One day recently in Atlanta: Thousands of people barraged a shopping center. The goal was not to purchase the latest "it" item. It was to attain a public housing application. Folks cut the line. Some children were reportedly trampled. Riot police arrived. The coveted housing slots are for families with an annual income below $16,000.
In southern California, a man's car was being repossessed. The unemployed man rammed a rented U-Haul truck into the tow truck. The man proceeded to barricade himself inside his home. The local SWAT team was called in. Police negotiated with him for hours. He eventually surrendered peacefully.
A JetBlue flight was on the tarmac at New York's JFK airport. A passenger rose to retrieve his luggage while the plane taxied. Veteran flight attendant Steven Slater asked the passenger to sit down. The passenger cursed him out. The luggage, or bin, struck Slater in the head. Reports vary. The two argued. Slater took to the intercom. Let loose his own profane rant. Grabbed a beer. Opened the emergency-evacuation chute and slid away in a blaze of workingman glory.
On the other side of the country, not far from the repo-man standoff, Slater's mother was asked about the incident. "I can understand why he snapped," she said. So can America.
The nation feels ready to snap. Not as a people. But tens of millions are on edge.
Or as Peggy Noonan's recently column was headlined: "America is at risk of boiling over." No columnist captures the American psyche better than Noonan. Yet America has felt on the cusp of boiling over all year. It was last August that town hall meetings erupted across the nation.
That tension only seems to be building. Perhaps it's the disconnect between the country's leaders and its people. The ceaseless tide of foreclosures. Or simply jobs. Most are not coming back.
Long-term joblessness is at the highest level since the Great Depression. Nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed. About 11 million more adults have been relegated to part-time work or given up altogether. Half the nation has no net worth.
Job insecurity is at record levels. In spring, a fifth of workers told Gallup that they believe it is "very" or "fairly" likely that they will lose their jobs in the next year. It was the highest level recorded since the question was first asked in the 1970s.
That means higher rates of personal depression, of stressed families, of physical health issues.
America is stressed out. Much of it, at least. The need for state mental health services has risen as state budgets constrict. In New Jersey, its health crisis units saw a 20 percent increase in demand last year.
Many of those with work are also unhappy. In January, the Conference Board research group found the lowest level of job satisfaction, 45%, in its 22 years of polling the issue. How many Americans wish they could open an emergency exit and quit as Slater did?
The political ramifications are everywhere. The Democratic House might fall in November. The nation has the least confidence in Congress of 16 major institutions. Congress recently earned its lowest confidence rating, 11%, since Gallup first asked the question in the early 1970s. Only 31% of adults believe "the country is better off" than when Obama took office, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Meanwhile, less than half of the public approves of President Obama's management on 12 of 13 issues Gallup regularly polls.
Americans were most displeased with Obama's handling of immigration. No issue is more explosive today. About one in four adults say the number of illegal immigrants in the country makes them feel "angry," according to a CNN poll.
Yet this too cannot be divorced from our economic anxiety. The recession remains the dominant issue of these times. And in hard times, nations turn inward. The outrage over illegal immigration is, in part, a symptom of our national anxiety.
In fact, America has not felt this anxious since the 1970s. It was in 1976 that the movie "Network" made character Howard Beale an icon of disgust. "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" the anchorman ranted.
Slater's slide was a Beale moment. He is a metaphor. This nation does not want to take it anymore. It has made Slater America's newest celebrity. Cameras already stalk his every move. Slater told several reporters, "It seems like something here has resonated with a few people."© RealClearPolitics.com