We are so grateful to Robert McKee. His brilliant work not only helped Paula and I begin to see our own lives as a story – and what a love story has now blossomed – but he also helped us to see your unfolding drama in America through the lens of story.
And the more we came to see the hidden reality that, if Christianity is the story we are in, your God is the Great Storyteller, the more we came to see how story is far more powerful than we had ever imagined.
And it appears to be that because our secular story allies have won the story war in America, one of the massive shifts in the story of America is to what is called “identity politics.”
Put simply: identity matters in politics, oftentimes more than anything else.Barack Obama and the Triumph of Identity Politics, by Jay Cost, Weekly Standard, November 8, 2012
But as you Christians refuse to look through the lens of story, you miss how this is connected to the great significance of the simple story question…
Who are we, here in the story?
And as a result, it’s difficult for you to see how your increasing shift to identity politics is dangerously dividing your nation – and at the same time giving you an increasing advantage in the story war.
But what do you really want, here in the story? Will you even look into this?
Or will you continue to push away the upside risk assessment you could do?
So, to help reveal
your desire, we want to show you something. Paula Wong discovered a very strange
Putin Prize Essay (a contest
initiated by Putin himself). You may want to look at it.
The American Foot Disease
An Essay Submitted For the Putin Prize Competition
By Dr. Pääesikunnan Tiedusteluosasto
Chief Forensic Podiatrist
Finnish Military Intelligence Service
Dear President Putin,
My business in life is feet. I travel all over the world consulting with friendly intelligence services about the feet of certain dead people they have an interest in. (This got me the gig on CSI Miami! Remember the Russian Mafia episode?)
So when I saw the call for essays from you, an idea immediately came to mind.
You see, like Isaac Newton, I too have an intense interest in the ancient Hebrew book of the prophet Daniel.
Newton believed it was a revelation of God with clues to the future of humanity. If Newton was right, then there is a certain passage within it which may well shed some light on the future of the United States.
And… it’s a passage about feet!
And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.Daniel 2:40-43
Now, while the prophet Daniel did not specifically speak about the United States…
The United States of America is never mentioned in the Bible, but, some people have asked, might it be a nation in the “revived Roman Empire”? As the old Roman Empire had a controlling effect on its world, so does the United States, at the time of the writing of these notes: culturally, linguistically, politically, economically, and in other ways. Might the “toes” of this “empire” (Dan. 2:41-43) represent the global influence that it exercises over the other nations of the earth—figuratively standing atop them?
The mixed iron‑and‑clay consistency of these “toes,” in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, may represent diversity, which has always characterized the United States: “the melting pot” of the world. If the United States does not turn out to be the revived Roman Empire, or part of it, another similar future global power might be. (The emphasis on the “little horn,” in Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast [Dan. 7:7-8, 11-12, 23-26], focuses on the powerful leader of this “empire.”)Notes on the Book of Revelation, by Dr. Thomas Constable
… his description seems to fit America like “a well soled shoe sold by she who soled sea shoes by the seashore” — a quaint Finnish custom you may not be familiar with.
So, is it possible the Americans are now approaching the last stage of a kind of foot disease?
Here is what I mean, Vlad. The United States is a mixture which is becoming increasingly divided over the foundational, basic questions of life. It looks like it has a case of fallen arches. And such a condition would seem to leave it in a very unstable situation.
You realize, of course, as a podiatrist I have quite an interest in this question of instability. My father, who was also a physician of the feet, used to tell me as a young boy, “Pääesikunnan, my son, a man’s only as stable as his feet!” I always thought it a bit odd, though, that when I sometimes went with him on his monthly rounds at the Helsinki Sanatorium their feet seemed not to be a particular problem.
Also, being a Finn and for so many years living in the shadow of your former empire, the USSR, I was very interested in their improbable disintegration. Even the American CIA couldn’t see it coming.
So, could the United States follow in their footsteps? Just how do they compare?
I’ve begun collecting observations. Look at these:
Heilbrunn: When you look at the state of America right now, where the political system, even with Republican majorities, has essentially ground to a halt, are you feeling less optimistic about America’s future, or do you think we’re going to emerge from this in good shape?
Greenberg: All during history, there have been rising powers and declining powers. You had the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the French Empire and the British Empire; what happened? They reach a certain point, and their population changes—the mix of the population, the development of the population—a country that is united becomes splintered and becomes a declining power. What is happening here? During my lifetime, I’ve never seen the country so divided. Two totally different countries. We are declining until we get that turned around.Asia’s Future: A Conversation with Maurice R. Greenberg, By Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest, January-February 2018
But doesn’t a nation of immigrants from every land need something to bind it, to reinforce our obligations to our country and to each other as citizens?
