Is everything spinning out of control? Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism.
The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country's sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance.
The sense of helplessness is even reflected in this year's presidential election. Each contender offers a sense of order - and hope. Republican John McCain promises an experienced hand in a frightening time. Democrat Barack Obama promises bright and shiny change, and his large crowds believe his exhortation, “Yes, we can.”
Even so, a battered public seems discouraged by the onslaught of dispiriting things. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll says a barrel-scraping 17 percent of people surveyed believe the country is moving in the right direction. That is the lowest reading since the survey began in 2003.
An ABC News-Washington Post survey put that figure at 14 per cent, tying the low in more than three decades of taking soundings on the national mood.
“It is pretty scary,” said Charles Truxal, 64, a retired corporate manager in Rochester, Minn. “People are thinking things are going to get better, and they haven't been. And then you go hide in your basement because tornadoes are coming through. If you think about things, you have very little power to make it change.”
Recent natural disasters around the world dwarf anything afflicting the U.S. Consider that more than 69,000 people died in the China earthquake, and that 78,000 were killed and 56,000 missing from the Myanmar cyclone.
Americans need do no more than check the weather, look in their wallets or turn on the news for their daily reality check on a world gone haywire.
Food is becoming scarcer and more expensive on a worldwide scale. That can-do solution to energy needs, turning corn into fuel, is sapping fields of plenty once devoted to crops that people need to eat. Shortages have sparked riots. In the US, rice prices tripled and some stores rationed the staple.