Maybe it’s because I wasn’t born in America but drawn here like so many millions of my fellow immigrants that I sometimes see what is happening from a different vantage point.
I know very clearly what drew me here, for example. Something powerful enough to make me leave my homeland of England and become a US citizen. It’s a feeling, and like many feelings it is hard to put into words. But recently it has become easier. Watching what is going on in American society – not just in politics, but that is where our problems are most blindingly obvious – I have brought it down to just one word. Positivity.
It was America’s positivity that was like a magnet to me. Everything from Old Blue Eyes singing. “If you can make it here you can make it anywhere” to my personal reality of being able to make it in the advertising world with no formal educational qualifications, just my penchant for ideas and a way with words.
Now, we all know that anything can be faked. And this is what I would say to anyone who maintains that this country still has that aura of positivity. We are faking it.
We are faking it because we know, deep inside all of us – born here or otherwise – that this was America’s magic. And it’s gone.
Pick up any newspaper – or read any news site on your iPad – and you’ll see it’s not just that there’s more bad news. We’ve always had bad news. No, it’s more than that, it’s the tone of everything…the spin put on everything. All negative.
Thanks to Facebook and others we are now in a Like/Don’t Like world. No wonderful gray areas, no openings for the kind of conversation that once actually changed people’s minds, no coming together for the common good.
Anyone not for me is against me. That’s today’s mantra.
America, once driven by positivity is now drowning in negativity. School kids will openly tell you they “hate” this or that classmate. Using the word hate as casually as they use the word love.
The American dream was dreamed by a country that believed a rising tide lifts all boats. It was a country that once had room for everyone, a country that would still be largely a beautiful wilderness if not for immigration.
Nowhere is the new American negativity on show more than in Washington. The entire purpose of the Republican party right now is not to ask, What can we do? It’s to ask, How can we stop the other guy doing anything? Congress looks more like the Great Hall at Hogwarts with all the students engaged in a giant food fight. It bears little resemblance to intelligent, thoughtful, caring government.
Everything is driven by polls. I read today that some poll or other showed that “Obamacare is becoming less popular”. More negativity. What this piece was really telling me was, A whole bunch of people who probably do not know all the details, all the positive attributes and effects of this law, have decided they don’t like it as much as they once did and therefore you should fall in line and dislike it too. Sorry, not going to happen. A step in the right direction is a step in the right direction even if it’s not perfect.
Personally I believe the new American negativity comes from lack of knowledge. Our sound-bite driven society has reached a point where we know very little about a lot of things. And with such scant understanding of often complex issues it’s far easier to be negative than positive. People listen only as long it takes to reach the first opinion or fact that they can shoot down. That’s seen as contributing these days. (As I mentioned in an earlier post, people were posting comments on the president’s State of the Union address and he’d only been speaking for one minute!)
Americans used to be shining examples of positivity because they knew that over the long term their country would get better and better, it would evolve by doing the right thing, it had reason to have faith in its political and business leaders. But now with crooks running Wall Street, ideological bigots running rampant in Washington and so many of our kids with no higher aspirations than to emulate the brainless stars of reality TV, negativity has become the foundation for most of our daily discourse.
When Tim Cook’s defense of Apple’s tax avoidance schemes amounted to nothing more than, Well everyone else does it, he sounded like a young girl caught posting bullying comments about another young girl on line. Only difference is that girl is hurting one person (which is despicable) and Apple is hurting millions from a distance by denying the government the revenue it needs to actually run the country. Apple is not really the worst offender – Big Oil is – but I was hoping for a smarter response from them and a more helpful discussion of how and why our corporate tax structure may need to change.
It will take us years to change the culture of Wall Street and Washington. Those minds are set and probably cannot be changed. The only hope is to focus on who replaces them when they do us the ultimate favor and die. And the only place we can start is with the children. From what little contact I have with today’s teenagers, they are the most negative people of all, having grown up in this environment and known no other. So our only hope is the younger kids. Can we raise a generation that talks less about American exceptionalism and more about American positivity? This country and the world will be better for it.
Positive and negative will always exist in a symbiotic relationship. But these two forces are seriously out of balance in America today. I hate to admit it but I think we baby boomers may be largely to blame. Raised on optimism we actually thought we’d live forever and all get rich. I’m afraid the children of the 60s didn’t age well…we turned into the greed generation somewhere along the line. Money became our religion and the country has paid the price. But that’s probably another post.