Eight years ago, a simple, catchy, popular refrain emerged for a weary population which was about to suffer through the biggest financial crisis in generations. It was "Hope and Change" and it defined the presidential candidacy of an inexperienced, largely unknown senator from Illinois. Barbara Conley was one of the millions of Americans swept up in Barack Obama's promises of hope and change when he accepted the Democratic nomination at a packed football stadium a few miles from her home in the Denver suburbs.
But, as the AP reports, those optimistic days are almost unrecognizable to Conley now. And, making matters worse, the options now may be even worse.
With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton preparing for their own nominating conventions, the 68-year-old independent is filled with so much frustration at the candidates and the political system that propelled them to victory that she can't even imagine voting in November.
"I'm so mad about both of the candidates," said Conley, who finds Clinton too dishonest and Trump too unproven to be president. She paused while loading groceries into her car and declared, "It's depressing."
To be honest, Obama was just as unproven then but we'll let that fly. Because less than four months before Election Day, that same sense of anger and anxiety runs deep with voters across the country. Trump and Clinton will each try to paint a rosy picture of life under their leadership during their back-to-back conventions, but it seems unlikely either can quickly shake Americans out of their bad mood.
In fact, the prevailing sentiment among Americans is that it's never been worse. According to an AP-GfK poll, a stunning 79 percent of Americans now believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, a 15-point spike in the past year, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Voters are strikingly unhappy with the candidates who will be on the ballot this fall, with only 22 percent saying they would be proud to see Trump win and 27 percent to see Clinton.
And yet that is the best America has to offer.
It is so bad for Kristie Boltz, a registered Republican from Black Lake, Ohio, that she said a choice between Clinton and Trump is so unappealing that she would rather Obama stay in office for a third term. "And I didn't even vote for Obama. How crazy is that?" said Boltz, a 39-year-old who works in marketing.
Another irony: popular sentiment and the recovery narrative have never been more at odds with each other. According to AP, "the economy is growing, jobs are being created and unemployment is low."
Of course, the reality is that every single ounce of "growth", both in the economy but mostly in the stock market, has come as a result of an unprecedented global injection of liquidity by central banks, which in turn has launched a historic debt spree across the entire world unlike anything seen every before. And perhaps even common people realize that it is bound to end in a dreadful failure, which is why almost nobody harbors much optimism about the "long run"
Another point: the improving economy is a changing one, leaving some Americans without the skills they need for the jobs available. It is also one where nearly 100 million Americans have decided to exit the labor force entirely, for one reason or another, suggesting that even a cursory peak beneath the surface reveals an economy that is certainly not firing on all fours.
Adding to the sense of persistent dread, terrorism fears have been heightened in the U.S. after a string of deadly incidents in the West. As documented here every day, this summer in particular has seemed to bring a steady stream of gruesome news.
To be sure, the ever more dire newsflow certainly does not correlate to the supposed recovery in the economy, and certainly not to the all time highs in the S&P.
But back to the popular resentment to the upcoming presidential figure.
Emilie Passow, a 68-year-old Democrat from Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, said her disgust extends beyond the presidential candidates to Congress as well. "There's so little attempt at conciliation and consensus," she said.
And you want to know why that is? Because why attempt conciliation and consensus when the Fed will do everything to prop up the S&P and give the impression that all is well.
But nothing is well, and people are dreading not only the present but also the future. More than any other candidate in this election, Trump has latched onto the public's fears. He promises to "Make America Great Again," pledging to bring back manufacturing and mining jobs from areas where they've disappeared. With coded — and sometimes not so coded — language, he's cast aspersions on immigrants seeking to come to the United States and on Muslims already here.
"We're trying to be so nice, we're trying to be so civil. We're so weak," Trump said hours after the Nice attack. "The world has got to strengthen up, and we have to be very tight with our borders. It's now a different world." While Trump supporters cheer those lines, they leave other voters on edge.
Melissa Andreas, 42, said of the prospect of a Trump presidency: "I'm scared that our country is going to be in utter turmoil with him as our leader." Mike Ryan shares many of those sentiments about Trump.
But his view of Clinton isn't much better. "I've always been a Democrat and always will be," Ryan, 76, said. "But it's going to be a toughy."
Like his fellow Coloradan Barbara Conley, some of Ryan's feelings stem in part from his frustrations with Obama's eight years in office. Though Ryan supports Obama, he's been irritated by the years of battle between the Democratic president and Republican lawmakers that have often ended in stalemate.
Asked whether he believes Clinton — or Trump — could do any better, Ryan said simply, "I'm disappointed with what we're left with."
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And here is the truth: what we're left with is the Federal Reserve which is at the heart of the problem, because as we have said all along, the president is just a token figurehead who has zero real impact on the economy. It also explains why the real state of the economy is far more dire than anyone is willing to admit.
However, whether the next president is Hillary or Donald, the truth is that nothing will change as long as those who are truly in control, remain there: the banks and the corporations, who purchase influence for pennies on the dollar and who tell the privately-owned Fed how to plunder even more wealth from the middle class in the form of trillions and trillions of debt that will never be repaid and which will necessitate - with 100% certainty - more directly and indirectly funded taxpayer funded bailouts.
So enjoy the song and dance of the conventions, and enjoy the presidential spectacle. The reality is that both are for nothing more than show as long as the ivory tower economists, quietly advised what to do by Wall Street and by America's mega-corporations, who occupy the Marriner Eccles building are the ones who remain in charge. Everything else is smoke and mirrors.