Yesterday I said that I’d heard an unexpectedly large number of people saying that 2014 was a big downer of a year that they were glad to leave behind. So I asked readers if they’d heard the same, if they agreed and if they did, why. I got a lot of answers. And they were fascinating. Many people had experiences – good or bad – that were immediately personal and thus not part of any broader national experience. But there were quite a lot of people who did have a decidedly negative experience of 2014 and when they answered why there were two very consistent themes.
I thought about and I may share some individual emails or passages. But the two themes were these:
1) Personal financial/job setbacks that were, or at least perceived to be, tied to an increasingly harsh and unforgiving economy. Losing jobs or income or bonuses even in the face of affirmed good work performance and even amidst what is supposed to be a quickening economy. I lost my job and then had to take another at 30% drop in salary even while I see the Dow continuing to go up and up and up.
2) The second was much more widespread among the readers who shared their thoughts and in most cases were not tied to any personal experience but an impression of the society or world at large. Put simply, a lot of readers told me that 2014 was the year they began to or finally did lose hope.
I mentioned yesterday that since my friends and professional acquaintances are disproportionately Democrats maybe the party’s November drubbing played a role. That clearly had some effect. But there was something much more general.
Again and again, people shared a sense that things they thought were fixed or getting better were actually not getting better. And many readers shared a pessimism that they would not ever get better.
What things? Race relations (people of course mentioned Ferguson, the death of Eric Garner, the whole range of issues tied to policing and race). International crises. Syria, ISIS and the US return to Iraq. The Russian annexation of Ukraine also got a lot of mentions – pointing to an increasingly violent and rule-less world order where revisionist powers were redrawing borders through force, something we do not expect in Europe in the post-Cold War, post-Yugoslav break-up era.
Then there was the economy, rising inequality, stagnating wages, the disjuncture between the news generated out of ever-rising equity market numbers and more straightened circumstances at home.
With pessimism about race relations or the economy, you might expect a sense of discontent married to a push toward activism. But the tone of many emails was a sense not only of pessimism but readers who felt they had been naive in their earlier optimism.
Since President Obama’s 2008 had the motto of “hope”, many readers saying 2014 was a year they lost hope might suggest a loss of faith in Obama or the change he’d promised. And a number of readers did explicitly make this connection – particularly on the race of race, in which he himself carries so much symbolic weight, but also on the economy. So a strain of this is about Obama, about people’s disappointment either with him or perhaps just their sense that problems they thought he could tackle were more intractable then they realized. Some, undoubtedly, is tied to the arc of Obama’s presidency which is entering its final two years and amidst big Republican gains.
Of course, I’m reacting to a few dozen reader emails, which mainly come from a certain political demographic. And the premise of my original post and request for emails probably drew a disproportionate number of people who shared the experience of 2014 being a crappy year. Still, I learned something from these notes. And I think this perception is prevalent and worth knowing more about.
Please let me know your thoughts.