Reading about our country this morning, I am thinking in this time of reflection in the Jewish calendar we had better learn fast, and do differently quickly.
Below are a selection of Important quotes from this piece, "America, From Exceptionalism to Nihilism", in the New York Times yesterday.
Please read it all, if you have the moments to do so. We must develop an American soul of substance or lose the world in the process.
Self-interest as a morality that we attempt to direct to the public interest will always lead to the enrichment of the elite at the expense of everyone else. Self-interest as a moral guide is inherently immoral, and cannot be directed to the good of the many.
There is no way of turning self-interest into enlightened self-interest without selflessly investing in enlightenment.
We will have learned nothing from Mr. Trump’s victory if we do not examine today how and why American elites came to indulge in ressentiment-generating boosterism just as economic and cultural inequality was becoming intolerable to so many, and how their loss of intellectual credibility and moral authority brought about the post-truth era.
“Our gadget-filled paradise suspended in a hell of international insecurity certainly does not offer us even the happiness of which the former century dreamed,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, whom Mr. Obama has described as an early inspiration.
The sociologist C. Wright Mills described how an elite connected by Ivy League education and overlapping interests could steal the choicest fruits of American progress. Walter Lippmann worried that the promise of private wealth-creation was a weak moral basis for a national community. For many midcentury thinkers, nihilism, a catastrophic breakdown of faith in national ideology and institutions that had occurred in Europe, was also a possibility in America.
But the American creed, originally formulated by 18th-century slave-owners and zealously upheld by white males across the ideological spectrum, still managed to command broad enough loyalty. This was largely because no alternative seemed as effective at generating prosperity and advancing personal freedoms. Gradual improvements, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the war on poverty and the gains of feminism, maintained faith in the American Dream — that most seductive ideology and substitute religion of the modern world.
It already revealed how a networked elite, consisting of neoliberal globalizers and liberal internationalists as well as neoconservative intellectuals, had amassed unaccountable influence while becoming a service class for politicians. Subsequent fiascos — the rise of Al Qaeda and then the Islamic State, the crisis of unregulated financial capitalism followed by the bailout of culpable bankers — confirmed that this elite was too entrenched to be displaced by its failures and too arrogant to learn from them.
They feel deceived by a class of politicians, experts, technocrats and journalists which had claimed to be in possession of the truth and offered a series of propositions that turned out to be misleading or wrong: the rising tide of globalization will lift all boats, the market is free and fair, shock therapy would bring capitalism to Russia, shock-and-awe therapy would deliver democracy to Iraq. Many of the aggrieved now see the elites, who offered to expedite progress while expanding their own power and wealth, as self-serving charlatans.
Everywhere the disaffected are recoiling from establishment politicians and the mainstream media, and succumbing to alternative facts — a fragmentation of truth quickened by digital technology. It is in this sense, unanticipated by optimists like Mr. Obama, that the 21st century is proving to be the American Century.
Authoritarian regimes like China and Iran stave off challenges to their authority by limiting internet access and repairing myths of national unity. But the country taken to be the world’s oldest modern democracy leads the free world in its helplessness before the dissolution of its most cherished beliefs and values. Rejoining the tormented history of modernity under an obsessive liar, America has accelerated its most insidious tendency: nihilism.