America is in a cloud of negativity. However, most of the morose outlooks are unjustified, for they involve a limited perspective.
For example, everyone reminisces about the Good Old Days. These Good Old Days are simpler times: children played in the street, neighbors looked after each other, and students got recess. Furthermore, there were no storms that displaced thousands, terrorism did not exist, and people only died of old age.
Of course, this is not an accurate depiction of America’s history. But how long does it take us to realize that this image is overly dramatic? When thinking about the past, peaceful images enter our minds. Maybe the past was in fact simpler, but it was not perfect. It is this easily forgotten fact that makes the modern era seem inferior to the way the country once was.
To be fair to declinists and non-affiliated pessimists, it might not be their fault that the past tends to have a golden fog around it. In his paper titled Memory, Monuments, and Conflict Patrick Christian notes that history “represents not truth, but an essential construction of the historical narrative of the audience” (2). In its essence, history is a collection of lived experiences and personal memories. If a group of people, whether intentionally or subconsciously, remembers events with a happier ending, it is more likely that their history will be taught with an overall positive tone.
It’s not just the past that is hurting America’s image, however- the present is too. The news seems to have become increasingly negative. Take CNN’s twitter page for example. It reports major headlines 24/7, and the vast majority of its tweets recount negative stories: those consisting of death, violence, natural disasters, corruption, or low economic performance. From doing a quick survey of CNN’s most recent one hundred tweets, forty-eight of them fit into the negative category (as I explained above), and only six are positive. The positive tweets highlight breakthrough inventions, progress in the economy, or relief from a natural disaster. The other forty-four are ‘neutral’ stories, meaning they function to remind the readers of CNN’s upcoming new show, feature an ice cream maker, or ask a poll question. Although it would not be credible or realistic to say that 86% of CNN’s ‘real news’ is negative, we can see that the trend is the news is overwhelmingly negative or neutral.
This is especially concerning, for the media highlights negative stories because they attract the most viewers. News programs have to compete with dramatic primetime TV shows, Youtube, and the Internet for attention, so they exclude the non-heart racing good news. Even though CNN is aware that the positive stories exist, they make a conscious choice to not recognize them because they are not as popular. Since the news is constantly available now, instead of just on Sunday mornings, it is easy to become engulfed in negativity, fueling the search for more of it.
Thus, Americans become somewhat obsessed with seeing the glass as half-full. It is a double edged sword: glorifying the past until it is an impossible Golden Age makes any modern day look worse, especially when the news and its viewers only give their attention to the negative events. With this narrowed perspective, America can do nothing but go downhill, and that isn’t fair to all of the progress that our country has made. Hate crimes protect all races in our nation even though the U.S. was once segregated and plagued by discrimination. Our African America president is working with Congress to expedite the economy’s recovery and to end the wars overseas. America is filled with innovators who are developing technology to save lives. Even with these accomplishments (and there are many more), however, our country is not a utopia filled with butterflies. But it hasn’t gone to Hell just yet either.
Allowing ourselves to appreciate the good can motivate us to create more good. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all a little more positive? More importantly though, seeing the whole picture makes us most realistic and pragmatic. We have to examine the past for what it truly was and search for the optimistic stories that happen daily. Thus, we can accurately evaluate the state of the country so that if America is actually in decline, we have the motivation to fix it and not just panic about it.