So what is that common thread? I held it once, but I don’t see it now.
Instead we break in pieces; economically, politically, ethnically. We’re angry, we bicker and we go our separate ways.What binds a nation of immigrants together? By John Kass, Chicago Tribune, September 16, 2016
I also came across this, from John Derbyshire, a controversial Englishman living in America. Writing in the January 2007 issue of the New English Review, he posed a question…
So here is the question: Given that the present-day USA, like the old USSR, is a “proposition nation,” built around a Creed—a set of abstract ideas—and given that it lacks the ethnic solidarity, the sense of being descended from a common set of ancestors, that helps hold together old ethnostates like China or Egypt at least much of the time — given that even the idea of ethnic solidarity is contentious in the USA — can this country avoid the fate of the USSR?
Of course I don’t know the answer to that question, and I very much hope, first but not solely for my childrens’ sake, that the answer is “yes.” There are strong reasons to think the answer may be “no,” though. All sorts of fault lines have opened up in US society and national consciousness this past forty years, and an edifice with so many cracks in it may not stand indefinitely.
It’s also interesting, by the way, that his article was titled “Will the United States Survive Until 2022?”
So now, look at this:
No my real fear is that the center will not hold. …. So what I fear is something similar in our own society; that the Left gets what it’s been asking for: Total Identity Politics Armageddon. Everyone to your tribe, literal or figurative.
Spending as much time as I do on the internet, it’s easy to think this world has already arrived. It’s basically how political twitter operates. But what I fear is that it spills over into real life…The Delusions of Left-Wing Identity Politics, By Jonah Goldberg, National Review, June 27, 2015
And Vlad, it does look like identity politics is becoming ever more powerful in the United States…
The difference between 2001 and 2018 is the difference between “I am an American” and “I am a fill-in-the-blank.” The vast community we all inhabited has become a series of subdivisions. Group identity is the thing now. I am less American than a progressive, populist, African-American, Ivy Leaguer, Christian, transgender, Hispanic, vegan, Jewish, “none,” Anglo, gun owner, yogan, Asian-American, Native-American, #MeToo — I’m out of breath.
Identity politics, as we have come to understand it, is the new brand of politics: the demands of a particular constituency (self-styled) asserted over the needs and rights of other constituencies.Where Did All the Unity Go?, By William Murchison, Real Clear Politics, September 11, 2018
U.S. society has been fragmented by identity politics into warlord states and has become, here and there, almost psychotic. Civilized people get themselves worked up at dinner parties. They use the phrase “civil war,” and on the third glass of wine, they mean it. People unsure of who they are have no idea what they, or the other side, may be capable of. A strange interplay of candor and evasion goes to work, but all forces are centrifugal.Shall We Have Civil War or Second Thoughts?, By Lance Morrow, Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2018
There are divisions, nonetheless, and they go beyond the familiar left-right divide, and they transcend the usual, almost tribal divisions between Republicans and Democrats. “Identity politics” has come to almost wholly replace the conventionally broad class-based politics of the 20th-century left.A second Civil War? Nonsense — bizarrely, the U.S. is actually quite cheerful, By Terry Glavin, National Post, July 4, 2018
More likely, this war is really about identity politics and what Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla has called “The Liberal Crackup.”
Lilla traces the origins of identity politics to a slogan of the feminist movement during the 1960s: the personal is the political. “Originally,” Lilla observes, “it was interpreted to mean that everything that seems strictly private — sexuality, the family, the workplace — is in fact political and that there are no spheres of life exempt from the struggle for power… But the phrase could also be taken in a more romantic sense: that what we think of as political action is in fact nothing but personal activity, an expression of me and how I define myself. As we would put it today, my political life is a reflection of my identity.”Identity Politics and the End of Meaning, By Bruce Robinson, American Thinker, February 1, 2018
Adam Rubenstein: If “reason” is to be “the currency of our discourse,” what’s the future of identity politics? Is identity politics based in reason? Your new book touches on the issue, but cursorily. Could you provide more of an explanation of identity politics, where it comes from, where it’s going, and how we should think about it?
