The funk we are in

Published September 8, 2022

By Tom Campbell

Labor Day signals the end of summer for many and has been a good time to reflect on where things stand and look ahead for things to come. In my reflection over the holiday, I would say that we – our country and our state – are in a funk and we either cannot or will not pull ourselves out of it.

You might remember laughing and singing along with Buck Owens and Roy Clark on the old television show Hee Haw when they sang, “Gloom, despair and agony on me. Deep, dark depression, excessive misery.” It was humorous back then because we have always been a nation of optimistic, hopeful people who believed tomorrow would be better. We applauded our encouragement when Ronald Reagan called America the “shining city on a hill.” But we wouldn’t laugh so much to Owens and Clark right now; their song pretty well sums up the prevalent mood today.

How stinkin’ is our thinkin’? Listen to Americans:  A November 2021 NBC news poll revealed that 71 percent think America is on the wrong track. The American National Family Life survey of 5,000 adults released in March reports 53 percent are generally somewhat or very pessimistic about our future. 49 percent have little confidence in the federal government or its leaders to deal with our challenges. One in three believes violence against the government can be sometimes justified, according to a January Washington Post/University of Maryland poll. The Economist/YouGov poll just reported that 43 percent believe it is likely a civil war will break out in the next decade.

Pew Research said 73 percent believe the gap between the rich and poor will grow. 44 percent believe the average family’s standard of living will decline. 72 percent say older adults are less financially prepared for retirement and will have to continue working into their 70’s. Our racial schisms are worse than seen in decades and nowhere is disunity more evident than in LGBTQ issues. Heck, we can’t even agree on our own history.

There’s no question that the pandemic disrupted our lives in more ways than we ever imagined. Not only did it change the way we work, shop and spend our leisure time, but it also altered our interactions with family and friends. And whether you applaud him or loathe him you have to admit that the “Disrupter in Chief,” Donald Trump, has driven big wedges in our unity.

We’ve lost trust in our institutions, especially our government (both state and national) and in those in it who demonstrate more concern for their own or their party’s welfare than for the common good. We watch businesses demonstrate that the trickle-down theory isn’t trickling.  Big companies, who benefitted from large government handouts, used excessive profits to jack up already record high executive pay or buy back their own stock rather than increase their value to customers, their employees or communities. Many employees, either laid off or allowed to work from home, don’t want to return to the office. And many others decided not to go back to jobs where they aren’t appreciated or adequately paid.

Anger and rage are increasingly common on our highways, public gatherings and especially our schools. Many of us are fearful of large crowds at concerts, sporting and public events. And just when it felt like we were recovering from the pandemic, inflation soared and people are worried about having enough to fill their tanks and their tummies.

And face it. The media hasn’t helped. As someone in the media I hate to acknowledge much of the media appear to be flame-fanners, endlessly grinding and repeating our problems, with precious little reporting of the better angels among us…and there are plenty of them! But that kind of news doesn’t attract eyeballs or sell advertising.

North Carolina, perhaps more than any state in the nation, should be rejoicing. Our unemployment rates are at historic lows, plenty of jobs are available and we’ve experienced a record year of announcements from new companies bringing more jobs. Tourism has enjoyed a great year. State coffers have swollen to record amounts. And while North Carolina has its problems (some are pretty big) there is much reason for optimism. But Tarheel attitudes are no better than the rest of the nation.

Throughout our nation’s history there have been periods of division, distrust, disruption, disunity and discouragement, but we’ve always come out of them. The Civil War, two world wars and the Great Depression of 1929 stand out. But leaders emerged to help us up and out. In the throes of the depression FDR said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Let us pray for leaders who can encourage and elevate us, to help us believe again and to restore our pride. And in those prayers ask for that help to emerge soon.