Every media outlet, think-tank, advertising agency and pretty much everyone else, is making lists of “the biggest stories” of 2017, so why not you and I as well? You first. What do you think the biggest story of 2017 was?
If you are like many others, you might name Donald Trump, the ongoing Russia probe, or perhaps tension with North Korea as the big stories of 2017. Alternatively, you might consider the #MeToo phenomenon, or perhaps taking a knee during the national anthem as the big news of 2017. Perhaps you think that the biggest stories of the past year are the opioid epidemic or the summer’s record-breaking hurricane.
I get why each of those choices makes sense, but I think that an even bigger story has unfolded this year, and will keep unfolding into the year ahead ahead. In fact, it’s a story that is as ancient as it is in the news. The story? People cannot live by bread alone.
I know, you might be thinking, “That’s a line from the Bible (Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4), but a story capturing the biggest story of 2017? Really?” And the answer is YES!
Let’s start with three numbers. 63, 32, and 76. The first is the percentage of Americans who rate the economy as being excellent to good, that typically points to a time of general good feeling about whomever is in office and about the general direction in which the country is heading. It makes sense.
When you are hungry and see limited opportunities on the horizon for growth, it’s hard to feel very good about either where we are or where we are going. When things are going well however — when people are working and opportunities are expanding, we tend to rate our leaders more highly and look to the future with high hopes. But not in 2017, which brings me to those other two numbers.
Despite the fact that 2/3’s of us think the economy is doing quite well, President Trump is stuck at an historically low approval rating of 32%, and on top of that, about 75% of Americans think that our country is headed in the wrong direction. That means that, despite a robust economy with plenty of growth seemingly ahead, which should make us more positive about both current leadership and our collective future, even a great percentage of people who supported President Trump in 2016, are no longer buying it.
To be clear, this is not an anti-Trump story. In fact, it’s not fundamentally a Trump story at all. This is story — the biggest story of 2017 — about people not living by bread alone. As important as bread is, both for our physical survival and for politicians’ ability to win elections and to remain popular — remember how James Carville helped get Bill Clinton elected in 1992 with his constant reminder, “it’s the economy, stupid” — we all want more than bread alone. In fact, we even want more than bread and outrage, as the current numbers indicate.
We want hope, we want community, we want justice, and however differently we may understand the definitions of those things, we agree that we want them, and it seems, we don’t consider “a chicken in every pot” to be a substitute for those things. We want more than anger about the absence of hope, possibility and justice, despite what too many leaders — both in office and out — so often peddle. We want more than clearly defined enemies. We want real relationships that promise alternatives to war when it comes to working things out.
To our great credit, most Americans want more than ancient Rome’s bread and circuses. We appreciate that the economy is booming, that unemployment is low, and that we are even begin to see real wages increase. It’s all great, but it’s not enough to distract us from all the other less tangible, but no less important things, we feel we are missing.
Why? Because we refuse to be live on bread alone. That is the biggest story of 2017, and despite the down numbers, it’s a truly promising story about who we are as people. The extent to which our leaders understand that, and how they respond in light of that understanding, may well be the biggest story of 2018. I guess we’ll see.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.