Mad as Hell

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Dokoupil

The anger that fueled the Arab Spring is now boiling over in Europe. Could club-wielding protesters be in America's future, too?

To understand American anger, that roiling storm sometimes dubbed our national "mood," spend a day with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. Since 2006 the unlikely lawman--a tea drinker who listens to Bobby Kennedy speeches on his way to work--has overseen all foreclosures and evictions in the Chicago area, one of the hardest hit nationwide. The process does not always go well. One evictee shot himself in the head, remained conscious, and calmly tried to raise the pistol again as deputies battered the front door. But it's often mundane details that disturb Dart the most.

"Look at this," he said during a recent eviction on Chicago's blighted South Side. He pointed to a little boy's picture on a refrigerator. "It makes you say to yourself, why the fuck does it have to be this way?" Americans are asking the same thing.

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 think 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.

Could these emotions escalate into revolt? Corporate earnings have soared to an all-time high. Wall Street is gaudy and confident again. But the heyday hasn't come for millions of Americans. Unemployment hovers near 9 percent, and the only jobs that truly abound, according to Labor Department data, come with name tags, hairnets, and funny hats (rather than high wages, great benefits, and long-term security). The American Dream is about having the means to build a better life for the next generation. But as President Obama acknowledged at a town-hall meeting in May, "a lot of folks aren't feeling that [possibility] anymore."

At worst, the result could be the Days of Rage already seen overseas. In Spain last week protesters clashed with police, a violent demonstration against economic woes and austerity measures--much like those under review in Washington. …