Steven Pinker: Identity politics is the syndrome in which people’s beliefs and interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow. Identity politics originated with the fact that members of certain groups really were disadvantaged by their group membership, which forged them into a coalition with common interests: Jews really did have a reason to form the Anti-Defamation League.Steven Pinker: Identity Politics Is ‘An Enemy of Reason and Enlightenment Values’, By ADAM RUBENSTEIN, Weekly Standard, February 15, 2018
And along with the rise of identity politics is a rise of tribalism…
In its first sense, tribalism refers to the organization of people along lines of common ancestry or joint identity for the purpose of exercising political power — as the indigenous people of many parts of the world, including the Americas, have long done. But over time, as new forms of governance appeared — city-states, kingdoms and especially empires, which controlled vast colonies with different races, cultures and languages — tribalism came to be seen as crude and antiquated, a political structure that could never hope to address the challenges of large states. And now, in the modern era, the word is used almost exclusively in its second, derogatory sense, to suggest an irrational loyalty to your people.
The impulse to belong to a clan is deeply human, however, and new tribes continue to form, organized not around ancestry but along fuzzier lines of ideology or demography.Does American ‘Tribalism’ End in a Compromise, or a Fight?, By Laila Lalami, New York Times, June 26, 2018
And identity politics connects to tribalism…
Humans, like other primates, are tribal animals. We need to belong to groups, which is why we love clubs and teams. Once people connect with a group, their identities can become powerfully bound to it. They will seek to benefit members of their group even when they gain nothing personally. They will penalize outsiders, seemingly gratuitously. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their group.Tribal World: Group Identity Is All, By Amy Chua, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2018 Issue
GOLDBERG: People are retreating to their little cocoons. They’re retreating to social media. And what they’re retreating to are things like identity politics. Our colleges teach people that they should simply think of themselves in racial categories or gender categories. You’ve now got this whole – what I would consider asinine – cottage industry on the right that says that we need, essentially, an identity politics for white people. But that’s the real problem with identity politics, is that it reduces people’s identity – people’s true identity – their character, their personality, their lived experiences – to these really thin abstractions.
INSKEEP: It’s tribalism.
GOLDBERG: It’s tribalism, but it’s a really cheap form of tribalism because at least the authentic, evolutionary form of tribalism, which says, the people I grew up with, the people I go hunting with, the people who protect me when I sleep – right? – I know these faces.Goldberg’s ‘Suicide Of The West’ Tackles Ills Of Identity Politics, National Public Radio, April 23, 2018
The only thing worse than foot disease is blindness, blindness to the power of tribalism.
This blindness to the power of tribalism affects not only how Americans see the rest of the world but also how they understand their own society.Tribal World: Group Identity Is All, By Amy Chua, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2018 Issue
And the foot space of tribalism reigns.
In reality, a propensity toward division and conflict is deeply embedded in human nature. Tribalism reigns in the human heart.Can America Survive as a Post-Christian Nation? By David French, National Review, December 27, 2017
MJ.com: With that nationalism, though, comes a lot of the ugly racism, sectarianism, and xenophobia that infect soccer. Do you see this changing anytime soon?
FF: I don’t see tribalism ever really disappearing entirely. I just think that people are almost hardwired to identify as groups. And that sort of group identity always runs the risk of being chauvinistic.How Soccer Explains the World, by Bradford Plumer, Mother Jones, August 4, 2004
So, Mr. Putin, why has identity politics so powerfully come into America’s story? Here are a couple of options underfoot in America–
On one foot, let’s examine the diminution of the family, which is bonded like foot powder to identity politics.
A second way in which the revolution has transformed politics is even less understood than the revolution’s connection to the omnipotent State, and arguably just as consequential. That’s the symbiotic bond between the diminution of the family and the rise of identity politics.
Sexual identity, racial identity, ethnic identity, and the rest of the now-familiar pack have become the driving force of progressive politics — so much so that imagining today’s progressivism without these group identities is an exercise in futility. Identity politics is behind many of the most incendiary clashes of our time. Campuses have become “safe spaces” in which the assertion of group identity now routinely trumps free speech. Language is policed down to the pronoun for transgressions offensive to one or another aggrieved tribe. Halloween costumes and other trivia that run afoul of “cultural appropriation” can exact costs in social opprobrium, social-media flaming, and even employment.
How did this way of doing “politics,” which was only in its infancy 20 years ago, ever ascend to today’s heights? To study the timeline is to see that identity politics in America has grown exactly in tandem with the spread of the sexual revolution — and for good, if pitiful, reason. Western human beings today, like human beings everywhere, are desperate to know who they are, to whom they belong, where they have a place in the world. But today, the old ways of knowing all these desiderata — that is, by reference to the family and extended family — no longer exist for many people, and are growing weaker for many more.
