Empty baby formula shelves. Feared summer power blackouts. Plunging stocks. Predictions of widespread $6-a-gallon gasoline. Recession clouds. Coming food shortages. Soaring grocery prices. And the refusal of a pandemic to ease its grip.
This current reality, mixed with forecasts of worse to come, is hardly the normality Americans craved, and that President Joe Biden promised last year when he said, shortly after taking office, that “America is coming back.”
Yet there is a growing sense of crises piling on crises as the shockwaves of a period of unusual global turmoil – including a once-in-a-century pandemic and the worst war in Europe since 1945 – burrow into the fabric of daily life.
It’s all distilled a sense of pessimism and exhaustion among the American people, according to a CNN poll released this week that showed clear majorities worried about how things are going and burned out by toxic politics that seems unable to fix the most fundamental questions facing the country.
Yet for all the gloom, this is also a time of strange duality in an economy that in many ways has bounced back well from pandemic shutdowns. The jobless rate is near 50-year lows. Workers in high demand can dictate terms when they get new jobs. And the nation’s indoor sports arenas are packed with cheering fans at NBA and NHL games that make the sterile “bubbles” of Covid-era playoffs a horrible memory, as cities come back to life.
These bright spots in a country trying to find its feet again tend to exacerbate the feeling that we are living through a time of extremes – a state of being that in itself is unsettling and stressful.
Millions of Americans are worrying about how to deal with high prices, or are going without. Predictions of a looming recession make everyone concerned about their jobs. And any pay increases that come with a new job are quickly gobbled up by inflation.
The secondary consequences of such duress are bound to be political. And for Biden and the Democrats, who were already facing an excruciating midterm election year, the prospect of repudiation by angry voters is growing. Almost by the day, the political environment worsens despite Biden’s frantic efforts to convince the country he feels its pain and can lead it to better times.
“I know that families all across America are hurting because of inflation,” Biden said earlier this month. “I understand what it feels like,” he added, insisting that the high cost of living was his “top domestic priority.”
Biden gets the blame
Presidents probably get too much credit when the economy is doing well. The flip side is that they get all the blame when things go in the tank. That is Biden’s plight right now. But it’s hard to break through with scripted presidential events and trips out of Washington amid a barrage of bad news.
In just the last week, for example, the President has touted the successes of his American rescue plan and announced steps to ease the cost of housing. He has ordered the use of wartime powers to end the baby formula shortage. The White House is encouraging communities to unlock funds from Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law.