It was 1980. My first involvement in a political campaign.
The economy was in a shambles. Runaway inflation was 14.5 percent. Costs were so high that many Americans struggled to buy basic groceries.
Interest rates hit 20 percent, and most Americans were not buying houses or cars, and those that did, paid a huge chunk on the interest alone.
Unemployment was around 8 percent, some states were in double digits, and it was quickly rising. We were in the midst of an energy crisis as gas prices hit record highs and there long lines at the pump.
Our patriotism was low after America pulled out of the summer Olympics, leaving our athletes crushed. And who can forget the 52 American hostages being held captive in Iran. A failed rescue attempt by the Carter administration only made us look weaker in the eyes of the world.
People were angry. Rightfully.
But people in 2016 seem to be even angrier than they were in 1980. Why is this?
A jobs report Friday showed the economy picking up, over 215,000 new jobs added in March alone. The unemployment rate is now 5 percent, much lower than it was five years ago. We have virtually no inflation, no high interest rates and gas prices have dropped significantly. America is not involved in a military struggle involving troops on the ground, and it’s been fifteen years since nearly 3,000 innocent people died in a terrorist attack on our own soil.
So what is it that is making people so angry?
Let me take a crack at it:
On the political right, there is a real anger about Barack Obama.
There is something about him that makes the right lose their minds. Perfectly rational people I know become completely irrational when his name is mentioned. We first saw this when the tea party burst onto the scene shortly after his inauguration. Then there was the birther movement, questioning his Hawaii-issued birth certificate.
Our first African American president has been a tough pill to swallow for many Americans, whether they admit it publicly or not.
Conservatives were angry when Obama won in 2008, but they have been super angry since he fought back millions of dollars in attack ads and won again in 2012. Even though Republicans control the House and Senate, along with a vast majority of governors and state legislatures across America, Obama occupies the Oval Office and rage prevents them from working with him.
Sen Mitch McConnell told his fellow GOP senators, shortly after Obama won, that their top legislative priority was to defeat anything he proposed. That set up toxic showdowns on everything from budgets, to foreign policy, to judicial appointments, to shutting the government down. And, incidentally, when the federal government reopened conservatives were super incensed at that too.
Add the many social changes going on in the country – same sex marriage, marijuana legalization, changing demographics, religious affiliations dropping – and fear becomes a partner with rage.
So anger at Obama is what has led us to the billionaire reality TV host Donald Trump.
On the political left, there is a real anger about Barack Obama.
Yes, liberals and progressives strongly supported him both in 2008 and 2012. But when it comes to a progressive record, history may record little.
On health care, progressives wanted a single-payer health care system, not a personal mandate. While conservatives hate the Affordable Care Act, the fact is it was based on a Heritage Foundation plan and Mitt Romney’s program in Massachusetts. Obamacare creates competition within a health care exchange. The left wanted the government to run it, much like Medicare.
Progressives also wanted to see the NRA brought to its knees. Instead they’ve watched Obama sign laws allowing concealed guns in national parks and on board Amtrak trains. Even after the massacre at Sandy Hook and the assassination attempt on a member of congress the gun lobby has not been slowed.
On trade, the left wanted much tougher action on trade deals that they believe outsource jobs and suppress wages. But Obama has held steadfast on free trade, including supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.
On Wall Street, no executives went to prison after taxpayers saved banks and financial institutions at the start of Obama’s presidency. The president himself has received millions in contributions from Wall Street for his campaigns.
And education? Tuition is still expensive for young people, putting some college careers on hold. And student college loan debt is through the roof. Obama has made none of that free.
So anger at Obama, and what turned out to be his centrist record, is what has led us to the Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.
But c’mon folks.
This is not 1980 when high inflation, interest rates, unemployment, gas prices and hostages in Iran were crippling us as a nation. There were reasons to be angry then.
This is not 1968 when bloody demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention were about war and peace and death. There were reasons to be angry then.
Our anger today seems to be a self perpetuating form of self loathing in this social media age. It’s destroying the American psyche. Other nations are wondering, “why are they doing this to themselves?”
We need to start remembering what our grandmothers taught us in our youth. Kindness, civility, respect for others and an optimistic attitude that we can do anything if we set our minds to it.
We need to remember those days when economic conditions were really tough and personal sacrifices – including our many veterans who gave their lives for our freedom – had to be made.
Snap out of if America. Before we create the very misery we insist we already have.