What’s ruining America?

Feb 13, 2024
A group of people on the background of the American flag USA

David Brooks describes himself as a moderate-conservative. Born in Canada but long resident in America, he is a respected, outspoken columnist for the New York Times and a range of other outlets. He has now explained what he believes is devastating America.

Brooks recently published a rousing, extended article in The Atlantic arguing that: Chicken Littles Are Ruining America” It repays careful reading.

The Chicken Little character achieved enduring fame in a Disney cartoon from 1943, by creating maximum distress while running about claiming that, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling”. Brooks thoroughly documents what he perceives as rampant doomsaying up and down and across America today, all of which he argues, “can become a self-fulfilling prophesy”. He notes that, on the right and left, pessimism has become “a membership badge and the ultimate sign that you are on the side of the good”, concluding that, “If your analysis is not apocalyptic, you’re naïve, lacking in moral urgency, complicit with the status quo.”

Brooks traces what has happened to the way that, sometime around 1970, the America personality changed as, “expressive individualism” or the “Brand Called You” pushed aside the previous dominant, collectively-binding mode of defining oneself according to social roles. Not just coincidentally, this was also about the time that the prior, dominant-white American identity saw its grip distinctly loosened as around 100 years of intimidating segregation began to unwind dramatically. (see here)

Brooks has positive things to say about President Biden explaining his poor poll numbers by arguing that, “he is not just running against the Republicans but against the entire zeitgeist”. He concludes with an earnest appeal: “Somehow, our new communal culture needs to replace bonds of negative polarisation and collective victimisation with bonds of common loves and collective action”. Is there any hope that America can do this today is a question that many external observers will pose.

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