America’s Desperate Need for Optimism

Donald Trump says America is going to hell. He says what’s happening to America is “disgraceful.” Other Republican candidates seem just as outraged.

Americans are full of anger and angst. Or so we’re told by … well, almost everyone, it seems: polls, Fox News, The New York Times, this guy. But are things really that bad? Consider these facts:

That’s not to say America doesn’t have challenges, many of them very serious: ISIS, stagnant wages, gridlock in Congress, just to name a few. But America has always faced challenges. Are our issues today any worse than in any other decade in American history? For example:

  • The Afghanistan and Iraq wars, 9/11, and exploding deficits of the 2000s
  • The soaring crime rate, the Gulf War, the Oklahoma City bombing in the 1990s
  • A major recession and the AIDS crisis of the ’80s
  • Rampant inflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, Watergate and the resignation of a president, and the gas crisis of the ’70s
  • The Vietnam War, the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation, political assassinations, and social upheavals of the ’60s
  • The Korean War of the ’50s
  • World War II in the ’40s
  • The Great Depression in the ’30s

By comparison, our present-day troubles seem relatively manageable. So why all the heebie-jeebies from conservatives?

One reason, of course, is because they’re the opposition party to the president; it’s their job to exaggerate our troubles. Fair enough. But the pure vitriol directed at Obama is more than politics. Years of the Fox News/right-wing radio hyperbole machine have whipped the conservative rabble into a froth of anger and fear. They’ve convinced a good chunk of Americans that our country is falling apart at the seams.

Democrats cannot let that meme go unchallenged. It’s time to start spreading some good news about our country.

And Americans are desperate to hear it. After the trauma of the Great Recession, voters are hungry for an optimistic message. People want to feel good about their lives and their country. And at the moment, there’s no reason they shouldn’t. Americans will love candidates who can prove to them that America is doing well, and getting better all the time.

Positivity is the second of the 7 Winning Messages for Democrats. It is the hallmark of our era’s most successful politicians—Obama, Clinton, and Reagan.

Of course, in an odd way it’s a bit risky to preach good news. It’s always dangerous to tell people they shouldn’t feel what they feel. Democrats should be careful not to blame voters for feeling angry or afraid. They should blame Republicans instead—for their relentless pessimism and negativity. And, of course, the timing will have to be right. This probably isn’t the time at the moment, with Americans focused on the threat of terrorism.

Democrats should also be careful to acknowledge that the U.S. has serious problems that need addressing. The message is that our problems are solvable, and no worse than the kinds of issues Americans have always faced with a spirit of optimism, innovation, compromise, and resiliency.

In our post tomorrow, we’ll give an example of an imaginary speech from Hillary Clinton that will show how this can be done.

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