Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm: Why Does This Ring a Bell?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Previously in the Hmmmm series, please see this, this, this, this, and this. The theme of the poll reported in today’s AP story is summed up thus:

Americans … are strikingly pessimistic about the national economy yet comparatively upbeat about their own financial circumstances.

Just 42 percent of adults describe the U.S. economy as good, according to a survey released Wednesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But two-thirds say their own households are faring well.

Ongoing theme in this space: the United States faces serious economic, political, and social challenges in this, its Second Gilded Age. But surprisingly large numbers of individuals, families, communities, and institutions feel as if the parts of the country they experience directly are figuring out ways to deal with the challenges, rather than just being crushed. Meanwhile the media and political temper of the times leads many people to assume that their local successes must be fortunate anomalies in a landscape that overall is bleak.

Serious challenges, yes; bleakness, no — this is something people recognize about their own communities, and I think should about the country.

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On the value-of-upbeatness front, I’ll take this opportunity to note that today would have been the 91st birthday of my father, Dr. James A. Fallows, known in his boyhood, for good reason, as Sunny Jim.