Recent polls indicate that Americans are feeling anxious and insecure. A More In Common survey found that 2 out of every 3 Americans say they are “exhausted by society’s current state.”
And the rancorous political campaigning isn’t helping. The American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey reveals that 56% of respondents identified the election as a significant stressor.
So what are Americans doing to cope with the stresses of today and anxiety over the future? In many cases, they are returning to the old ways and drawing on the lessons of history to decide how they will live.
For example, while the ravages of COVID-19 has sparked widespread fear, it has also rekindled faith in many. Pandemics prompt prayer, and a recent Pew Survey reveals “one-quarter of U.S. adults overall (24%) say their faith has become stronger because of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Others have found comfort and hope in knowing that our nation has been stress-tested for 244 years.
Americans beat the most powerful empire to win their independence and became the freest nation the world has ever seen. We fought the bloodiest war in our history to rid the nation of slavery and establish freedom for all.
A half-century later, we lost 675,000 lives to the Spanish flu. During the Great Depression, we lost 12 million jobs, leaving 1 in 4 American families without income. And we shed countless tears during the Civil Rights era.
And through all these trials and tabulations, we emerged triumphant.
Reflecting on where we have been and how we’ve gotten through it can give us some needed — and perhaps soothing — perspective from which to view today’s rancorous political divisions, social-media hate fests, and acrimonious policy battles. We’ve been through worse. We have survived. Indeed, we have emerged from all kinds of crises and always, always gone on to thrive.
America’s ability to persevere through hard times is historical fact. And that fact can help foster hope for our families, confidence that we can find solutions that work for our communities, and courage to rebuild the relationships that have been strained, stressed and all too often broken by the many storms of 2020.
Faith, hope and confidence have abounded in Americans since before we were a nation. And, in giving us the Constitution, our Founding Fathers gave us every reason to continue to exhibit those traits.
According to More In Common, close to 9 in 10 say it is important to live in a democracy. Moreover, they expressed great confidence in the democratic process.
Indeed, many have taken time during the shutdown to learn more about their rights. According to a recent Annenberg Public Policy Center survey, “Americans’ ability to name the five rights protected by the First Amendment has jumped since 2017.” (For the record, those rights would be: freedom of religion, freedom of speech and press, and the freedom to peaceable assembly and to petition the government.)
For well over two centuries, America has succeeded by drawing on our past. Political leaders conquered contemporary challenges by embracing policies grounded in the principles set forth by our founders. Working within our free-market system, business leaders innovated and leveraged new technologies to create jobs and prosperity for American workers and desirable goods and services for consumers. New civic leaders embraced the ideals of our founding document to expand freedom and equality.
Other nations have ripped up their guiding documents at times of national upheaval or a changing of the guard. Our strength as Americans rests in our ability to build upon one of the Constitution, a time-tested foundation that provides stability as we work our way through the challenges of our times.
For all of the prayers we offer during this pandemic-driven year, it is also helpful to reflect on our nation’s past — its crises, its achievements, and the timeless document that, to this day, can help us navigate through pandemic and division, emerging once more as one nation, with liberty and justice for all.
• A Heritage Foundation vice president, Angela Sailor directs the think tank’s Feulner Institute.
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