Aaron Blake passes along some downbeat news regarding the national mood:

1) A New York Times poll showed just 64 percent of Americans believe in the American Dream. That’s the lowest that number has been since at least 1996.12-11-2014_05

2) A Pew Research Center poll showed just under half — 49 percent — of Americans said they expect next year to be a better year than this year. That’s the lowest that’s been since the recession, and a couple years before, too.

3) An AP-GfK poll shows just 13 percent of Americans say they are confident that Republicans and President Obama can come together to address the country’s problems. (A similar question from Pew found just 20 percent expect Congress and Obama to “make progress” on important issues.)

So, to recap, Americans have hit low points on their belief in our country’s main economic principle, their general feelings about life and their faith in our government. That just about covers it.

Meanwhile, Paul Campos responds to a remark from the recent Chris Rock interview:

If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets. If the average person could see the Virgin Airlines first-class lounge,* they’d go, “What? What? This is food, and it’s free, and they … what? Massage? Are you kidding me? …

*Offers spa treatments, “expert mixologists,” and, at Heathrow, a “lodge and viewing deck” with an “après-ski vibe.”

Once a social system has moved all or nearly all of its members above the level of brute starvation, wealth and poverty soon become inherently relative concepts, but that doesn’t make them any less real. One of the consequences of living in an extremely rich country which features increasingly extreme wealth stratification is that people who would have been considered rich fifteen minutes ago are suddenly part of the “upper middle class.”

Take, for example, what has happened to economic relations within the American university.

It’s well known that American colleges and universities must increase their operating budgets every year at rates faster than inflation because of reasons, and therefore it becomes inevitable, given the contemporary economic structure of the country as a whole, that these institutions will spend enormous amounts of time and money currying favor with super-wealthy potential donors. Giving money to a “non-profit” educational institution provides the masters of the universe with sweet tax breaks, while allowing them to indulge in the ego-gratifying pleasures of plastering their names all over various buildings and centers and even whole schools and colleges.

Cillizza checks in on perceptions of social mobility:

It’s easy to believe there is direct correlation between people not believing in the American Dream and prolonged periods of economic struggle.  Which would explain the downward trend of the numbers in the Times poll over the last decade as the economy has sputtered. The question is whether the slowness of the current recovery is what’s to blame for the extended pessimism about hard work achieving results or whether we, as a country, have simply entered a different stage in our relationship with the idea of the American Dream.

There’s some reason to believe the latter explanation is more correct. Consider this, from the 2014 national exit poll: Almost half of all Americans — 48 percent — said they expected life for “future generations” to be “worse than life today,” while 22 percent said it would be better. Another 27 percent said life would be about the same. Do the math and you see that more than twice as many people are pessimistic about the future that they will leave their kids as those who are optimistic.

It’s easy to be downbeat about the state of the union this week, learning all of the horrific actions taken by the CIA in America’s name over the past decade. But this reader has it right:

I object to the Hong Kong newspaper’s characterization that “the report was a heavy blow to the credibility and global image of the U.S.” The Bush Administration’s actions described in the report are the disgrace. The Obama Administration’s unwillingness to investigate the torture program is a disgrace. But the Senate report is an affirmation of the credibility of the U.S. And hopefully it is just the first step in righting this horrific wrong.

Know hope.