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Is America Too Optimistic For Revolt?

The anger that fueled the Arab Spring is now boiling over in Europe. Could club-wielding protesters be in America’s future, or is the U.S. too incurably optimistic for large-scale political revolt?

Through wars and recessions, America has remained its unaccountably cheerful self. National happiness peaked during the 1970s, baffling those who assumed Vietnam, Watergate, gas-station lines, and inflation would dampen the joy. Even today more than 80 percent of the population rates itself “happy” or “pretty happy,” according to the Pew Research Center, and that figure has held through the downturn.

But reality is beginning to break through. Gas and grocery prices are on the rise, home values are down, and vast majorities say the country is on the wrong track. The result is sadness and frustration, but also an inchoate rage more profound than the sign-waving political fury documented during the elections last fall. Two thirds of Americans even harbor anger toward God, according to a recent study by Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University.

In search of the earthly toll of this outrage, NEWSWEEK conducted a poll of 600 people, finding vastly more unquiet minds than not. Three out of four people believe the economy is stagnant or getting worse. One in three is uneasy about getting married, starting a family, or being able to buy a home. Most say their relationships have been damaged by economic woes or, perhaps more accurately, the dread and nervousness that accompany them.


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