aren’t struggling with racial bias.
Samuelson next tackles the subject of how “patriotic” people are feeling. He cites a survey showing that “only” 63% were “very” or “extremely” proud to be an American. He goes on to note that this figure was as high as 90% in the early 2000s. Yes, Mr. Samuelson. Of course it was higher then. That was right after 9/11 and the nation was rallying together against an external, existential threat. In the current, divided political climate, 63% isn’t all that bad.
The author goes on to describe the data as “a tsunami of gloom.” This is used as a springboard to explain how everyone needs to “surrender some of our individual choice” to further the public good. (That means wear your masks like you’re being told and don’t be a rebel.) Apparently, there is never a bad time to push for more authoritarian government control.
I don’t know about Mr. Samuelson’s neighborhood, but most of the people I talk to in real life around here aren’t miserable. Sure, they all have their share of problems. The coronavirus is causing havoc and impacting people’s livelihoods, as well as creating anxiety. It’s tanked the economy more than a little, and that affects everyone as well. But we’ve been through hard times before. For now, the summer season has arrived and people really want to get on with their lives, not wallow in despair. All I can say is that the offices of the Washington Post must be a very dreary place to work these days. Chin up, Bob. Things will be okay.