Geoff Ritter: A cool drink of pessimism

The glass is half-empty or half-full. Or, there's just water and broken glass at our feet.

It turns out many of us are trending toward the extreme latter. Facing unprecedented political turmoil, a turbulent economy and an uncertain future, nearly 75% of Americans now feel we are headed in the wrong direction, according to an NBC News poll out over the weekend. Nearly a third of respondents believe the situation will only get worse in the next five years.

This polling data is a fair response as things generally start to suck more. Inflation, gas prices, growing strife in Springfield and Washington - all seem like violent lurches toward complete national destabilization. Yet, the same poll finds that that slightly more Americans feel the situation will improve in the next five years. Slightly more believe things will actually get better.

Of course, their worldview isn't nearly as catchy, and your current stance on the glass' contents by ratio might be largely shaped by politics. You also might change your mind, abruptly. The levers of power wielded as they are at present, this fever of constant crisis most acutely affects the political right, which was certain everything had been made great again, only to see it become suddenly not so great again. This whiplash formed around one key development - hence the "Miss Me Yet?" flags on the highway, beckoning to that bygone time of hope and prosperity, demanding that the reluctant conveniently forget the societal hellscape that was 2020.

The political left, when circumstances reverse, peddles similarly apocalyptic fan-fiction; in fact, progressives don't even need to be deprived of power in order to maintain a stubbornly doomed outlook. Dems count on one hand the number of good days they've had since Barack Obama was president. Committed to an overarching cause of social justice and equality, the left instead stratifies into countless competing causes for equality, each clamoring for attention as they collectively alienate the middle. You can never please everyone at once, and the road to justice and equality is lacking a final destination. At least when the right talks about making things great again, they're all talking about the same basic stuff.

My cousin recently pointed out to me that the hypothetical glass is neither half-empty or half-full, but rather always filled completely with varying mixtures of water and oxygen. This thoroughly blew my mind. Some may evaporate, and some may condense, but at all times the glass is filled to the brim with atoms of oxygen and hydrogen. It's a question of chemistry, and what you see depends on how you prioritize your own personal interests in water and air, which likely remain significant regardless of political affiliation.

Are we descending further into chaos, or waking to a better future? It turns out we are evenly divided on that question right now. Send me an email, because I'd like to know what you think. As for the water in glass, there are a few ways of looking at it - and clearly a few people who want to slosh it around, waiting for our praise them when it eventually settles. Maybe the glass is half-empty. Maybe it's half-full.

In all likelihood, though, those yelling the loudest about its current composition are full of something entirely different. Whatever it is, it definitely doesn't belong in a glass. Please try not to spill any.

<i> Geoff Ritter is editor of the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group newspapers.</i>