Why is this happening? Because our organic connections to one another have been sundered as never before, outside wartime or natural catastrophe. Today’s clamor over identity — the authentic scream of so many for answers to questions about where they belong in the world — did not spring from nowhere. It is a squalling creature of our time, born of familial liquidation.Two Nations, Revisited, By Mary Eberstadt, National Affairs, Summer 2108
And on the other foot let’s examine the rise of Nihilism. Sadly, when they buried God, it gutted identity permanence, and everyone began to question their existence from head to toe.
As a straight white cisgender Christian man, I suggest that an explanation for this identity crisis may be found in Nietzsche’s famous, often misunderstood claim that God is dead. The death of God led to a detachment of identity and meaning from anything permanent, which has left people trying to construct their own identities from the contingencies of human existence.Self-Creation or God’s Creation? Mistaken Identities and Nietzsche’s Madman, by Nathanael Blake, Public Discourse, June 20th, 2018
But what are the Americans going to do? As they stumble forward on their unsteady feet, everyone wants to know who they are…
In a book expanded from his famous 1993 essay, Huntington described civilizations as the broadest and most crucial level of identity, encompassing religion, values, culture and history. Rather than “which side are you on?” he wrote, the overriding question in the post-Cold War world would be “who are you?”Samuel Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era, By Carlos Lozada, Washington Post, July 18, 2017
“Who are you?” It’s a basic, powerful question. The only question that comes close to it in importance is, “What size are my feet?”
Identity has become something of a buzz word in our public discussions, leading to the frequently deplored “identity politics” that constructs the world around race, gender, sexual orientation, and other contingencies that should not be expected to bear the weight of the world, or even the weight of defining who you are. And yet identity is important. To borrow a motto from the people at America Express, “Don’t leave home without it.” Once one leaves a secure world of taken-for-granted realities, one is at a loss without identity. We want to know who we are in relation to who others are, or who they want us to think they are. I am indebted to the sociologist Peter Berger for the phrase “identity kit.” We all have one. They are the pieces of the biography that people produce in introducing themselves to strangers, in writing a resume for a job, or in privately measuring their successes and failures. For these purposes and others, any identity is better than none.Richard John Neuhaus, American Babylon
We are so accustomed to thinking of America as the world’s most stable country. No one appears more solid on their national feet. But what if things are changing? What if they are reaching the last stage of foot disease?
At best, our unity is found in our disillusionment. It sometimes seems as though we are in an “lol-nothing-matters” age where politics is has become entertainment to applaud, at least when we are not horrified. Technology necessarily shapes the ways each generation views the world and, if older voters were catechized by cable news, younger voter have been shaped by social media. Politics is their identity, and their identity politics is all-consuming.
These tribal identities are taking shape in a disorienting new era of hyper-individualism and radical diversity. To quote Ben Domenech, “People are atomized, power is centralized, data is aggregated, and culture is disaggregated.” Nowhere is this felt more than among the young, who report high rates of loneliness. Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, is the loneliest of the generations according to a recent survey by Cigna, even with their ever-present digital tethers.Conservatism in the Age of Millennials, By Michael Hendrix, Real Clear Policy, July 24, 2018
Our culture has an odd identity crisis. It is not that we do not know who we are, but that we are apparently incapable of shutting up about it. From identity politics to the elevation of gender identity over biological sex, our culture is replete with conflicts rooted in assertions of identity. Arguments routinely commence with statements of identity.
But do we protest too much? Do persistent proclamations of identity cover a brittleness underlying our identity obsessions?Self-Creation or God’s Creation? Mistaken Identities and Nietzsche’s Madman, by Nathanael Blake, Public Discourse, June 20th, 2018
Democrats won’t give up on democracy. It’s too central to their identity, and their commitment to democratic norms and processes is also their point of greatest contrast with Trumpism.
