Supposedly 2016 is the Year of the Angry Voter. To hear the pundits tell it, Americans are just furious.
Well, call me smug or out of touch, but I think it's mainly a fad. TV talking heads say they're supposed to be bitter, so suggestible people persuade themselves that they are. In interviews, people say that the "American Dream" has stagnated, and they're fearful about terrorism and crime.
Except that crime rates have decreased so much that the statistics can be hard to believe. Writing in Washington Monthly, Mike Males points out that in 1990 "nearly 500 [Los Angeles] teenagers died from gunfire and 730 were arrested for murder." In 2015, the numbers were 57 gun deaths and 65 homicide busts. This in a sprawling metropolis of 10 million.
Meanwhile, student test scores are up, dropout rates way down, and teenagers are having far fewer kids out of wedlock. College enrollments are rising. Not only in L.A., but across the country. One of my pet theories has always been that Rush Limbaugh fans get all steamed up because they're stuck in traffic, but maybe not.
As for terrorism, roughly 100 Americans have been slain by berserk ISIS supporters in the United States this year. That's terrible, and events in France have been appalling. But it helps to keep things in perspective: Anything could happen, but the average American is statistically more likely to be killed by a falling TV set than a terrorist attack.
Hotheads heat up when anybody says this, but ISIS has no air force, no navy and no real army. It is a negligible threat to national security. Remain calm.
Anyway, if you do get agitated, you may be suffering from what novelist Ted Mooney dubbed "information sickness." My advice would be to turn off TV news. "If it bleeds, it leads" is the motto of every local and cable-TV news program in America. Even on the high-dollar end. During a recent "60 Minutes" interview, Leslie Stahl told Donald Trump and Mike Pence, "I don't remember the last time we've seen a world in this much chaos."
Needless to say, both candidates quickly agreed. Fear and anger are all they've got.
Now Stahl's even older than I am, so she surely remembers 1968. The United States had over 500,000 soldiers fighting the bloody, pointless Vietnam War. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April, and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was killed in June. Riots broke out in Washington, Chicago, Baltimore and elsewhere. In August, Chicago cops and anti-war protestors fought wild street battles during the Democratic convention. The GOP gifted the nation with Richard M. Nixon.
You want chaos? That's chaos.
Perhaps spending more time with her grandchildren might settle Stahl down. I find that baseball has a calming effect. A couple of hours watching the Red Sox or Cubs takes me to a different world — complex, dramatic, often suspenseful, but just a ballgame.
Also, it's not for everybody, but I talked with a police detective the other day about our shared pastime of caring for cows. Nothing restores balance like half an hour among the herd.
But if it's outrage you want, Trump's your man. Indeed, most "Angry Voter" interviews appear to have been conducted at Trump or Bernie Sanders rallies, the equivalent of seeking supporters of marijuana legalization at a Dead and Co. show. Not exactly a valid sample.
But anyway, criticize their hero, and you learn fast who many Trump supporters are. "Jason" writes, "YOU SHOULD BE WATERBOARDED AND THEN HAVE TRUMP [DEFECATE] IN YOUR MOUTH AND THEN BE SENT TO GITMO WITH THE REST OF THE AMERICAN TRAITORS."
Sexual insults are common: "I bet you are a cross dresser," offers "Karyn." "Do you fantasize about replacing Huma Abedin as Hillary's lesbian lover? NEWS FLASH! American voters see right through you degenerate propagandists ... Hope to see a group picture of all you media whores jumping off the ledge and killing yourselves after c**t Hillary loses."
Use of the c-word to describe the Democratic nominee in messages ostensibly written by women is common, a first in my experience. Maybe that's because email routing marks indicate that some messages may originate in Russia. "Karyn," for example, would appear to be a foul-mouthed little elf in Vladimir Putin's cyber-workshop.
Interesting, don't you think?
Washington Monthly's Males also points that if there's one demographic group in America feeling justifiably left out, it's working class white men over 45 — the core of Trump's alienated supporters. They got screwed in the 2008 crash, and the Obama recovery hasn't reached them — partly due to age and lack of job skills, partly where they live.
No matter who's elected, coal mines aren't coming back.
Trump's save-the-billionaires economics wouldn't help working class whites anyway. But Trump can't win.
Scare-mongering aside, most Americans have experienced real progress under President Obama. They remain hopeful for more.