Is America Failing or Improving?

Cynicism and despondency are easy to find in America today. Scan the headlines or peruse your social networks, and you will come across plenty of doomsday prophecies and disgruntled gripes.

But is our media an accurate representation of our national character and status? James Fallow believes that it is not. While some would have us believe that we are crumbling toward a nearly inevitable collapse, Fallow argues that the reality is much more positive and productive once we dig beneath the turbulent and disagreeable veneer.

In his article “The Reinvention of America” in The Atlantic this month, Fallow attests that “Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.”

Fallow should know - a reporter and pilot, he and his wife have spent the last several years traveling throughout the country from small town to small town in their two-seater propeller plane. What they have found outside the metropolitan centers which generally dictate our headlines, is that common Americans are far more sanguine than we would be led to believe by politicians who are seeking our vote or journalists who are trying to sell papers.

“I am well aware that this message runs so counter to prevailing emotions and ideas as to seem preposterous,” Fallow writes. But, as he points out, “reporting is the process of learning what you didn’t know before you showed up. And by showing up in Mississippi and Kansas and South Dakota and inland California and Rust Belt Pennsylvania, we saw repeated examples of what is happening in America’s here and now that have important and underappreciated implications for America’s future.”

Quick to admit that there are certainly obvious ways in which the country has devolved and drifted from its compass, Fallow identifies a number of significant issues in which we are growing stronger and better. These include civic governance, schools, manufacturing, conservation, and several other indicators which he explores and explains in depth.

Fallow also points out an interesting discrepancy in the views that many Americans profess about the country as a whole versus the sense of their own local communities. Citing a national study from 2016, he reports that “only 36 percent of Americans thought the country as a whole was headed in the right direction. But in the same poll, two-thirds of Americans said they were satisfied with their own financial situation, and 85 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their general position in life and their ability to pursue the American dream. Other polls in the past half-dozen years have found that most Americans believe the country to be on the wrong course—but that their own communities are improving.”

The picture that Fallow paints is of a country that is flourishing in spite of its negative self-image. The implication of his findings, which will be published in greater depth in his upcoming book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, seems to be that it is not from our elected leaders or our national media that we will find an accurate portrayal of our nation. It is rather the common Americans, with our common dreams and our common decency, who can tell us what America truly is and what it has the very real potential to become.

Read Fallow’s “The Reinvention of America” here or by clicking the image above.

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