Instead, Democrats will give up on conservatives. They will give up on Alabama and Mississippi, on Kansas and Nebraska. They will explore ways to divorce their culture, politics and economy from Trumpism and from their fellow Americans who support it.What Democratic Rage Would Look Like, By Francis Wilkinson, Bloomberg, June 21, 2018
Most Americans own so many pairs of shoes that they need to be sorted out once in a while, in pairs of course. Well Vlad, it appears those Americans are sorting themselves out as well…
America’s political divides reflect its growing tribal divides. We are undergoing a Great Sort — demographically, ideologically, and culturally — into different party bases. As Pew has found, one tribe skews old, conservative, white, rural, and religious, while the other leans young, liberal, nonwhite, urban, and secular. This new tribal politics finds young and old sorted into think-alike and look-alike communities. In the absence of communism or any other orienting enemy, our enemy has become the other tribe.Conservatism in the Age of Millennials, By Michael Hendrix, Real Clear Policy, July 24, 2018
A man’s shoes can tell you a lot about his status. And that’s in play in identity politics too…
Tribalism is now the basis of American politics. Partisanship is old, but the determination to believe different facts on the basis of who cites them is new. Yet we shouldn’t be surprised, for the notion of relative truth, truth defined by the status of the person speaking it, is now mainstream in universities — which ought to be the strongest redoubts of Enlightenment values.
Identity politics is really a revival of the pre-modern notion of caste — that is, of a person’s status fixed at birth. The sheer persistence of that idea across continents and centuries suggests that our notion of personal autonomy is the more difficult one to sustain.The West is losing liberalism, by Dan Hannan, Washington Examiner, September 10, 2018
Liberals in good standing have warned of the dangers that Democrats face if they dedicate themselves to the kind of divisive identity politics that “breeds its equal and opposite reaction” in the form of a collective racial consciousness among white Americans. Indeed, it will be too tempting for Republicans to avoid following in Donald Trump’s lead and exacerbating racial tensions within the Democratic coalition to siphon off the votes of alienated whites. “We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism,” wrote Columbia University professor Mark Lilla. His recommendation came not just from a place of concern for national comity, but with the best interests of the electoral strength of the Democratic Party in mind.
The progressive left is having none of this. “Apologizing for ‘identity politics’ precipitates an electoral death spiral,” wrote Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Steve Philips, “because it doesn’t work to woo Trump voters, who will always opt for the real racist, and it also depresses the enthusiasm of the very voters we need to win.”The Liberal Fight Is over Identity, Not Economics, By Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine, August 6, 2018
I would certainly say that we are all giving in to the siren of human nature too much. The essence of every civilization is to hold off the worst aspects – chiefly, violence – of human nature – because violence is natural to humans – and channel the good parts of human nature towards productive ends. And what I think we’re missing is that because of the institutions that help us channel and focus human nature in productive ends, starting with the family, are breaking down, we are giving into worst parts of our nature. And we’re listening to the lesser angels, as it were, of our nature, if not the demons. And I think that it’s very easy for people within their coalition to see the hypocrisy, and cruelty, and nastiness and intellectual dishonesty of the other coalition. But they will make remarkable allowances for the members of their own coalition.
– Jonah GoldbergGoldberg’s ‘Suicide Of The West’ Tackles Ills Of Identity Politics, National Public Radio, April 23, 2018
Is the footing of Americans on the faulty ground of nationalism? And where will that lead? Can they stay on their feet?
Liberals warn repeatedly against populism and nationalism, suggesting that even to raise the question of national identity is to take a step away from civilization. And it is true that there are dangers here. However, we in the Anglosphere have a language with which to discuss nationality that is not tainted by the bellicose rhetoric of the 19th- and 20th-century nationalists. When we wish to summon the “we” of political identity, we do not use grand and ideologically tainted idioms, like la patrie or das Vaterland. We refer simply to the country, this spot of earth, which belongs to us because we belong to it, have loved it, lived in it, defended it and established peace and prosperity within its borders.
Patriotism involves a love of home and a preparedness to defend it; nationalism, by contrast, is an ideology, which uses national symbols to conscript the people to war. When the Abbé Sieyès declared the aims of the French Revolution, it was in the language of nationalism: “The nation is prior to everything. It is the source of everything. Its will is always legal…. The manner in which a nation exercises its will does not matter; the point is that it does exercise it; any procedure is adequate, and its will is always the supreme law.” Those inflammatory words launched France on the path to the Reign of Terror, as the “enemies of the nation” were discovered hiding behind every chair.The Case for Nations, By Roger Scruton, Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2017
Maybe Americans should invest in boxing shoes?
Some people think that dialogue and debate can help the United States defeat its current tribalism. If only we could calmly talk about our differences, the argument goes, we would reach some compromise. But not all disagreements are bridgeable. The Union and the Confederacy did not resolve their differences through dialogue; it was a civil war that put an end to slavery. Jim Crow laws were defeated through mass protests and civil disobedience. Schools were desegregated though a Supreme Court decision, which had to be implemented with the help of the National Guard. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed as a political necessity during World War II. Some fights are not talked away; they are, in the end, either won or lost.Does American ‘Tribalism’ End in a Compromise, or a Fight?, By Laila Lalami, New York Times, June 26, 2018
Or, maybe running shoes? For, what if there is no middle ground now?…
Wednesday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice was a ghastly example of the political polarization that is ripping this country apart. Political scientists have shown that Congress is more divided than at any time since the end of Reconstruction. I am struck not simply by the depth of partisanship these days, but increasingly also by its nature. People on the other side of the divide are not just wrong and to be argued with. They are immoral and must be muzzled or punished.
