The Wall Street Journal published a poll this week in conjunction with NBC that found, among other things, 76 percent of respondents did not feel confident that their children’s generation will have a better life than they. That’s up from 60 percent in 2007. We’re jaded—which, in a nation built by immigrants striving to better their families’ fortunes, seems somehow wrong.
A CBS and New York Times poll cited in a Gallup compilation shows a peak in American optimism in December of 2001. Seventy-one percent of respondents believed in a brighter future for the next generation, despite the burst of the dot-com bubble and the attacks on the Twin Towers. When the world was at its worst, we felt up to the task of putting the pieces back together, united by a common enemy and a kind of renewed patriotism
Yet the recession pushes on endlessly, pummeling pocket books, and war has wearied bandwagon hawks and sapped the spirit. The percentage of American adults who believe the country is on the wrong track jumped 8 percentage points just this summer, to 71 percent, the WSJ poll found. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the tenuous ceasefire in Gaza, the tensions between Russia and NATO, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, all wrack our neves.
But step back: If our confidence in 2001 might have been a bit misguided, perhaps the same should be true for pessimism now. America has weathered recessions before, and in the grand scheme of things, there may be some juice in the tank yet. As the potential for war, the twenty-first century would have to be quite terrible indeed to come even close to a fraction of the bloodshed of the twentieth.
The realist recognizes that the world is a virulently volatile place and realizes it was so in their life, even the times they thought of as good. So it shall be in the times of their children. The next generations’ lives probably won’t be worse; they’ll probably be only just as bad.