The Age of Anxiety

An American just returning from five years abroad takes a look at the current US political climate:

Fearful of the present, the outside, the alien, the defender of America looks backward to a mythical golden age in Puritan New England. But now the white anglo-saxon Protestant is armoured with a computer. The culture of soft fascism cannot be reduced to the traditional bogeymen of the American left: even in its liberal years, the United States was an ardently religious country; Americans were ardent nationalists even when they fought for Europe in the two world wars. Nor is the appeal of soft fascism to be treated with simple contempt. The terror attack tripped a domestic switch about experiences of marginality that people have trouble naming and about which they can do little. Abroad, Bushism registers a wounded national honour; at home, confusion about living honourably…

For a long time the American intellectual left has been out of touch with the American people. It has spoken in the name of the people but not to them. Now, in the reconfigured landscape of economics, class and culture, however, the educated, cosmopolitan liberal is a social victor. Even the sculptor in Fanelli’s struggling to make ends meet is a social victor; nobody can rob him of his work and worth.

The right has perhaps understood that victory better than the victors themselves, in giving fresh life to the taunts of “cultural elitism” aimed at the intellectual left. The attack embodies a classic dilemma: when a young man with a good degree and an expensive lap-top attacks injustice, the ordinary person feels patronised.

For the past four years, the rich and powerful in America have capitalised on just this social distance, between the cultural elite and people beset by anxieties about personal insufficiency and mutual respect. The victors have defended themselves by saying, but we are just like you, loyal Americans; the defence rings false because they aren’t domestically the same. Those bewildered glances out of Fanelli’s window, the knowing sniggers at Cooper Union, are signs of an inequality as ambiguous as the word “American”.

Read the rest over at The Guardian

Via Jenn

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