This post started off in life as a comment left at Amba’s blog to this post:
Have you noticed that progressives are in a deep state of despair and alarm about our country and the world? Here is one example, here is another. These are two of my favorite writers and thinkers, so I refuse to make fun of them. As someone who has inhabited both liberal and conservative mindsets — the liberal one I was raised in, where most of my family and many friends still dwell; the conservative one I was instructed in by helping a conservative write a book, which required “putting on” that perspective and seeing through its eyes — I can slip back into the state of outrage and mourning that possesses so many people I know, but I can’t stay there. To one of the bloggers linked above, that makes me one of the despicable “soft middle” who refuse to see that a “silent coup” has already taken place.
With Naomi Wolf, my friends, my nieces, are convinced that America is well along the road to no longer being America; that we are consuming and competing ourselves into complacency, caring only about pleasure and the pursuit of wealth and fame, while democracy is dismantled under our noses and replaced with a bellicose protofascist authoritarianism. The companion grief to this (and a displacement of it?) is over the destruction of “the planet,” the drowning polar bears. People continue to go through the motions of voting, perhaps protesting, and reducing their personal carbon footprints, but these often seem like mere magical gestures to ward off an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and futility. Exxon Mobil’s carbon footprint is going to crush yours like a bug. The two griefs are blood brothers in oil, the addiction that drives the new American imperialism.
America has always been on the road to not being America. Today’s America is incredibly different from that of my childhood.
The Founders would scarcely have recognized the America of the Civil War. The Englishmen and Scots-Irish Protestants of the Colonies had been augmented by Irishmen and Germans (my ancestors), many of them (gasp!) Catholics.
By the time of the Great War Eastern and Southern Europeans had arrived in numbers. And, my goodness, many of them weren’t even Christians!
Each of these changes didn’t just transform the look of the population and where (or whether) it worshipped but government, too. By the time World War II broke out, the America envisioned by the Founders, that of government by enumerated and delimited powers and extreme decentralization was gone for good (or ill). That’s not coming back.
A question that I think that the progressive critics might consider is whether they really think that the America of 1820, with legal slavery, hatred of and legal descrimination against non-Protestants and non-whites, women firmly ensconced in the home, and the only social safety nets being the family and the church, was better than the America of today?
Historically, we’ve thrived on change, chaos even. To tell the truth I think that’s one of the things that Europe’s bureaucrats and the Middle East’s autocrats have against us: they don’t much like change. But change is the one thing that we can confidently predict.
Will it be change for the better? Who knows? But it’ll be different and America, once again, will become unrecognizeable.