Author: America is experiencing an identity crisis | News, Sports, Jobs
CHAUTAUQUA — Is America going through an identity crisis in which it cannot maintain its democracy?
Author George Packer may have a solution as he shared his thoughts on equality Friday at the Amphitheater as part of the theme for the first week of the Chautauqua Institution Speaker Series: “What should America’s role be in the world?” »
Packer said events at the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021 may also have caused the identity crisis.
“Until there are political or legal consequences for what happened that day, American democracy will always have a gun to its head,” he said.
Packer noted that there are new toxins in politics and the social media channel Twitter is one of them.
“Twitter is a new toxin” he said. “Members of Congress who spend more time working on their brand than legislating are a new toxin. But this disaster took half a century and I would say a disaster as big as January 6th took away the whole country.
Packer looked for things that make the country American, the culture that foreigners absorb when they immigrate to the United States.
“It all comes down to the word equality for me. It’s about the idea that we are all fundamentally the same. Equality as an ideal has been betrayed throughout American history,” Packer noted.
Excerpt from his most recent book, “Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal,” Packer said there are four narratives that can govern life in the United States: free America; smart America; the real America; and just America.
¯ Free America — The individual is separated from society; taxes are reduced; deregulation of the economy; attracted talented and energetic people from all over the world.
Free America has become the narrative of the Republican Party, he said.
Free America has failed.
“Something went wrong with Free America. And it is that we are a society. We are not just a collection of individuals. We are citizens and free America created the beginning of the inequality I speak of,” notes the author.
¯ Smart America — Professionals; educated classes; American college graduates.
Smart America has become the basis of the Democratic Party, he said.
“And this narrative says we need to soften the blows of our capitalist society. But the best path for anyone is to embrace the future, embrace the information age and the age of globalization and thrive through education in a knowledge-based economy,” he said.
Smart America also failed.
“But Smart America also failed in some ways. He created a new aristocracy — the educated aristocracy. … It became a class you were born into. It’s getting harder and harder to make your way through this class.” he added.
¯ The real America — rebellious; the white Christian heart of America; Non-university America.
“It was America that led to the election of Donald Trump”, he said.
Real America also failed.
¯ Just America — rebel; skeptical of traditional claims; skeptical of our leaders and the institutions they lead.
“Just America, which is basically a younger, even younger millennial movement that started or really started to take off around 2014 when a lot of things changed. … It is a country born in sin which has never cast out this sin which has a permanent character of oppression in its soul. And this generation, like many young people, felt that we were the first to force the country to face this history,” he noted.
Just America also failed.
“Just America also failed because it believes in what I call a metaphysics of group identity,” he said. “You are the group you were born into. You are not the person you are, others may think you are. You don’t have the freedom to change to think differently – to think outside the group. You are the group you were born into. And your status depends in a sense on the moral standing of that group and in the hierarchy of oppression.
Packer said each of the four narratives addresses real issues and each offers values. He said, quoting author James Baldwin, that every story failed to reach the United States. And quoting French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville, Packer said the United States had lost the art of self-government.
A fifth narrative, America Equals, should address the capacity for self-government and create the conditions for greater equality, he said.
“But I think America equals, that’s the right program. And then there’s how to restore the art of self-government. It’s even harder because it’s about our culture — how we think and speak. It is about education, media, language, civil society as well as politics, how we see each other as fellow citizens,” he said.
He said that our society is marked by contempt, which gives a person instant moral superiority. Also contempt is the currency of social networks.
“And that corrodes the spirit of any democracy between equals because contempt is inherently unequal.
For America to regain its identity, Packer suggested that citizens follow three simple rules: no tolerance for bigotry or group hatred; the truth is not a lie; and respect democratic rules.
“So we can’t stop looking for the common identity, however fragile, that lies beneath the four Americas that I have described. It is an essential civic task. he said.
From his recent trips to Ukraine, he learned that democracy is inseparable from national survival.
“And so they (the Ukrainians) will sacrifice everything for this. We should do the same,” he added.
Packer has been an editor at The Atlantic since 2018, according to assembly.chq.org. Previously, he was an editor at The New Yorker from 2003 to 2018, where he covered the war in Iraq, atrocities in Sierra Leone, civil unrest in Ivory Coast, the megacity of Lagos, and global counterinsurgency. In 2003, two of his articles won Overseas Press Club awards. In addition to Last Best Hope and The Unwinding, he is the author of Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, which won the Hitchens Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography, and The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, which was named one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2005 and won the Helen Bernstein Book Award from the New York Public Library and an Overseas Press Book Award Club. He is also the author of two novels and a play, and the editor of a two-volume edition of George Orwell’s essays.
Packer was Guggenheim Fellow and Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. A member of the International Board of Directors of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, he is a graduate of Yale College.