America's eerie mood

November 04, 1996|By Carl T. Rowan

SEATTLE -- During the last two weeks I have traveled in New York, California, Illinois and Wisconsin, to troubled central cities and vibrant college towns, and I'm finding an eerie mood in America.

In contacts with live audiences and on dozens of radio talk shows, I don't find the citizen anger that some have spoken of. I find resignation bordering on apathy, especially regarding the current elections. A lot of people want to talk about anything but the presidential campaign, expressing certainty that no possible result could improve their lives.

I sense that people really want to be led, especially by politicians of integrity and wisdom. They don't expect such leadership. Americans seem confused about:

Jobs -- They propose such ''solutions'' as a national policy of shared work under which everyone would work fewer hours, but everyone would have a job; or a total ban on immigration; or a policy under which the government would guarantee employment for at least one adult in every family.

Education -- A drumbeat of voices says that the public schools are failing black males, or failing all children. Some people ask what to do, others urge abandonment of formal public school systems and then giving everybody a voucher -- that is, public money to spend as they please. Here is a debate as spirited as any about anything else in American life.

Semi-deranged

Racial tension -- Phones light up on every talk show I've been on. A lot of semi-deranged people seem to hog the airwaves, but I have been surprised by the number of people who want less demagoguery and more information about how to be a healer. I find widespread fear that race relations will worsen, producing much more violence because ''no one seems to know how to turn things around,'' as a woman in San Francisco put it.

The role of government -- A remarkable number of people ask whether states can be expected to ''look out for us little guys'' in areas being abandoned by the federal government. These concerns seem to run very deep.

American morals -- Like the weather, everyone talks about it but nobody knows how to bring change. People say they are appalled by the way money has corrupted politics, from the presidential level to their local wards, but expect no real reforms.

All in all, what I'm seeing and hearing leaves me with a feeling of unease, a sense that the American dream is not quite alive and well.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/04/96

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