They’re calling us chumps, and a lot of us seem to like it.
Donald Trump keeps saying, “This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”
This glum message makes the billionaire a natural fit for the GOP, which has stubbornly stoked popular resentment even as President Obama has delivered on his core 2008 campaign promises by reviving the economy, reforming health care and winding down our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the left, Bernie Sanders paints an equally stark portrait of national peril: Americans are victims of a rigged political and economic system that cynically exploits the innocent masses to enrich the sinister 1%.
Voters across the political spectrum seem determined to reward the candidates who most emphatically affirm their feelings of inferiority.
When did so many of us become such pitiful sad sacks?
For most of our history, Americans have thought of themselves as winners, as people on the rise with past achievements to revere, a present worth cherishing, and a bright future ahead.
That fundamentally optimistic attitude promoted progress. Our forebears recognized themselves as the authors of their own destiny, and acted accordingly. They were imperfect like us, but they appreciated what they had while working to address the problems of their time. Our greatest leaders instilled confidence and appealed to our best instincts. They showed us how to come together and help ourselves.
By contrast, many of the people vying for national leadership today see us as chumps and victims — failures who need scapegoats to blame and a savior to show us to the Promised Land.
Fortunately, that snake oil sales pitch has never succeeded in the U.S. When it has worked in other times and places, it never ends well. Scoundrels want to make you feel like a victim because they’re getting ready to victimize you.
Certainly, our country faces serious challenges. No generation ever lacked for problems to solve, but historical perspective is helpful here. None of today’s issues begin to approach the gravity of the American Revolution, the Civil War, the world wars, the Great Depression or the Cold War.
Taking an international view also helps. Six billion people on this planet would gladly trade their problems for ours. Nothing we face compares to living in a war zone or enduring Third World poverty, repressive governments, massive refugee crises, etc.
With our forebears, we are the authors of the blessings we enjoy. With our ancestors, we created our own problems, too — both by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
We need to take responsibility for solving those problems. To do this, we need leaders who bring out our strengths, not charlatans who prey on our weaknesses. We need leaders who refuse to exploit our basest instincts, who instead appeal to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.
Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Nor should we ever vote for anyone who sees us as losers.