On the day Trump leaves office, we’ll still have a younger generation with worse life prospects than their parents had faced. We’ll still have a cultural elite that knows little about people in red America and daily sends the message that they are illegitimate. We’ll still have yawning inequalities, residential segregation, crumbling social capital, a crisis in family formation.
Trump’s rise in 2016 was a symptom of all these crises, long before he had a chance to become an additional cause of them.
What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole — of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”
I’d add that this individualism, atomism and selfishness is downstream from a deeper crisis of legitimacy. In 1970, in a moment like our own, Irving Kristol wrote, “In the same way as men cannot for long tolerate a sense of spiritual meaninglessness in their individual lives, so they cannot for long accept a society in which power, privilege, and property are not distributed according to some morally meaningful criteria.”
A lot of people look around at the conditions of this country — how Black Americans are treated, how communities are collapsing, how Washington doesn’t work — and none of it makes sense. None of it inspires faith, confidence. In none of it do they feel a part.
If you don’t breathe the spirit of the nation, if you don’t have a fierce sense of belonging to each other, you’re not going to sacrifice for the common good. We’re confronted with a succession of wicked problems and it turns out we’re not even capable of putting on a friggin’ mask.
David Brooks, ‘The Coronavirus and America’s Humiliation
American leadership has politicized the pandemic instead of trying to fight it. I see no preparedness, no coordinated top-down leadership of the sort we’ve enjoyed in Europe. I see only empty posturing, the sad spectacle of the president refusing to wear a mask, just to own the libs. What an astonishing self-inflicted wound.
On June 26, a day when the U.S. notched some 45,000 new cases—how’s that for “American carnage”?—the European Union announced that it would loosen some travel restrictions but extend its ban on visitors from the United States and other hot-spot nations. On Tuesday, it[confirmed] that remarkable and deeply humiliating decision, a clear message that in pandemic management, the EU believes that the United States is no better than Russia and Brazil—autocrat-run public-health disasters—and that American tourists would pose a dire threat to the hard-won stability our lockdown has earned us. So much for the myth that the American political system and way of life are a model for the world.
Thomas Chatterton Williams, Americans Don’t Get How Badly They’re Handling COVID-19
President Trump on Thursday morning appeared before reporters in the White House briefing room to rattle off a bunch of numbers — unemployment numbers, stock-market numbers, consumer-confidence numbers. For much of the presentation, he was reading off of prepared materials. But this is a fellow who can’t resist ad-libbing.
And so at one point, he added, “It’s coming back faster, bigger and better than we ever thought possible,” said Trump of a bounce-back in economic indicators. “These are not numbers made up by me. These are numbers.”
… Someone who lies as much as Trump needs a way to signal when he’s not lying.
Eric Wemple, Trump drops bombshell: ‘These are numbers’ (emphasis in original)
The American experiment has always been messy. In fact, that’s part of the appeal. But this is not America at its best. America, at its best, is not banned from traveling to Europe because it has so badly failed to contain a disease that a mere tourist is considered a public health risk. At its best, America does not get so swept up in the mob mentality that it indiscriminately tears down monuments of abolitionists and patriots, nor does it shrug its collective shoulders when it learns a foreign adversary placed bounties on the heads of our servicemen and women.
Here’s hoping the country feels more like celebrating next year.
* * * * *
Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.
* * * * *