The Second Annual “No, This Year Is Not the Worst”

According to an APA poll, 59% of Americans think that right now is the lowest point in American history that they can remember. This is particularly astounding when you consider some of the things that Americans have lived through: the Great Recession, 9/11, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, and the JFK assassination, just to name a few low-lights. But, in spite of all of those things, the majority of Americans feel that right now is the worst. Well, the fact is that those people are wrong. Let’s go through this year’s list (which is actually very different from last year’s ).

High Profile Sexual Assault

It started with a trickle and quickly turned into a flood. Beginning with Harvey Weinstein, the list of perpetrators has expanded to include Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore, Al Franken, Russell Simons, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, and John Conyers. And this is a condensed list. The world can’t be good if so many famous and influential men have abused their power and assaulted or harassed women, right? Indeed, it is awful that this has been happening and that it is so prevalent. However, the most important thing here is that we are now discovering that these terrible things have been happening.  At a minimum, the result of this discovery is that these men are not being allowed to continue their patterns of abuse. A hugely positive effect of all these accusations is that an increasing number of women are now feeling assertive and secure enough to come forward with their stories, and they are finally being taken seriously. Furthermore, with all of the stories that have coming out, there will certainly be a push-back on assaulters and abusers, both famous and unknown, in the years to come. This won’t end this harassment, but it will reduce it, and that is definitely good.

The Political Environment Is So Polarized

The common argument is that the war of words is getting bigger and uglier by the day. Trump tweets hateful things. Nazis are protesting in America again. Violent leftist groups are growing, too. No one can have a civil conversation at a holiday dinner. Congress is becoming more polarized. It’s worse than it’s ever been–America is splitting apart! So goes the common narrative of what is occurring in our current political climate.  However, what some are viewing as a new phenomenon of an unprecedented division between parties is, in fact, a return to the status quo. Historically speaking, the bipartisanship of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s was merely a quirk of the Cold War era and the remnants of segregation politics. Back then, the political parties worked across the aisle more often as Southern Democrats allied with federalist Republicans, and Rockefeller Republicans joined with New Deal Democrats. So, while the decline in segregation and institutional racism is quite obviously a good thing, one downside of this shift has been an overall decline in bipartisanship. As for a rise in the profile of racist and violent groups, well, it is just that: a rise in the profile of these groups. If you genuinely believed there was no KKK–or racism, in general–since the 1960’s, then this year has likely been a shock. But, wow, really? Here, as with the preceding example of systemic sexual harassment, learning is ultimately progress. Yes, there is still a vitriolic, racist element in the US. When we learn that a problem exists, however, that means that we can then address it. It’s an ugly thing, but this knowledge is important.

The Economy Is Terrible and This Generation Is Worse Off Than the Last

You often hear stories about student loan, credit card, or housing debt. How medical care, housing, and education prices have surged. Such stories have made for a widespread, negative consensus: the generation now in their 20s is the first in decades that is worse off than the generation before them. So the story goes. This notion is patently and ridiculously untrue. Examining the facts, we see that advancements in technology and the constant improvement of products and services from businesses worldwide point to an obvious conclusion: the youngest workers in the US (and beyond) have the greatest buying power ever. The result is that this generation is doing the best ever financially. Are those issues listed above—debt and increased costs—are those real issues? Yes, they are.  However, on aggregate, it is (financially) better to be born in the 1980’s versus any time before it. Yes, there is still poverty and homelessness, but the rates of these have decreased to some of the lowest levels in US history. In addition, unemployment around 4% is near historic lows, as are current interest rates. (High interest rates were, in fact, one of the aspects that bedeviled previous generations, but that now no one talks about.)

Trump Is an Idiot

No disagreement here. We just need to ride this out for another 7 months to 7 years. It turns out he is as incompetent as we had suspected he would be, and so he has accomplished very little. So, while the US may be losing time on correcting problems, we aren’t really getting worse because of him–or at least things are not getting as bad as quickly as many might have predicted. It is possible that the US–and the world, at large–can be great with a terrible US president, just as some of the worst periods of American and world history have coincided with some of the best presidents.

High Profile Shootings

The events in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs Texas are indeed tragic. And mass shootings are, in fact, happening more and more often. The reality, though, is that the probability of dying in a mass shooting is still around a one-in-a-million chance. More of this was outlined in a previous article, but to sum up, there are lot of more pressing and deadly issues that are facing us right now.  Efforts to deal with these issues would, ultimately, help save a lot more lives than a massive gun-control campaign would. These shootings are dramatic, yes, but they do not genuinely endanger the vast majority of Americans. Reminder: murder–and crime in general–is at a historic low.

 

So, all of this begs the question: Why is it that everyone thinks that right now is the worst? For some, it’s simple: they just haven’t lived through much. If you’ve only been paying attention to the news in the past couple of years, then yes, this might be the worst year since 2014. Maybe people are just forgetting about some of the issues that the US has faced in the past, and then worked to overcome. The fear that many Americans felt after 9/11 doesn’t feel as bad in retrospect. For those who remember Nixon’s resignation, it was bad, but we’ve definitely had better presidents since then. Or, perhaps the reason that people think things are so bad right now might be that they are repeatedly being told so. Both the mainstream media and social media are overflowing with negativity. For larger media outlets, this negativity is what catches the eyes of readers and viewers. Indeed, very few seem to care about a story of another decade of peace, or another year wage growth. As for social media, well, consider your own online habits. Do you post about whatever new appalling thing Trump has said, or about an economic indicator that has gone down for one month (but up the previous three years)? You are certainly within your rights to do so. However, do you also post about new technological wonders, or peace agreements, or continued reductions in America’s level of carbon emissions? Well, that tendency on your part—and on the part of a lot of people—might serve to skew everyone’s view of the current state of the world. The fact is that the world is not worse than ever. Someone should let Americans know this.

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