Why are so many people so peevish lately? A flight attendant couldn’t stand passenger complaints and rude behavior, opened a chute and slid to freedom. The more strident tea partiers want to kill Social Security and Medicare. There’s a great outcry against gay marriage. And, as in that old movie, folks are feeling like, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more.”
Part of the explanation lies in two unfunded and unfinished wars, the financial meltdown left over from the Bush administration and the failure of President Barack Obama to repair the damage and bring us peace and prosperity.
A more fundamental reason for the anger can be traced to fear and resentment of drastic changes in our economy and our society. The two wars have slumped into seemingly endless struggles amid skepticism about plans to withdraw American forces. Radical Muslim terrorism has settled into a seemingly permanent threat.
Jobs remain scarce, with an outlook for lasting unemployment as factories close and jobs seem to go overseas. The Internet swoops any sensational happening or opinion, whether sensible or silly, like lightning through our whole society. Drug abuse afflicts young adults and even young school children. Gays and lesbians have always been quietly among us, but now they are seen as threats as efforts to legalize same-sex marriage pop up across the country.
Most climate scientists have concluded that we are causing global warming and threatening the planet with inevitable future floods and devastation. Illegal immigration, which has always been with us, is suddenly seen as a threat to our way of life. White men are losing their dominance in business and government. And the election of our first black president affronts many white Americans, although their resentment is ostensibly against his programs and policies rather than his race.
Things seem tough all over. An old saying puts it, “When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.” People facing things they hate or fear often react by attacking, usually just verbally, those things they hate and fear.
All this yelling about recapturing America can make a person feel good for a while. Letting off steam, some say, is beneficial. But most of it is a waste of time and energy and doesn’t really accomplish anything.
A better response is to realize that everything changes — were there protests when electricity put lamplighters out of work? — and that adapting to change makes more sense than mindlessly pushing back against it. In fact, innovation is now seen as the biggest predictor of success, especially economically.
We Americans have been through radical changes in the past and adapted and come out ahead, as in the Civil War and the long but ultimately successful campaigns for women’s right to vote and civil rights for African-Americans.
With patience and a return to civility, we can get through these new changes. We’ll likely be a better country for it, too.