This is not about policy. The chasm between left and right during much of the Cold War was far wider than it is today on certain issues. Many on the left wanted to nationalize or substantially regulate whole industries; on the right, they openly advocated a total rollback of the New Deal. Compared with that, today’s economic divisions feel relatively small.
Partisanship today is more about identity. Scholars Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued that, in the past few decades, people began to define themselves politically less by traditional economic issues than by identity — gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. I would add to this mix social class, something rarely spoken of in the United States but a powerful determinant of how we see ourselves. Last year’s election had a lot to do with social class, with non-college-educated rural voters reacting against a professional, urban elite.
The dangerous aspect of this new form of politics is that identity does not lend itself easily to compromise. When the core divide was economic, you could split the difference. If one side wanted to spend $100 billion and the other wanted to spend zero, there was a number in between. The same is true with tax cuts and welfare policy. But if the core issues are about identity, culture and religion (think of abortion, gay rights, Confederate monuments, immigration, official languages), then compromise seems immoral. American politics is becoming more like Middle Eastern politics, where there is no middle ground between being Sunni or Shiite.The country is frighteningly polarized. This is why. By Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post, June 15, 2017
When party affiliation becomes “something akin to tribal identity,” the odds get stacked against political compromise and it becomes exceedingly hard for moderate elements to confront extremists and democratic norm-breakers in their ranks.Are People Losing Faith in Democracy?, By LARRY DIAMOND, National Interest, March 16, 2018
Are the American feet so smelly with disease that no peaceful resolve is possible?
Uncivil Agreement will stand as one of the most important political books of 2018. It is clear and compelling, and makes an incredibly important point: When all of our group identities are aligned into two competing political teams, two-party politics is completely unworkable. If the current realignment toward ever deeper cultural and ethnic divisions continues, our brains are just not equipped to resolve it peacefully. The fever will not break on its own.United We Fall, by Lee Drutman, Washington Monthly, July/August 2018
This week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll contained news of a disheartening but unsurprising development: Voters in both parties hate the opposition more than they support their own side’s policies. This dynamic, known as negative polarization, is poisoning our politics and contributing to a mindless tribalism.
Other signs abound of our deepening polarization. Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, one of the sharpest political trend-watchers in town, wrote in his latest quarterly memo: “While polls have consistently shown more Americans disapprove of Trump’s job performance than approve, those numbers reflect historic disapproval among the opposing party as much as anything else.”Mindless Tribalism Infecting American Politics, By Josh Kraushaar, National Journal, June 10, 2018
It seems Americans can no longer march together in sync…
Inconsistent and unstable identities prevent us from living with authenticity and integrity, especially in relation to others. Harmony is impossible when our identities are unstable and grounded only in contingency and desire. Conflicting identity claims by groups and individuals compete with no prospect of resolution, for they believe that there is no source of identity beyond the human—the all too human.Self-Creation or God’s Creation? Mistaken Identities and Nietzsche’s Madman, by Nathanael Blake, Public Discourse, June 20th, 2018
So, Vlad, you could help to put this into play in America…
Across the developing world, Huntington saw “the dominance of unstable personalistic leaders,” their governments rife with “blatant corruption . . . arbitrary infringement of the rights and liberties of citizens, declining standards of bureaucratic efficiency and performance, the pervasive alienation of urban political groups, the loss of authority by legislatures and courts, and the fragmentation and at times complete disintegration of broadly based political parties.”
These self-styled revolutionaries thrive on divisiveness. “The aim of the revolutionary is to polarize politics,” Huntington explains, “and hence he attempts to simplify, to dramatize, and to amalgamate political issues into a single, clear-cut dichotomy.” Such leaders attract new rural voters via “ethnic and religious appeals” as well as economic arguments, only to quickly betray their aspirations.Samuel Huntington, a prophet for the Trump era, By Carlos Lozada, Washington Post, July 18, 2017
And I’m beginning to wonder – which is something most podiatrists love to spend their time doing — whether the Americans will increasingly turn to ethnic and racial identity.
