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The state of America in 2023: confusion and pessimism

FILE – A security guard stands inside a First Republic Bank in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, March 16, 2023. Only 10% of U.S. adults say they have significant confidence in the nation’s banks and financial institutions, a new poll finds. That is down from the 22% who said they had high confidence in banks in 2020. The poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll also finds that a majority of Americans say the government is not doing enough to regulate the industry. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

The first quarter of 2023 has left Americans with little reason to be optimistic about the next three. The economic and geopolitical challenges of 2022 have persisted in the new year, and in many ways have worsened.  

The U.S. economy is on the brink of a crisis and the global autocracies that seek America’s demise are forming an ironclad alliance. Yet instead of meeting this moment, House Republican leaders are kowtowing to extremists in their caucus by holding the full faith and credit of the U.S. government hostage in their refusal to raise the debt ceiling and advocating for a reduction in U.S. support for Ukraine. 

All the while, the GOP continues to embrace and defend Donald Trump, who is mired in investigations, including one for attempting to overturn the 2020 election. Further, the man regarded as the GOP heir-apparent, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who once represented his party’s best chance of breaking from Trump’s divisive politics and undemocratic tendencies, is stoking the flames of extremism and digging in on Trumpian far-right populism, championing a six-week abortion ban and permitless carry of handguns

Put succinctly, America’s inability to fully meet the crises we face is due in no small part to the irresponsible leadership of The Republican Party. Time and time again, the GOP has prioritized the interests of their party’s extreme wing over those of the American public, elevating far-right figures like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who called for a secession between Democratic and Republican states.

To be sure, Democrats have also at times, though to a much lesser extent, kowtowed to the far-left by flirting with socialism and embracing inflationary tax-and-spend policies. While President Biden isn’t entirely blameworthy for the country’s economic woes as Republicans claim, his perceived failure to lead on the economy represents a major drag on his chances for reelection — a prospect that should scare all Americans, given the alternative. 

Inflation, while declining, continues to erode Americans’ wages. Multiple banks have failed in a matter of weeks, while others are teetering on the brink of collapse. In turn, Americans’ already low confidence in the economy has plummeted further and President Biden’s approval rating has sunk to record lows

Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve’s efforts to tame inflation by hiking interest rates were a catalyst in the collapse of New York-based Signature Bank and Silicon Valley Bank, the then-16th largest bank in the nation. It is not hyperbole to state that this is the most significant banking crisis since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. 

While the federal government did what was necessary to reinforce the stability of the U.S. banking system by backstopping all deposits at the two troubled banks, Americans aren’t convinced that this isn’t another government bailout akin to 2008, when taxpayers bore the responsibility of billions of dollars worth of federal aid to keep banks afloat.

Despite the Biden administration taking great pains to convince Americans that this time, taxpayers would not be saddled with this burden, the majority (53 percent) of Americans — and 55 percent of independents — believe they will ultimately bear the costs. 

This banking crisis, taken together with the declining stock market — which has lost more than 10 percent of its value in the past year and roughly 20 percent since January 2022 — help to explain why, even as inflation lets up slightly, more than 62 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy. 

While the stock market is not the economy, it is a visible barometer of the perceived health of the American economy. And for the 150 million Americans who own stocks, usually in retirement accounts,  that loss of wealth, even temporarily, can be catastrophic.  

With respect to international affairs, the war between Ukraine and Russia has raged on in the new year, though concerning new developments have emerged. Support for Ukraine is waning in the U.S., particularly on the political right, while Russia is deepening its autocratic alliance with China. U.S. intelligence has reported that China could begin providing lethal aid to bolster Vladimir Putin’s war machine, which would mark a dramatic and deeply troubling escalation of the conflict. 

China is becoming a more influential force in the Middle East as well, having recently brokered a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Meanwhile, America’s power in that unstable, yet critical, region is being tested, due in no small part to the lingering fallout from the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

That said, to his credit, President Biden has taken a number of important actions this year to reassert America’s leadership on the world stage. He took the extraordinary step of visiting Kyiv, Ukraine and his administration has made a real effort to prioritize realpolitik over politics with Israel, our most important ally in the Middle East. 

Even so, the challenges America faces — from our enemies abroad, and with our economy at home — are bigger than any one president or administration, and can only be solved if leaders on both sides of the aisle are willing to recognize that, despite our political differences, we have a common national purpose.

In a perfect world, the remainder of 2023 would bring more bipartisanship, greater economic stability and a victory for Ukraine. Republicans in Congress would be willing to put progress over politics and work with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and address the number of other challenges facing the nation, ranging from immigration to crime. 

But more likely, the remaining nine months of the year will be much like the first three, which were defined by partisanship, economic turmoil and global uncertainty.

Douglas E. Schoen and Carly Cooperman are pollsters and partners with the public opinion company Schoen Cooperman Research based in New York. They are co-authors of the book, “America: Unite or Die.”  

Tags Banking in the United States debt ceiling Donald Trump economic crisis Fed interest rates inflation fears Joe Biden Marjorie Taylor Greene Politics of the United States Reactions to the 2021–2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis Ron DeSantis

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