Is Everything Really Terrible?
October 31, 2019
A year from now we will have another national election. I’ve been trying to demonstrate in this column over the last several months that we are not as divided a nation as we might be led to believe.
We agree that the current abortion legal structure is far too permissive. We agree that immigration is a good thing and that a serious change or updating of immigration law should happen. We even agree on the general outlines of that change. We agree that the environment should be protected and cared for. We also agree that jobs and the economy are extremely important. And, yes, the vast majority of Americans agree that racism is evil and should be eradicated from our society.
But it is also true that we agree on some things that perhaps we shouldn’t agree on. What I mean is that we agree on certain public policy matters and perhaps on some cultural trends which are not good for us, or for the common good, or solidarity. One of these areas of agreement is that “everything is terrible.”
If you listen to the extremes on the left and the right, the country is on the brink of destruction. Our democracy is dead. The current president, said one candidate currently running for the office, is an “existential threat” to the nation. Do you get it? If he stays in office or wins again, America will be no more.
This should sound familiar. It was a “Flight 93 election” back in 2016. If Secretary Clinton won, some on the right claimed, America as we know it would die. But the extremes are always this way. It’s hard to turn out the vote if everything will be okay, I guess. The disconcerting thing is that this attitude has spread.
Gallup has a long-running poll on the general satisfaction Americans have with our nation. As of September 2019, 66% of Americans are dissatisfied with how things are going. This is not the worst we’ve seen according to the poll; still, it has me concerned. After all, African American and Hispanic unemployment are at record lows. For the first time in years, middle-class wages are increasing. But even if those were not the facts, we live in the wealthiest, most powerful, and arguably most egalitarian nation in the history of mankind.
So what is going on? Could it be that we have lost our grip on the most important things? According to the Gallup poll, the last time a majority of Americans were satisfied with the nation was in the Spring of 2003. Before we started back on our path to dissatisfaction, though, we had up to that point enjoyed a positive trend which began right after 9/11 when we lost 3,000 of our fellow citizens. Events like that tend to remind us what the most important things in life are.
This year will be difficult, I suspect. We will hear that “everything is terrible,” which is why “our side” needs to win. We will be told that we can’t let the other side win because, if they do, America is over. So, I’m reminded of the words of the psalmist who wrote, “Put not your trust in princes” (146:3).
We have a moral obligation to vote. Participation is one of the principles of Catholic social teaching. I just want to invite us to consider the fact that after the election, your kids and grandkids will still be yours, and your spouse will still be there. Because, you see, America is more than just the president.
We are America, and in God we trust.
Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.