Hop this up to the examination table:
Tribal ties—race, ethnicity, and religion—are becoming more important than borders.
For centuries we have used maps to delineate borders that have been defined by politics. But it may be time to chuck many of our notions about how humanity organizes itself. Across the world a resurgence of tribal ties is creating more complex global alliances. Where once diplomacy defined borders, now history, race, ethnicity, religion, and culture are dividing humanity into dynamic new groupings.
Broad concepts—green, socialist, or market-capitalist ideology—may animate cosmopolitan elites, but they generally do not motivate most people. Instead, the “tribe” is valued far more than any universal ideology. As the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun observed: “Only Tribes held together by a group feeling can survive in a desert.”The New World Order, by Joel Kotkin, Newgeography.com, September 27, 2010
To what is the movement committed? The alt-right purports to defend the identity and interests of white people, who it believes are the compliant victims of a century-long swindle by liberal morality. Its goals are not conventionally conservative. It does not so much question as mock standard conservative positions on free trade, abortion, and foreign policy, regarding them as principles that currently abet white dispossession. Its own principles are not so abstract, and do not pretend to neutrality. Its creed, in the words of Richard Spencer, is “Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.” The media take such statements as proof of the alt-right’s commitment to white supremacy. But this is misleading. For the alt-right represents something more nefarious, and frankly more interesting, than white identity politics.THE ANTI-CHRISTIAN ALT-RIGHT, by Matthew Rose, First Things, March 2018
Richard Spencer, commonly credited with coining the term “alt-right,” and perhaps the most prominent figure at last year’s Unite the Right rally, rejects the title “white supremacist,” and instead refers to himself as an “identitarian.” In an interview with CNN’s W. Kamau Bell, Spencer asserted that “identity is the foundation of everything,” and that “race is the foundation of identity.” This mode of categorizing the human person, based simply on the material, leads to a sort of “materialism of blood,” as Dietrich von Hildebrand put it in his book My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich.Identitarianism, Unite the Right, and Pro-Lifers, By HANNAH HOWARD, The Weekly Standard, August 9, 2018
And Vlad, look what Tom Wolfe wrote…
“Everybody … all of them … it’s back to blood! Religion is dying … but everybody still has to believe in something. It would be intolerable – you couldn’t stand it – to finally have to say to yourself, ‘Why keep pretending? I’m nothing but a random atom inside a supercollider known as the universe.’ But believing in by definition means blindly, irrationally, doesn’t it. So, my people, that leaves only our blood, the bloodlines that course through our very bodies, to unite us. ‘La Raza!’ as the Puerto Ricans cry out. ‘The Race!’ cries the whole world. All people, all people everywhere, have but one last thing on their minds – Back to Blood!” All people, everywhere, you have no choice but – Back to blood!Tom Wolfe, Back to Blood
Back to blood!
But how healthy is American circulation to their extremities? Are their feet well supplied? Enough to remain healthy and heal their disease?
You are going to appreciate the following analysis from the classical scholar Victor Davis Hanson:
First, today’s America has evolved into a multiracial society unlike anytime in our long history. Each of America’s groups has unique grievances, based on their own past ordeals.Victor Davis Hanson, “God Bless America”, National Review Online, March 27, 2008
And consider what British historian Niall Ferguson wrote in his 2001 book, The Cash Nexus:
And it should not be forgotten that the two most successful capitalist democracies — Britain and the United States — are themselves multi-ethnic states, the former with its Celtic and more recently ex-colonial minorities, the latter largely populated by immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America and often proudly “hyphenated” descendants.
None the less, it is impossible to ignore what appears to be a long-run historical trend towards ever more ethnically homogeneous states; and it may well be that at least some of the above counter-examples will one day also fragment: Czechoslovakia already has, while in Belgium and the British Isles the centrifugal forces of ethnic politics have seldom been stronger, as the “invented traditions” of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries slowly fade.
Notice also what Ferguson said about ethnic identity politics — they exert “centrifugal forces.” In light of that, consider this from Ferguson:
Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus an empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in geopolitics. We now have all three. The age of upheaval starts now.The Axis of Upheaval, by Niall Ferguson, Foreign Policy, March/April 2009
Does Ferguson’s formula apply to America?
If it does, they are in for a real upheaval! Can they stay on their feet?
