Our Opinion: Unhappy Americans | N&R Editorials

We seem to be a disgruntled lot.

This week’s High Point University Poll drew negative responses to most of its questions.

Are things going in the right direction or wrong direction in the country? Seventy percent of respondents say the wrong direction.

President Donald Trump’s approval rating? Just 35 percent.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s? Only 44 percent.

Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis? Respectively, 29 percent and 33 percent.

How about Congress? A low, low, low 13 percent approve of the job Congress is doing.

Are things really that terrible? When it comes to politics, probably.

One reason why may be that, somehow, politicians don’t represent the people who elect them.

When the poll asked people to place themselves on the political spectrum, the largest group — 33 percent — said “moderate.”

How many elected leaders, at least on the state and national level, are moderate? Most are very conservative or very liberal. Hardly any are in the middle. How so many extremists get elected may be the political mystery of our time, although partisan primaries tend to produce the most partisan winners.

Strangely enough, when folks were asked whether they felt qualified to serve in elected office, few answered in the affirmative. Do they think the people who are in elected office are more qualified? They probably shouldn’t.

One vital qualification is a commitment to represent the interests of the people and not the agendas of a party or big campaign donors. That is where so many politicians fail the voters. If a candidate for office wants to serve the public first, that is an essential recommendation from the start.

So, are things really so dire? The economy continues to improve, creating more jobs nearly every month. Wages are slowly rising, while inflation remains low. The stock market is at an all-time high. The country’s direction on that front is positive.

But so much of the news is unsettling. Mass shootings. Protests for and against Confederate monuments, in one case triggering a deadly confrontation. Demonstrations about police actions, which even bleed into professional sports. Hurricanes, fires and the challenges of rebuilding. Concerns about health care, immigration, taxes. And, perhaps gravest of all, fears of a military confrontation continue to rise as sharp words are exchanged between our country and North Korea.

So, anxiety is high — and no one is doing anything to relieve it. We need words of reassurance but hear only anger, threats and hostility from our country’s leaders, especially the president. It’s frustrating, and perhaps it helps explain why so many Americans do think everything is going in the wrong direction — even when not everything is going in the wrong direction.

Public opinion polls don’t explain Americans’ attitudes in detail, but they do show trends and patterns. Elected leaders should learn from them. They should see that Americans want them to do their jobs with intelligence and integrity. Americans expect some results and want to see bipartisan cooperation once in a while. In fact, the Elon University Poll reported last week that 75 percent of respondents would like President Trump to work with Democrats to pass legislation.

Party labels shouldn’t get in the way of finding solutions to gun violence, health care that costs too much and delivers too little, a broken immigration system, crumbling infrastructure, long-term challenges to Social Security and Medicare viability and many other domestic issues.

Americans across the political spectrum surely all want to avoid an unnecessary war.

Americans are unhappy in part because we’re so divided, and one reason we’re divided is because political leaders try to divide us to suit their own purposes. Americans are better than that, and they deserve leaders who will put the country on the right path.