Matthew Yglesias has an important piece in the Washington Post that explains why politics are so horrible right now. He answers why people are so fearful and angry:
This hostility is not about the midterms; it is a consequence of the economic downturn, every bit as much as foreclosures and layoffs. When personal incomes stop growing, people become less broad-minded, and suspicion of foreigners and other ethnic groups grows. We have seen this time and again, in this country and in others.
Fear, in essence, begets fear. The loss of a job, or the worry that one might be lost, raises anxiety. This often plays out as increased suspicion of people who look different or come from different places. While times of robust growth and shared prosperity inspire feelings of interconnectedness and mutual gain, in times of worry, the picture quickly reverses. Views of the world turn zero-sum: If he wins, what do I lose? Any kind of change looks like decline — the end of a “way of life.”
And here’s his prescription:
The lesson is simple: The current controversies are ultimately byproducts of our economic morass. To really dispel the atmosphere of suspicion, what’s needed are ideas about how to boost the economy to bring unemployment down and earnings up. Finding policies that do all this will not be easy, but it is the only way to turn the national mood around.
Yglesias focuses on the xenophobia that’s been on display this year, but you can see exactly the same pattern when it comes to environmental policy. People are unwilling to confront or even acknowledge the long term consequences of global warming when they face potential deprivation in the short term.
This has been the great lesson of my adult life. Things never have to get worse before they can get better. Disasters can sometimes bring out the best in people for short periods of time, but sustained hardship always pushes people down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.