2021: A Year of Acute Anxiety

A. Altieri D’Angelo

What is anxiety? Webster-Merriman Dictionary defines anxiety, “as characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind or brooding fear about some contingency: worried”. This emotion pervades U.S. society at almost every level. Where does it come from? Probably everywhere. Anxiety has affected nearly everyone in the U.S. No one, neither adults nor children, have been spared from feeling anxious.

Many factors have led to acute anxiety in Americans. 2021 tested Americans in a variety of ways, and the people suffered for it. This stress has caused most of the electorate to lose confidence in their elected leaders and government.

The anxious state of the American people will not go away unless someone steps up and inspires people to believe that things will get better.

The state of the U.S. economy is the most significant factor. At a macro level, people see an economy recovering, the stock market rising, and hourly payincreasing. Employment is growing, but labor shortages are causing supply chain issues. But people are also seeing inflation escalating to levels not experienced in decades. The worst aspect of the recovery is that fuel prices are higher. Mounting inflation and fuel costs substantially and negatively impact Americans, making them apprehensive about their current and future prosperity.

The Pandemic is the next major cause of stress. The news media reminds people on an hourly basis of the real or imagined dangers of the Delta variant and now Omicron. Media coverage breaks down into two categories: Covid is a danger, and people must be vaccinated. Or, ignore Covid because it is a part of a government plot to take away people’s rights. Regardless of your point of view, the contradicting messaging is causing tension.

To make matters worse, “the Covid is a danger group” frequently delivers confusing information regarding the effectiveness of the vaccines currently in use. Science is learning new things daily, and therefore, advice on the subject will change, but that does not take away peoples’ distress. Federal, state & local, and employer mandates requiring vaccinations are also causing heightened angst among anti-vaxxers. 

Domestic issues are another source of anxiety: the U.S. is politically polarized; people are concerned about high crime rates; many are worried that the country is admitting too many immigrants; the list goes on. The House and Senate are incapable of achieving any compromise regarding social legislation. People who are dependent on government benefits such as child care credits, home leave, and other similar provisions are concerned that the current and proposed social benefits will disappear.

Progressives, and liberally biased moderates, are worried about Trump supporters aggressively attempting to subvert American democracy by changing voting laws, as well as placing restrictions on abortions. Republicans are very apprehensive about the Democrats’ plans for social reform. They believe such legislation will lead to the destruction of American society. They are also concerned that any expansion of voting rights will cause conservatives to lose power in the U.S. Lastly, climate change challenges are beginning to make all Americans anxious about the future.

If all of the above was not enough, the U.S. is confronting, in various ways, authoritarian governments (such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea). The idea of a new cold war, or worse, is not something Americans want to contemplate. Most people know that any confrontation (particularly a military one) will have severe consequences, and this serious concern only adds to the general nervousness of the people. 

There is no end in sight; this is the new normal. What should we do?

When people are anxious, they look to the person who shows strength and offers protection; President Biden should be that person. Unfortunately, he is not breaking through the constant drumbeat of negative media coverage. He must do better for the sake of the nation’s psyche.

Biden, and all Democrats, need to take a page from President Franklin D Roosevelt’s (FDR) Great Depression playbook. FDR inspired hope, in the 1930s, by speaking directly to Americans by radio. These 31 sessions called, Fireside Chats, allowed FDR to connect with each listener. During those “chats”, he could dispel rumors and explain his policies directly to the American people. He made people believe he was capable of solving their problems.

Biden needs to be as effective as FDR and connect with all Americans. He needs to implement a coordinated media campaign that is based on regularly scheduled sessions where he explains, in detail, the issue of the moment. The campaign needs to employ all popular media tools such as Print, TV, Radio, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Biden must push aside the media noise and have his voice heard. However, if he fails to inspire confidence, 2022 will quickly become the year of fear. 

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