The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

July 12, 2014

America: Land of the free and home of the pessimistic?

ENID, Okla. — America is going down the proverbial tubes.

That, at least, seems to be the assessment of people responding to a new Gallup poll that measured the extent of freedom in 135 different countries.

The United States was ranked No. 33 in that poll, right between Bahrain and Cameroon.

So Americans are not as free as people who live in Bahrain? Apparently. Since the poll doesn’t define freedom, that assessment seems to come from those who are discouraged about the direction this country is taking.

The U.S. is one of the few countries where people perceive that their freedoms are diminishing.

Of 100 nations where Gallup measured changes in the level of freedom over the past five years, 75 showed improvement while 21 registered a decline.

Of the 21, only five countries report a sharper drop in the level of freedom than the U.S. Two of those are Syria and Afghanistan. Think about that a minute, the United States is lumped in with a couple of countries where war and armed uprisings are a way of life. Plus, Syria is a dictatorship while Afghanistan is a struggling democracy in which many areas remain dominated by the ruthless and despotic Taliban.

Are things really that bad here? Apparently so, at least according to those answering a poll conducted by Pew Research.

They asked Americans whether or not the U.S. is the No. 1 nation in the world.

Only 28 percent of those polled answered in the affirmative, down from 38 percent in 2011. Young people seem to be the most gloomy about their home country, with only 15 percent of those ages 18 to 29 saying the U.S. is the world’s top nation.

Even senior citizens aren’t as positive about the United States as they used to be. Only 40 percent said America is the best, down from 50 percent in 2011.

What has happened to American swagger?

Whatever happened to national pride? What has become of the can-do, damn-the torpedoes-and-full-speed ahead, never-say-die American attitude?

It seems to be in the can. The torpedoes are apparently duds. The never-say-die mentality has seemingly bit the dust.

Congress is hopelessly mired in gridlock, their little legislative tea party having devolved into endless partisan bickering. And the president isn’t faring much better in American public opinion, either. Mr. Obama’s approval rating is right down there in the depths with that of Congress.

The economy continues lumping along through a sluggish recovery, with American household wealth still some 40 percent lower than it was before the Great Recession.

America is dealing with myriad other issues, as well, such as immigration, violence, crime, a skyrocketing budget deficit and poverty, among others.

So, what? Is America going in the dumper?

Let’s take a deep breath, people. We still have the freedom to agree, or disagree, whichever we choose. We have not lost the freedom of speech or the press, the right to assemble, the right to bear arms, the freedom from unlawful search and seizure, the right to a fair trial, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the right to do darn near anything we please as long as we don’t step on the rights of others.

Some say the American dream of getting ahead is getting out of reach, but we still have the right to dream it and the freedom to pursue it. It is not an easy goal, and to reach it for most requires hard work, high risk and sacrifice. But it is still a realistic aim.

Many of us don’t think this country is as great as it used to be. I say we are and we can be better. We still possess the same spirit that saw a stunned nation go from licking its wounds after Pearl Harbor to developing the finest fighting force on the planet.

The same spirit that saw us go from fearfully watching and listening as the Soviet Sputnik satellite orbited high over our heads, to watching Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon’s dusty surface just over a decade later, is still present.

The phrase “Yes we can” was co-opted into a slogan in 2008 by the Obama presidential campaign, and it has since become an object of ridicule for many on the other side of the political aisle.

But we can, whether we want to believe it or not. We can solve our problems, we can turn the economy around, we can reduce our debt, we can keep the American ship sailing proudly as it has since 1776.

But perhaps what we need to hear is a good dose of “No you can’t,” from our detractors both at home and abroad. Backing away from a fight, or a challenge, has never been the American way.

Tell us we can’t and we’ll do our damnedest to prove you wrong. Tell us we won’t and we’ll work like dogs to make you a liar. Tell us we shouldn’t and we’ll strive to prove that we shall.

So just keep on feeling gloomy about the good old USA. Keep predicting doom and gloom for the land of the free and the home of the brave.

That might just be the swift kick in the rear this country needs to shake us from our doldrums.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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