The latest Rasmussen poll finds that almost two-thirds of us think the nation is heading in the “wrong direction.” Less than a third think we are on the “right track.” (We could obsess over the difference between “direction” and “track,” but let’s not.) Rasmussen takes a poll of likely voters every week. A review of the last five years shows that we are usually a pretty dissatisfied lot with numbers hovering close to the current poll. November of 2012 found us the happiest we’d been in a while, with only about half of us disappointed in our direction. But we hit a new low in October of 2013 with four out of every five of us disgruntled about the way we were going.

It would be entertaining to find out what direction those unhappy folks would like to be going. It’s a safe bet that there would be little consensus. Many would want to reverse course back to the “good ‘ole days.” Others are hoping to increase our speed toward a new horizon. It’s no wonder we think we are headed the wrong way if we can’t even agree on where we should be going.

A recent Harvard Business School study of how well citizens in various countries live ranked the United States 16th behind New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Germany, Great Britain and other European nations. Certainly that can’t be the right track. We rank 70th in health and wellness — measured in life expectancy, obesity rates and infant mortality, right along with Iran and Kuwait.

Surely the U.S. is on the track to international supremacy in information and communication technologies? Not so much. While the most privileged among us are well connected, when it comes to broad access for our entire country, we rank 21st, wedged between Jamaica and Latvia.

Speaking of our progress in international comparisons, we continue with our lead over many developed countries in income inequality and gun violence. Many would call that the wrong direction.

Sometimes we run in circles. We took a wrong turn and marched into Iraq in 2003. We returned home from Iraq. Now the centuries-old strife that wasn’t magically fixed by our intervention has resurfaced. Will we go back to Iraq? Some of the usual suspects (Graham, McCain) would have us head in that direction. Such tracks lead us astray.

There is good news. Take teenagers, those troubled, tattooed, texters among us. The CDC recently reported that adolescents are moving on the right track, away from smoking, fighting, television watching, soda consumption, drinking alcohol and sexual activity.

Here’s something else we are good at. Our wine consumption has been increasing. Per capita consumption has increased from 1.7 gallons in 1995 to 2.7 gallons in 2012. Total U.S. consumption reached a new high of 856 million gallons. One wonders if this is connected to our directional problems.

We do a good job of applying our knowledge. The United States won 14 Nobel Prizes this year. Since 2000 our chemists, physicists, economists and medical researchers have dominated in this competition. Our universities, immigrant culture, individualistic nature and respect for thinking outside the box are all credited.

Maybe we can employ those resources to help us find our way.


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