Just imagine if there is significant insight in what the controversial American professor Cornel West writes about race and its potentially explosive role in America’s future…
Race is the one issue that can bring down the curtain on American civilization. It has the power to generate levels of polarization that will make it difficult for us to communicate with one another honestly. It can generate levels of conflict that result in unprecedented chaos and disorder. It is our rawest nerve, most explosive issue, and most difficult dilemma.Cornel West, Hope on a Tightrope
Do you see how fascinating this all is?
America is fragile, and just the right kind of stressors at the right moments can have an immense impact. My feet ache just thinking about it.
In traumatic times, identities switch and crystallize like an unstable chemical compound when you add a drop of catalyst.The Next, Key Step on Ukraine, by Timothy Garton Ash, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2014
What could be the drop coming their way? Will they experience dropsy?
Because those traumatic times sure look like they are on their way to visit America:
Moreover, since the Kennedy reform of 1965, and with greater speed since 2009, the ruling class’s immigration policy has changed the regime by introducing some 60 million people—roughly a fifth of our population—from countries and traditions different from, if not hostile, to ours. Whereas earlier immigrants earned their way to prosperity, a disproportionate percentage of post-1965 arrivals have been encouraged to become dependents of the state. Equally important, the ruling class chose to reverse America’s historic practice of assimilating immigrants, emphasizing instead what divides them from other Americans. Whereas Lincoln spoke of binding immigrants by “the electric cord” of the founders’ principles, our ruling class treats these principles as hypocrisy.After the Republic, By Angelo M. Codevilla, Claremont Review of Books, September 27, 2016
Migration flows respond with breathtaking speed and massive numbers to perceived opportunities—and the reaction to those flows can upend societies and overthrow democracies, as Americans and Europeans have experienced together, with potentially even more dangerous experiences yet to come.David Frum, Debating Immigration Policy at a Populist Moment, By DAVID FRUM AND CONOR FRIEDERSDORF, The Atlantic, March 9, 2017
As a result of immigration, countries that were once the proud lynchpins of Western civilization are increasingly in turmoil, with deepening ethnic and religious divisions and possibly at risk of fracturing. If unaddressed by governments, the progressive loss of cohesion, and with it the declining sense of national solidarity, will ultimately result in Western European states becoming hollowed out and bereft of national solidarity. The security risks posed by the progressive fragmentation of the mainstream culture and common identifiers can no longer be charmed away by claims that “our diversity is our strength.” Europe is at risk of becoming a continent of torn countries—a phenomenon not so long ago seemingly limited to the Balkans.
An entirely new generation has grown since Huntington’s seminal essay was first published. Today we can determine to some extent where the civilizational battlefield has been: within the now rapidly fragmenting Western democracies, which have been fractured by the combination of postmodernism, re-transformed Marxism, and group identity politics, against the backdrop of mass immigration and the ideology of multicultural diversity. The most potent factors in this war have been playing out less along the geostrategic fault lines between the West, the Muslim world, and the Asian civilizations, and instead increasingly inside Western democracies themselves.The Fracturing of the Transatlantic Community, By ANDREW A. MICHTA, The American Interest, April 27, 2018
So, Vlad, is this an indication of how their story may play out?
The fissures in American politics, the anger and fear that we feel toward each other, the cracks that demographic change are opening in our polity, all of that long predates Trump, and all of it will outlast his presidency. I’ll end this with a paragraph from Levitsky and Ziblatt that I’ve not been able to get out of my head, a paragraph that I almost wish I hadn’t read:
The simple fact of the matter is that the world has never built a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all have been achieved.
Perhaps we will be the first. But if we have learned nothing else from this era, it should be to take seriously the possibility that we could fail. That is the challenge of our immediate future. Nothing less is at stake than American democracy itself.How democracies die, explained, By Ezra Klein, Vox, Feb 2, 2018
Democracy itself is at stake Klein says. So, first things first, as John Wooden advocated, will the Americans take care of their feet?
The ultimate result is a fragmenting of society into tribal cliques that vie for power, careers, and influence on the basis of ethnic solidarity rather than shared Americanness.
History is not very kind to multicultural chaos — as opposed to a multiracial society united by a single national culture. The fates of Rwanda, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia should remind us of our present disastrous trajectory.
Either the United States will return to a shared single language and allegiance to a common and singular culture, or it will eventually descend into clannish violence.Can a Divided America Survive?, By Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, June 15, 2017
Something strange may be blowing in the wind, Vlad. You can smell that foot disease. They are not steady on their mixed feet. And the whole image may fall.
That Putin Prize Essay has our attention. So, if Christianity is the story we are in, what if your country is about to come apart because of that simple story question you Americans have always faced…
Who are we, here in the story?