Something is wrong. Really wrong. Not oceans-are-rising, crops-are-burning, birds-dying-en-masse wrong. But wrong in the great psyche of our country.
Surely you’ve felt the cerebral pangs. That everything you thought you knew about America, its spanning history, its wars and conflicts, struggles and triumphs, blood shed and spilled, is perfidious, twisted, distorted, incomprehensible. The American song used to be a confident ode to the freedom and dignity of mankind; now, we’re informed by learned ballad crits, it’s dissonant, full of false notes. Every institution, from rarefied echelons of Hollywood and high fashion, to the ivied, concrete walls of higher education, to the jittery newsrooms of the press, is set at defiance against the country for a myriad of sins. The delictos include everything from racism to genocide to inequality to hypocrisy to warmaking to abetting mass suffering to picking its own teeth with its greedy, bloody, morally depraved fingers.
The United States suffers not from an attack of the dismals, but a full-scale assault.
Some opprobrium, as any honest patriot knows, is warranted. America has always had problems, not the least of which being failure to uphold the dignifying rights of its founding documents. But never has the core of the country been painted in such a damning light, to be derided so deeply so as to be irredeemable. Old Glory is now inglorious according to the New York Times. Mara Gay of the Grey Lady’s editorial board recently recalled feeling “disturbed” by the sight of American flags in Long Island.
What is this America-loathing pathology? And why does it feel ubiquitous, as if shot up amidst the amber waves of grain overnight, boxing the entire country in? Andrew Sullivan has an answer: “the sudden, rapid, stunning shift in the belief system of the American elites.” How drastic was the snooty shift? It was such a swift change of heart that the Barack Obama of 2012, that paragon of colorblind aspiration, could have run for re-election as a conservative Republican.
“Observe what has happened in our discourse since around 2015,” Sullivan asks. The 2016 Republican presidential frontrunner was the somnambulant Jeb Bush; Black Lives Matter commanded little attention; Ta-Nehisi Coates had a best-selling grievance missive about a white New Yorker being pushy to his son; no more than a dozen people outside academia could identify critical race theorist Derrick Bell.
Then came Donald Trump and, by turn, the elitist down-spouting of the narrative that America is a hellish racial battleground with whites relentlessly goose stepping on and over non-whites to maintain material supremacy. Sullivan continues: “The elites, increasingly sequestered within one political party and one media monoculture, educated by colleges and private schools that have become hermetically sealed against any non-left dissent, have had a ‘social justice reckoning’ these past few years.” That reckoning has been passed—one might even say forced—down the cultural channels to the mainstream. The tragic death of George Floyd broke the levees. Recall June 2020 when every Fortune 500 company, domestic and foreign, tripped over itself to condemn racial injustice and celebrate black culture. PetSmart, the woofy retailer, even sent out an email apologia about the mistreatment of black Americans.
The trend has only accelerated at a quantum clip since then. Today, children as young as four are being taught the first principles of critical race theory. Parents feeling an acute sense of gewörfenheit over their kindergarteners being racialized are, for the trouble of taking interest in their children’s education, being branded bigoted paranoiacs. Paired with the hyper—almost maniacal—focus on reproductive organs, the race-gender-identitarian complex is subsuming everything, to the most minute of simple pleasures. Captain America isn’t just black now; he has to have an ambivalent loyalty to the very stars and stripes donning his pinioned costume.
“We are going through the greatest radicalization of the elites since the 1960s,” is how Sullivan explains the phenomenon. This ideological revolution may be sincere or defensive posturing. But it’s happening regardless, and its suppositions are being jammed into the wider culture with mind-bending results. One incongruent example: Raytheon, the Potomac-fronting butcher shop responsible for immolating untold numbers of Afghans and Iraqis, encouraging employees to learn up on the “weaponization of whiteness.”
Piece together all the bewildering examples of wokeness from on high, the figure-of-eight caprices on what constitutes rightthink, the ubiquity of that simplistic “equity” graphic showing three people peering over a fence, your tweets being sniff-checked for unconscious subtext, and overly aggressive pronoun policing. The combo is bound to be frustrated, even a little ticked off. Times really have changed in the last half decade. You can acknowledge that without being a crusty laudator temporis acti.
America’s aristoi have turned against the very country’s foundation that provided the means for their prosperity in the first place. The mid-century ideal of America, that of a dynamic nation dedicated to race-less meritocracy, personal liberty, and equality before the law, is outmoded among the modish class. Now it’s all white supremacy and systemic oppression all the time, a constant, impenetrable darkness blotting out all light.
Something is definitely wrong. The appeasement of one voluble sect of miserable radicals by an even smaller sect of cultural lever-pullers is sinking the country within a slough of despond. You aren’t wrong to notice the sinking, and to struggle against its pull.