By MARK PENN
Published June 30, 2011
Just 10 years into a new century, more than two-thirds of the country sees the past decade as a period of decline for the U.S., according to a new TIME/Aspen Ideas Festival poll that probed Americans on the decade since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda seriously weakened, but the impact of the 9/11 attacks and the decisions that followed have, in the view of most Americans, put the U.S. in a tailspin that the country has been unable to shake during two administrations and almost 10 years of trying.
The poll confirms that the country is going through one of its longest sustained periods of unhappiness and pessimism ever. Today’s teenagers hardly remember a time before 9/11, the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq and constant economic upheaval. Baby boomers, the generation known for continuous reinvention, are filled with worry and doubt about their future and the future of their children.
It is hard to overstate what a fundamental change this represents. A country long celebrated for its optimism amid adversity is having trouble finding the pluck and the spirit that have seen it through everything from world wars to nuclear threats to space races. The U.S. usually bounces back after a few years of difficulty, such as the Vietnam War, Watergate or recessions. After two or three years of anxiety and worry, the electorate normally returns to its innate optimism. Yet the forces now aligned against the American people seem much more formidable to those we surveyed; the poll uncovered the kinds of attitudes we saw among Europeans during the decade after World War II.