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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is America Losing Its Faith in Itself?

The Marble Collegiate Church at Fifth Avenue and 28th Street is famed as the home of Norman Vincent Peale...

Peale, if you are too young to remember, was a wildly successful motivational speaker who encouraged "The Power of Positive Thinking," and was part of the official optimism of the country during the 50's and 60's and even later.

His book sales were enormous as he urged people to positively think their way to a world and country where all things were obtainable.

Now the church's gate in front is draped with "Peace Ribbons" commemorating  military people fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as prayers for peace in general. 

The recession has hit hard and everyone knows it will take some time to emerge from it. But, on a deeper level, have Americans lost their traditional faith in the inevitable success of America?

Surely, there is no lack of immigrants who are searching for the "American Dream." And Obama's slogan of "Yes We Can" seemed to be a great protestation of faith in America's potential.

But you sense really negative undercurrents these days which contradict that American Dream idea. ( I remember one scene from an episode of "The Sopranos" where a Russian mob--related woman says to Tony Soprano, " Americans always act so surprised when things don't turn out for the best. In the rest of the world, people expect the worst, and they are usually not disappointed."

Noticed on my walk around Midtown the other day that new buildings are still being put up, and in the beautiful autumn sunshine the City looked so pleasant and appealing...

But New York has certain advantages other places do not. Consider the plight of Detroit or Newark. Does anyone really expect life there to realize the American Dream?

And the ravings on the Right get more and more strident and doom laden.

Finally, there is another big scare about the world coming to an end in 2012 (supposedly because of Mayan calendars ending then and some super-rare convergence of stars)-- there will even be a much ballyhooed motion picture about it.

Somehow, as during Vietnam, America isn't a very confident country these days and it looks like it's going to take a long time for that to change.