Recently, my 91-year-old father-in-law and I were talking about the dire state of our nation, and he said, “I am sure glad I will not be around to see the end.”
My father-in-law is a great American patriot, who, as an Albanian immigrant, was processed through Ellis Island at the age of six. He often says the greatest gifts of his life were his family, his Catholic faith, and the opportunity to be American. In World War II, he was an engineer stationed at the Washington Navy Yard, where he worked on electronic circuitry for mines and torpedoes. After the war, he was recruited by the CIA. During several tumultuous decades he was a field operative fighting the Cold War in Europe, and then Vietnam and Laos. At his 90th-birthday party, he expressed utter astonishment that he had reached that milestone, given how many times he had cheated death during his career.
Considering his life experience, I was shaken to the core by his gratitude at the prospect of “not seeing the end” of America — not because I was surprised he said it, but because I totally agree that “the end” is coming and that my husband and I probably will be around to see it.
We are dismayed at the increasing secularization of a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles, coupled with political, social, cultural, economic, moral, spiritual, and infrastructure decline everywhere we turn. During the 2012 presidential election, there was much discussion among Republicans to the effect that if Obama won reelection it would signal “the end of our nation as we know it.” The theory was that our nation would not be able to withstand another four years of President Obama’s “transforming” policies. The biggest fear of all was that, since his name would never again be on the ballot, Obama would be empowered to do whatever the heck he wanted.
So when Obama was reelected, there was a collective political depression of a kind I had never before witnessed. For weeks, people who voted against Obama, myself included, were just shaking their heads in disbelief: National decline was now inevitable, because Obama’s victory signaled the lack of will among Americans to repair the ship of state.
Thereafter, national decline became a normal, everyday discussion topic among my Baby Boomer friends. These friends are not right-wing nuts but educated, hardworking, successful people, many of whom own small businesses. Invariably, casual talk of decline leads to the following questions: Do you own a gun? Are you stockpiling supplies? These questions always leave me and my husband asking, “Should we be more prepared?” But prepared for what? A total collapse of our society and economic system? A government takeover of our property and assets? A natural disaster of epic proportions? A terrorist attack even worse than 9/11? All of the above?
Given that I was born in 1955 and my husband in 1951, through the decades we have seen and experienced much national and international upheaval. Sure, when I came of age the government had a “credibility gap,” and the horror of Vietnam unfolded nightly on our black-and-white TV. There were riots, assassinations, social upheaval, and Watergate. But since we knew that our nation was built on a strong foundation, we all believed, without a scintilla of doubt, that our future was bright and our nation would flourish. Amazingly, I don’t remember ever discussing any of these optimistic concepts; it was just built-in and assumed. Even much later in life, after the 9/11 attacks, I do not recall any talk about irreversible national decline. Instead, there was great optimism that our nation would emerge victorious against our enemies.
This great wave of negativity that has settled in during the last few years is therefore something new: a sense that “the end” is a matter not of “if” but of “when.” There is a feeling that our leaders can, at best, manage the decline, but are powerless to turn it around.
Do national poll data reflect the feelings of my father-in-law, my friends, my husband, and me, or are we just a bunch of pessimists?
It turns out our thinking is quite mainstream. The latest “right direction — wrong track” poll numbers indicate that only 28.3 percent of Americans believe our nation is heading in the right direction, while 63.5 percent say we are on the wrong track. An April 2014 Rasmussen poll revealed that 48 percent of Americans believe America’s best days are behind us, while 33 percent think our best days are still to come.
Compare those results with a Gallup poll released on January 2, 2013, in which 50 percent said they believed our country’s best days were behind, while 47 percent believed they were ahead. That poll showed an interesting partisan breakdown: A whopping 74 percent of Republicans said our best days were over, and only 24 percent disagreed. Among independent voters, 55 percent believed that our best days were behind us. But among Democrats, 69 percent believed our best days were ahead. Clearly, your view of the future depends on whether your party is leading the country.