Americans are sick and tired: It’s time for a time out
Americans are in a foul mood. It might be that the public is tiring of political bickering, pandemic anxiety and economic dislocation. Just look at the data from last month:
Facing successive waves of the coronavirus and an uncertain economy, the public entered 2022 fearful and largely dissatisfied with the way things are going, according to the latest survey data from the Pew Research Center.
None of that is to suggest that we Americans have little faith in the future. The same study found that many American adults (61 percent) are optimistic that 2022 will be better than 2021. But dissatisfaction with national conditions, particularly the economy, afflicts both political parties. Today, only small shares of both Democrats and Republicans (and those who lean toward each party) say they are “satisfied” with the way things are going, although Democrats are nearly three times as likely as Republicans to have a positive view.
As for President Biden, he is also struggling to keep the public mood upbeat, starting his second year in office with diminished job approval and majorities expressing little or no confidence in his handling of the economy or the pandemic.
Sports usually cheers us up, but not this year. NBC is facing a cataclysmic loss of audience for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Viewership hit a low point for the opening ceremony, averaging just 16 million viewers. It was a record low for the opening ceremony (20.1 million for 1988 in Calgary was the previous record), and a whopping 43 percent below the 2018 Games in South Korea, which notched 28.3 million viewers despite dealing with a less than advantageous Asian time zone for American audiences.
It comes on the heels of last Thursday’s ratings disaster, which saw just 7.7 million people tune in, dramatically below same-night audiences of 2018 (16 million) and 2014 from Russia (20.02 million).
Even winning gold medals might not cheer up the U.S. athletes, many of whom are deeply unhappy with conditions in Beijing, from the hotels to the COVID-19 policies.
Not having the United States formally recognize the games also puts a damper on things, although China’s negative human rights record deserves recognition. Sports is a form of diplomacy, and China has certainly not earned a gold medal for its treatment of dissidents, journalists and Uyghurs, nor has it respected intellectual property.
Americans need to get in a better mood. But how?
First, we might lean on news organizations to dig up some better stories. Negative news tends to proliferate during times of crisis, like an impending war between Russia and Ukraine, discussion of controversies on Spotify, constant updates about the number of COVID cases around the world, etc. All these stories deserve coverage, but having an endless parade of talking heads drone on about the world’s problems could be balanced with a few more good news tales of heroism or ordinary life in America.
Second, getting inflation under control would help ease American insecurity about the future. Rising prices depress ordinary Americans and those who invest in the volatile stock market. It is impossible to ask people to be happy about paying more and earning less. Even though jobs are readily available, child care is not. Schools are open but teachers are exhausted.
Third, we need daily reminders of the generosity and grace of human beings and to engage with our own communities to create a sense of inclusion. With anxiety at record high levels, we must reach out to others with compassion.
Mood matters. With springtime around the corner, this is the season to pull together and lift spirits. The world is watching us. If we can find a way to convey a sense of optimism, we might start feeling it.
Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
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