A national study released this week tracks American public opinion, documenting our feelings and fears about violence and terrorism. We do not feel safe and we are trusting one another less. Symbolically and physically we want to close the borders. We can choose to believe that we must all feel this way or we can redefine who we are in a way that makes us stronger. It depends who “we” are.
“Last week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon attracted broad public interest: 63% of Americans say they followed the story very closely, among the highest interest in any news story in the past decade.” The Pew Foundation study reflects the sad truth that our collective American perception of civil society is changing. Perhaps this time we are not only changing but morphing. If we learn to accept and assimilate what is different then we can become a new America. But who is doing the learning and who is becoming remains to be seen in an America that seems to be digressing to Michael’s Harrington’t bifurcated America. Without a positive vision of the future there cannot be a collective “we” to embrace it nor a collective image of an America we can all love and want to preserve.
If we are going to survive as a nation some of us will have to loosen our grip on the past so that we can all collectively embrace the future. But today’s media events and philanthropic facts are not hopeful.
The study sounds an eerie warning that we are fundamentally changing. We seem to be resigned to constant fear and violence. “We” seem to be unable to take refuge in “our” symbolic “community psychological blanket” because we have become afraid of one another. But who is this “we” and who is “the other”? There are so many of us “perceiving” from so many directions and backgrounds that a vision of a common America now seems more distant than ever. Public opinion seems to be increasingly shaped not by what we see but what we believe.
Who are we? Who are we becoming? Who have we been? What have we become?
How do we take stock of all that is happening around us and start a sensible conversation about what is wrong and how to fix it? Social media has made a global conversation more possible but, perhaps ironically, local communion now seems more difficult and a sense of “we” or community seems increasingly vapid, vacuous and devoid of anima–tasteless, unintelligible and dispirited. The roaring 20s, rocking 50s and the tumultuous 60s seem distant now … We seem to be drifting into this millennium without a compass.
American identity is changing and the center or the “typical” or “average” America seems to have disappeared. Not only is our political discourse moved to the extremes, but our American identity seems to have morphed into fragments–dispersed among a cacophony of interests, groups and pervasive xenophobia which feed public reaction and drown out reason. Immigration, good health and guns strangle our ability to form a consensus and find our way into this new millennium.
America is drifting but no one seems to know the direction which we are moving towards. The collective and cumulative acts of public violence and the thousands of young Americans coming back from violent, and confusing, foreign wars does not bode well for our present or future…
The baby boom babies are now trading in their infancy diapers and lack of patience for yet another bout of rebelliousness that depends on their increasingly irrelevant 60s ideology undergirded by optimism that is now increasingly undermined by myopia and their incontinent mortality. The ultimate victory for this now passing generation may be the imminent legalization of marijuana as a palliative reward to sustain their now eminent twilight. Event in their collective final curtain call they can find solace in their seemingly Pyrrhic victory to medicate once again when confronted with the oncoming abyss we have for generations now called modernity and social change.
The Great Generation of past “moral” wars has left us and the Baby Boomers are now in the drivers seat. But where are they taking us? They were the flower children and the great protesting worriers who tore down all the sacred cows and left us in a pragmatic and hedonistic middle without manners, caution or respect … Our cultural fabric seems incapable of tying together the many immigrant currents that now makeup the American mosaic. We are the world and the newcomers seem as desperate and dislocated as the rural kids who seemingly grow up in happy, stable, homogenous America only to turn against it in our theaters, our elementary schools and our federal buildings.
The middle is gone and shows little evidence of returning… The 1% seem to have somehow held on to a greater percent of the nation’s wealth, while an increasing number of American families struggle with uncertainty and economic stagnation or, worse, slip back. This recession, the ongoing local and internationally motivated terrorist and gun violence is also shaking our very foundations.
Civil liberties, political movements, and the American sense of who we are, how well we are doing and where we are going all seem increasingly clouded by an ongoing malaise. We get nervous by what we see and need to look closer and more often to calm our nerves. We are afraid at home and seem to need to go oversees to die in wars that have a quiet beginning and seemingly no end. We cannot get the public spectacle out of our mind’s eye. A malaise that seems to be the product of public violence and media competition. We live under a perpetual tempest in a proverbial psychological tea pot of public attention cannibalism in an ever hurried frenzy over delivering pictures and impressions. The relatively few hold onto control of the public megaphone and preach to an increasingly disappearing no longer hegemonic nor numerous “majority”. With moral certitude and economic hubris they wield a shiny and expensive, now digital and omnipresent, printing press that constantly showers us with a practical if simply public truth. They create, perpetuate and feed the seemingly insatiable public consumption we all have for news we need to calm our curiosity and nerves… The world has become so complex that we need to be numbed but the glare of the media industry will not let us rest. The price we pay seems to be pessimism. America is ceasing to be optimistic and welcoming… It is unsettled, perhaps worried and content to close the door on our no longer widely shared dreams of exceptionalism, manifest destiny and international policeman. Are we trading in our moral courage for a veneer of contentment?
At last we may look to the facts and find refuge in Pew’s enlightenment through facts and figures that may light the way… What else can we do? That depends on who we really are … and who we are is up to all of us to define… We must confront the ugly facts but we can confront them while grasping a larger and more unifying truth. What that truth is remains to be seen. In the meantime, let’s keep on working on it together.
Keep learning and thinking together here at the Policy ThinkShop ….
The Pew article and a link follow:
“Last week’s bombings at the Boston Marathon attracted broad public interest: 63% of Americans say they followed the story very closely, among the highest interest in any news story in the past decade. And the bombings drew far more public attention than any terrorist event since Sept. 11, 2001, which 78% reported following very closely in mid-October of that year.”
“While the Boston bombings riveted most Americans, the incident appeared to confirm the public’s long-held belief that occasional terrorist acts are to be expected. Over the past decade, majorities have consistently said that “occasional acts of terrorism in the U.S. will be part of life in the future.” This sentiment has spiked to 75% in the wake of the Boston bombings from 64% a year ago and now matches the previous high of 74% in 2003.”