Finding That the Worst of Times Is Not All Bad

Americans are entitled to feel morose as they digest the events of Sept. 11 and look to the dangers that lie ahead. Instead, they’re curiously upbeat. A late-September poll by the Pew Center for the People & the Press saw a jump in the number of people satisfied with “the way things are going in this country today,” to 57 percent from the mid and low 40s, where it had languished earlier this year. Despite all the reasons for thinking the attacks will worsen the economic slump, Americans’ assessment of the economy has brightened. For instance, Gallup polls conducted shortly before and shortly after the attack found a rise from 32 percent to 46 percent in the number of respondents describing the economy in positive terms. While some say the attacks exposed lapses on the part of government, a Washington Post/ABC News poll in late September found the highest level of trust in the feds since 1966: 64 percent of adults said they trust the federal government to “do the right thing” either “just about always” (13 percent) or “most of the time” (51 percent). That’s more than double the number who voiced such confidence in an April 2000 poll and more than three times the number who felt that way in 1994. Most strikingly, a poll by Ipsos-Reid detected a steep increase in the number of people saying they’re “completely satisfied with the overall quality” of their lives—from 30 percent in June to 44 percent in late September. No doubt some people feel a sense of purpose they’d lacked before, and they look forward to tending victory gardens of one metaphorical sort or another. Many savor the sense of community that arose following the attacks. Still others have had petty discontents put in perspective. But something more elemental may be at work, too. Most Americans can look back to Sept. 11 and tell themselves: My country just sustained the worst attack in its history and it missed me by a mile! Amid sorrow for the victims and their families, human nature dictates that everyone else is awfully glad not to be among them.