Seven years of Barack Obama’s bright and cheery optimism and America is suffering from despair. The president and his flunkies assure us that things are great. The economy has recovered; unemployment is low; the stock market is high; everyone has health insurance; black lives matter; white privilege has been diminished; we have declared war on climate change.
No one much cares about winning wars. We now care that the military is politically correct. No one much cares about growing the economy. We now care about social justice. We are not debating tax policy. We are mired in a public discussion about transgendered restrooms.
For those who believe the goals are not incompatible, the evidence says otherwise.
However good the Obamaphile media thinks the country is doing, a closer look at the American psyche tells a different story. Suicide rates have not quite reached 1932 levels but they have been going up.
For most of America the Obama recovery has been a mirage. The rich have gotten richer while the rest have languished. The middle class has been hit the hardest. More and more people have fallen out of the middle class and are just scraping by… if that.
The good economic news seems more to have been produced by the Federal Reserve. Moneyprinting has enriched a precious few while economic policy has left the rest behind.
In a self-pitying essay for The Atlantic Neal Gabler recently described his own financial problems. Perhaps it’s a symptom of our times that writers are obliged to write about their penurious circumstances and their financial mismanagement, but one would have preferred that he had been more discreet. To be fair, more discreet means fewer readers and lower fees. In our culture, exhibitionism pays. Surely, this fact contributes to the general despondency.
Americans are living through a period of economic decline. Beyond the misery lie the statistics. The one that stands out, to Gabler and to us is this: How many Americans have enough emergency funds on hand to pay for an unexpected $400 expense?
The response amazes:
The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
A once great nation has been brought low by electing the wrong politicians. Never let anyone tell you that the Obama administration has not been transformative. It has just transformed the nation for the worst. It looks good on the outside, but the façade covers up a rotting interior.
With the economic decline Americans have also suffered a loss of self-respect. Or is it vice versa. When the president and the first lady do not have pride in their country—or better when they believe that the only reason to have any pride lies in the fact that the country put them in the White House—everyone else will lose pride, lose confidence, lose their optimism and fall into despondency and hopelessness.
Peggy Noonan describes what a political operative found when he was walking through a New Hampshire neighborhood trying to collect votes for Jeb Bush:
Out door-knocking for Jeb Bush, “I was struck as I walked along a neighborhood using the app that described the voters in each house. So many multigenerational families of odd collections of ages in houses with missing roof shingles or shutters askew or paint peeling. Cars needing repair.”
What was the story inside those houses? Unemployment, he thought, elder care, divorce, custody battles. “It was easy to see a collective loss of hope in a once-thriving town.” He sensed “years of neglect and sadness. Something is brewing.”
It’s not just the economic loss. Many Americans feel that they have fallen down and do not know how to get up again. Or better, they do not think that they will ever get up again. Within three generations the greatest and most dynamic nation in the world has been rendered weak and ineffectual, humiliated on the world stage, led by a man who does not believe in America. When you elect Jeremiah Wright’s protégé, what do you expect?
Moreover, Noonan’ observes that Americans are suffering from broken homes and families, from broken communities. They no longer know who they are and where they belong. All the talk about being a fully-actualized individual has produced a nation where more and more people feel alone and isolated, cut off from their social moorings. This has led to more despair and more suicides.
The New York Times offers an interesting report:
Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.
The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the period of the study, while it rose by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. The overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the study on Friday.
The increases were so widespread that they lifted the nation’s suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. In all, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014, compared with 29,199 in 1999.
Middle aged women had been told that they did not need a man and did not need a marriage. All they needed was career success. How did that work out? Young white women, we learn, are becoming more suicidal. The situation for teenaged girls—the sexting generation, a generation that has been spoon-fed feminism-- was not very encouraging, either:
Researchers also found an alarming increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The number of girls who killed themselves rose to 150 in 2014 from 50 in 1999. “This one certainly jumped out,” said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and an author of the report.
The white lower middle class has suffered the most. Told that their accomplishments counted for nothing, they began to die off sooner. They were told that they has gamed the system by profiting from white privilege and that they needed to be knocked down a peg, the better to give everyone else a chance. They were told that there is nothing special about America and that there was nothing exceptional about the nation they worked to build and to defend. Bereft of their pride, they are living in hopelessness and misery:
Recent research has highlighted the plight of less educated whites, showing surges in deaths from drug overdoses, suicides, liver disease and alcohol poisoning, particularly among those with a high school education or less. The new report did not break down suicide rates by education, but researchers who reviewed the analysis said the patterns in age and race were consistent with that recent research and painted a picture of desperation for many in American society.
The federal health agency’s last major report on suicide, released in 2013, noted a sharp increase in suicide among 35- to 64-year-olds. But the rates have risen even more since then — up by 7 percent for the entire population since 2010, the end of the last study period — and federal researchers said they issued the new report to draw attention to the issue.
Psychiatrists believe that the solution is more psychiatric treatment. Surely, there is some truth in the proposition. And yet, the problem is also political and sociological. Even the best medication is unlikely to heal this condition.
The Times analyzes the social aspect of the problem, the social isolation and the anomie:
Julie Phillips, a professor of sociology at Rutgers who has studied suicide among middle-aged Americans, said social changes could be raising the risks. Marriage rates have declined, particularly among less educated Americans, while divorce rates have risen, leading to increased social isolation, she said. She calculated that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves. The divorce rate has doubled for middle-aged and older adults since the 1990s, she said.
Disappointed expectations of social and economic well-being among less educated white men from the baby-boom generation may also be playing a role, she said. They grew up in an era that valued “masculinity and self-reliance” — characteristics that could get in the way of asking for help.
“It appears this group isn’t seeking help but rather turning to self-destructive means of dealing with their despair,” Professor Phillips said.
Another possible explanation: an economy that has eaten away at the prospects of families on the lower rungs of the income ladder.