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Big problems and petty politics sum up this summer in America

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Kentucky Freedom Rally Held To Protest Mask And Vaccine Mandates
People display signs during the Kentucky Freedom Rally at the capitol building on August 28, 2021 in Frankfort, KentuckyJon Cherry / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If you had to describe American politics over this past summer, this might do the trick:

Big problems and petty politics.

Think about the big problems: Fires out in the West. A hurricane in the Southeast. Flooding in the East. A humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. A deadly pandemic that’s not gone away. A surge of migrants at the border. Oh, and an attack on the U.S. Capitol — just eight months ago — as Congress was certifying election results.

Then match them with all the petty politics we’ve seen: A recall election in California (when that governor is already up for re-election next year and after previous failed attempts to recall him).

Congressional Democrats arguing about procedure over which legislative priority should come first — infrastructure or reconciliation/climate.

Republicans criticizing President Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, but not offering solutions how to fix the problem (when many of them also supported withdrawal during the last administration).

A Democratic president who spent half of a televised address explaining why it was time the United States withdrew from Afghanistan — and the other half defensively answering his critics.

Fights over mask and vaccine requirements.

The political opposition howling about the situation at the border — but not coming up with legislative solutions how to fix it.

And a House minority leader who helped sink a bipartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, who then complained about it not being bipartisan and who now is threatening telecom companies if they cooperate with the Democratic investigation.

There have been plenty of heroes this past summer – those who helped with the evacuation from Afghanistan, the 13 U.S. servicemembers who lost their lives, the first responders battling the fires and floods.

Unfortunately, there haven’t been many heroes to be found in our politics.

It’s hard to find anyone speaking to the moment this country is facing.

Poll: 92 percent of college freshmen are optimistic about their lives

But for all of that pessimism, here’s some optimism you can use: The Class of 2025 that just started college is optimistic about their lives and job prospects, according to a new NBC News/Generation Lab poll of incoming college students across the country.

A whopping 92 percent of the freshmen — attending either two-year or four-year institutions — say they’re optimistic about their personal lives, including 28 percent who are “super” optimistic, according to the online NBC News/Generation Lab poll of 1,108 incoming students conducted Aug. 18-19 nationwide.

Another 92 percent think they’ll get the job they want after they graduate, 88 percent definitely or probably plan to get married, and nearly 4 in 5 plan to have children.

“I’m super optimistic about my life because, if I can go to college and have all these opportunities in the midst of a pandemic, I don’t think that there’s much that can stop me,” said Kelsi VanOrder, 17, who’s attending Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan.

Lauryn Cook, 35, who’s attending Daytona State College in Florida, is also optimistic “because I have all the right things happening for me,” she said. “I’m going to college so that I can better my life and the quality of life for my children. I am in a relationship with someone who supports me, and that’s amazing.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

9: The number of deaths reported in the New York City area so far after flash flooding and heavy storms yesterday.

3: The number of studies that found that the risk of breakthrough Covid-19 infections remains very rare.

11,500: The number of people in New Orleans whose power returned as about a million remain without power.

51 percent: The portion of first-time voters in the 2020 election who use YouTube every day.

39,533,311: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 195,925 more since yesterday morning.)

645,894: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,694 more since yesterday morning).

371,280,129: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 1,068,102 more since yesterday morning.)

52.6 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

63.6 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

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Happy Labor Day

A note that our newsletter will be off on Friday and Monday — but back bright and early Tuesday morning. Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world:

The new Texas abortion law could make abortion a major issue in upcoming elections.

Democrats have named Rep. Liz Cheney the vice chairwoman of the Jan. 6 panel.

FEMA closes the gap that prevented many Black families in South from receiving disaster aid.

More federal Covid-related unemployment programs are set to expire within days.

Colorado police and paramedics face charges in the death of Elijah McClain

States and Washington D.C. want to appeal the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan.

Former President Trump made two more endorsements yesterday, one in the PA Senate race and one who is challenging a Republican who voted for impeachment.