The Summer of Our Discontent

Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Posted: Apr 22, 2010 12:01 AM
The Summer of Our Discontent

Richard's famous soliloquy opens Shakespeare's play, "Richard III":

"Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

The first line is often quoted as though it were the entire story. "Now is the winter of our discontent," we are cold and unhappy. To be interpreted correctly, the first phrase needs to be connected with the second, "made glorious summer by this sun of York." We were unhappy, but now happy days are here again since Edward has recovered the throne.

Will the summer of American's discontent lead to a glorious winter for the American people?

According to "The People and Their Government," a poll by Pew Research Center released April 18, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe that "Congress is having a negative effect on the way things are going in this country today."

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Americans are very unhappy with the performance of the Congress, and when voters are unhappy, they take action. Less than a quarter (22 percent) of Americans say that they trust the government, according to the Pew poll. It notes, "The last time we were this weary of our government was from 1992 to 1995 (reaching as low as 17 percent in the summer of 1994), and 1978 to 1980 (bottoming out at 25 percent in 1980),"

Our weariness and unhappiness are leading to anger and frustration.

More than three-quarters of Americans are angry or frustrated with the federal government. Pew reports that 21 percent of Americans say they are angry, and 56 percent say they are frustrated with the federal government.

There is a reason that the Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration are pursuing financial reform. The category comprising banks and financial institutions was the only category that had a negative rating (69 percent) higher that of the government.

Other negative ratings included the following categories: large corporations -- 64 percent; national news media -- 57 percent; and the entertainment industry -- 51 percent.

The best way to deflect those who don't like you is to go after those whom your detractors dislike even more. It appears that this tactic might work, at least for the short term. But the summer is long and will be hot.

The high level of anger and frustration the American people feel toward their government (77 percent) is a harbinger of what is to come. People are moved out of complacency into action by anger and frustration. When anger and frustration take over, people feel as thought they are forced to act and must make changes.

For example, have you ever had a job you disliked? Most of us have, and normally we keep doing our job, showing up for work and ignoring what we do not like. Imagine if that dislike turns into anger and frustration with the way the company works. You become unable to focus on your job, but can only focus on your frustration and anger. You would begin to look for another job.

In the case of the American people, they don't look for another country, but instead, when they get fed up, begin to work toward replacing those in charge of their government.

When does change occur? When the current situation becomes so painful that it is less painful to make changes, changes occur.

What are people looking for in addition to financial reform? They are looking for less government: less regulation of business and less overreaching into state and local issues. Fifty-eight percent believes that the government "has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the free-enterprise system." The same percentage believes the "federal government is interfering too much in state and local matters."

A majority of Americans (53 percent) say that the federal government needs major reform, with Pew concluding that the survey found an increasingly negative view of government among voters that it attributed to "a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government -- a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials."

While it is almost a certainty that this summer will be hot, long and filled with political discontent, we will have to wait to see if this discontent can be turned into to a glorious winter.