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The Most Important Problem Facing America Today

When asked what the most important problem America faces today at this time last year, nearly all respondents would have agreed that the pandemic sits at the top of the list. But as of March 2022, that priority has dropped to number two, according to polling data by Statista. Dissatisfaction with government and poor leadership have taken the number one spot.

This may come as a surprise to many since one would think the economy (#3) or high cost of living (#4) would be at the top. Immigration comes in as the fifth top concern followed by unifying the country and then the judicial system. Race relations is ranked eighth, crime and violence ninth, while poverty, hunger, and homelessness come in at the tenth top concern. Healthcare, unemployment, climate change, and education did not even make it into the top ten.

In a separate Gallup poll also in March, 22% of respondents gave the same answer, placing poor governance as the top concern among Americans. Again, this may appear somewhat surprising, especially since the Consumer Price Index reached its highest rate in 40 years. One would think inflation would be the chief worry among the public, but these polls have shown that it is not necessarily the case.

Without a doubt, these are surprising answers, but there may be an underlying reason for this.

The key is to search for context since it would be nearly impossible to understand the American public’s mindset without it. It would be like looking at a single tree without looking at the forest, as the saying goes.

Zooming out, we need to understand the geopolitics of today. Chinese competition is on the rise, Russia is exercising greater influence in Eastern Europe as it attacks Ukraine with impunity and without much consequence on the ground. Yes, there are sanctions, but that has not stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin. Clearly, economic sanctions do not work as a deterrent for dictators like Putin. America then retreated from Syria and Afghanistan. Whereas after the Second World War and then the fall of the Berlin Wall, America was viewed as ascendant and powerful, today, if the polls are any indication, it is perceived by many of its own citizens as declining and weak.

When former President Bill Clinton gave North Korea the benefit of the doubt and when former President Barack Obama failed to act when Syria crossed his own stated red line by using chemical weapons, the international community paid attention. When U.S. troops were pulled from Syria and Afghanistan, the world took note. Iran’s manipulation of American negotiators in Vienna over the Iran nuclear deal signals a change in the way America’s leaders view their own country. American ascendancy is no more. The era of American decline has arrived.

But when a powerful nation like America decides to step away from its responsibilities as the leader of the free world and instead “lead from behind” as Obama explained once, inevitably, only chaos and destruction will follow. There is no vacuum in geopolitics. And unfortunately, that void left by America is being quickly filled by sycophants, dictators, and evil regimes.

Make no mistake, America continues to be an economic, military, and diplomatic powerhouse, but that takes hard work to maintain, and it is likely that the public views the government as failing to do so.

Furthermore, America continues to exert influence on the international stage, especially at the economic level.

And while many Americans are uncomfortable with a global order that is shifting away from unipolarity, today, America’s leadership is moving the country, along with other nations, toward multipolarity with a focus on securing alliances and partnerships and mutually beneficial relationships with multiple countries.

Thus, when Americans are asked what their country’s top challenge is today, they will inevitably give “poor governance” as their answer because many if not most Americans do not want to see their country in decline. Rather, they want to see an ascendant America, a proud America, a country viewed with respect and honor and that demonstrates leadership and resolve.

The question is, can the American people ultimately agree with their leadership on America’s position in the global order? Or will the American public continue to view their government as an obstacle to achieving American interests? Is dissatisfaction with government and poor leadership indeed the most important problem facing Americans today?

Frankly, it does not matter if it is true or not. If it is perceived as such by the voting public, then that is what is most important. And it is up to President Biden and his team to address it. Most importantly, it is without a doubt that, given his past successes, Biden can take steps to change this perception. The American public wants good leadership and Biden is that leader.

Perhaps in another year, these same polls will find that the public’s dissatisfaction with government and poor leadership is no longer the most important problem facing America.