On the heels of the week's discussions of Ronald Reagan's optimistic attitude, today's NY Times shows some of the evidence from a Pew Research Center 2002 international poll. Responding to the statement, "Success in life is pretty much determined outside our control," Americans were most likely to disagree. (Canadians and Japanese were among the few groups with a majority disagreeing; Britons were not, being apparently less optimistic than Venezuelans(!) but more optimistic than the French.)
Americans are more likely to aspire than to envy. This is why class-warfare politics is less successful here. Equality and liberty are less likely to be in conflict when people have reason to be optimistic about their future -- when they expect that their destiny is substantially under their control -- when they focus on dynamics and the future. Steve Hayward and Kevin Starr explain further in the thoughtful article.
In this setting, politics becomes less important and political participation is less attractive. The bad news is that interest groups are more likely to thrive when the rest of us have bigger fish to fry. There are always good news and bad news