Monday, July 4, 2011

Glorious Fourth?

July 4 is supposed to be a happy holiday. Even during the Civil War, when the future of what had begun back in 1776 seemed more up for grabs than ever before or since, both sides celebrated July 4. And we still do today (even if some of our presidential candidates can't seem to get the story of the Founders right). Yet, for many Americans, there seems precious little to be celebratory about this Fourth of July. According to a new TIME/Aspen Ideas Festival Poll, the U.S. in this post-9/11 decade is in a long period – one of the longest ever – of unhappiness and pessimism.

What seems newsworthy about that is how out of character that is with the predominant tradition of optimism that has characterized American and its people. Thus, some 71% of Americans see us as worse off than we were a decade ago. Even more pointedly, there is the widespread perception that some have borne the brunt of American decline more than others. In view of the increasing inequality in American society, such a perception is simply stating the obvious. The same July 11 edition of Time that published those poll results also contained the sadly unsurprising news that, while still slow to spend capital to create much needed jobs, many corporations continue to spend big-time on private jet travel to top resort destinations.

Seniors, for all their angst about any attempt to introduce the least amount of rationality into entitlements, probably have the least to worry about. As my Baby-Boomer generation prepares to climb aboard the Social Security & Medicare gravy train, however, just how long that ride will last and how far that train will be able to travel have become an increasing source of anxiety. Add to that my generation’s justified fears for their children and grandchildren’s future prospects!

Of course, it could always be worse. We could be like those societies where young men (educated or not) are increasingly likely to be unemployed – and in some societies decreasingly likely to be able to find wives. Somewhere between such extremes and our American malaise there is the ominous state of Europe – where what we have been watching happen in Greece is likely not the end of the story.

So there is a lot to be anxious about this 235th anniversary of that Glorious Fourth. The present state of our politics – and the prospects for worse as we head into another election – offer little grounds for optimism. Somehow, however, after the fireworks have finished and the hot dogs have been digested, we will all need as a society to get serious again about making the promise of July 4 really happen – for ourselves and for the generations after us.

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