Dragging Our Flag Down Into the Mire
Sometimes, I think the United States was destroyed by our victory in the Second World War. It seemed that we found ourselves alone at the top of the heap even as we were surrounded by countries in ruins. That’s when the hubris set in. We were free to make mistakes, lots of mistakes, while trumpeting our prowess.
In an article for The New York Review of Books for November 19, 2020, Pankaj Mishra wrote:
In Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (2006), Jonathan Lear writes of the intellectual trauma of the Crow Indians. Forced to move in the mid-nineteenth century from a nomadic to a settled existence, they catastrophically lost not only their immemorial world but also “the conceptual resources” to understand their past and present. The problem for a Crow Indian, Lear writes, wasn’t just that “my way of life has come to an end.” It was that “I no longer have the concepts with which to understand myself or the world…. I have no idea what is going on.”
It is no exaggeration to say that many in the Anglo-American intelligentsia today resemble the Crow Indians, after being successively blindsided by far-right insurgencies, an uncontainable pandemic, and political revolts by disenfranchised minorities. For nearly three decades after the the end of the cold war, mainstream politicians, journalists, and business people in Britain and the US repeatedly broadcast their conviction that the world was being knit together peaceably by their guidelines for capitalism, democracy, and technology. The United States itself appeared to have entered, with Barack Obama’s election, a “post-racial age,” and Americans seemed set, as President Obama wrote in Wired a month for Donald Trump’s election, to “race for new frontiers” and ”inspire the world.”
Well, that didn’t happen. We had Trump for four years, and suddenly it appeared that we were headed for the dissolution of everything we held dear, while dumbasses from Red States crawled out of their caves and began to shake the foundations of our democracy.
It’s not over yet by a long shot. The one sentence I remember from my high school civics textbook is, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” So we had best wake up.