A recent survey funded by The Wall Street Journal showed some dramatic changes in the attitudes of our neighbours to the south.
For example, two of Americans’ most cherished institutions, religion and patriotism, have suffered a major decline in their popularity.
Since 1998, those saying religion was very important to them declined from 62 to 39 percent. Other polls show that Americans’ membership in houses of worship has dropped below 50 percent for the first time in 80 years of surveys while thousands of churches close down every year. The percentage with “no religious identity” has risen from near zero to about one-fifth of the adult population.
To some extent, Americans are just going with the flow as the decline in religiosity is a global phenomenon although they are still more religious than other Western peoples.
Flag-waving, too, has taken a hit. The share saying patriotism was very important to them declined from 70 to 38 percent. A Gallup poll agreed, finding a record low in the share of people who are extremely proud to be Americans.
Other values have also suffered declines, including having children and being involved in the community. Surprisingly, considerably more Americans believe a college education is not worth the cost than think it is. Apparently this is because of the belief that people often graduate without job skills and a with large debt. Four times more were not confident than were that their children’s lives would be better than theirs.
Declining also is trust in their fellow citizens. In the early 1970s, about half of Americans believed most people were trustworthy, now it’s less than one-third.
The respondents were asked about issues on which society had gone too far or not far enough. Not far enough exceeded too far for equality between men and women, accepting gays, and businesses and schools promoting diversity. Too far exceeded not far enough for accepting trans people. A solid majority believe that transgender athletes should only play on teams that match the sex assigned at their birth. Using gender-neutral pronouns was not popular.
Some values continue to be highly valued including hard work, tolerance, self-fulfillment and money.
Money, considered very important by 31 percent in 1998, is now considered very important by 43 percent. Eighty percent believe the economy is poor/not so good while only 20 percent thought it is excellent/good with inflation a major concern for two-thirds.
This increased concern about money is less likely about getting rich and more about the precarity of much modern employment. Despite the current booming job market, less than half believe they could find another job with approximately the same income and fringe benefits they now have.
Overall, the survey suggests an America lacking in optimism and confidence. Perhaps too many have taken Trump’s bad-mouthing of the nation to heart. In a recent speech in Texas he declared “We are a failing nation … We are a nation that is hostile to liberty, freedom, and faith. We are a nation whose economy has collapsed … We are a nation that no longer has a free and fair press. …We are a nation that lost its confidence, willpower, and strength.”
With a large part of the population listening to this, many may have come to believe it. Deirdre McCloskey, emerita professor at the University of Illinois, argues that Trump is at least somewhat responsible for the decline in Americans’ attachment to what she called the American idea: “If, as Trump did, you can persuade people to look with pessimism on the American Idea, it will fade.” Whether or not Trump created the fade, he certainly exploits it.
We now have the leader of the official opposition, Pierre Poilievre, telling his crowds that everything is broken in our country. Will the Canadian Idea also fade?