Four perspectives (visions) [pt.1]

a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.



This week I stumbled across an opportunity to engage UMKC‘s annual Carolyn Benton Cockefair Lecture  (being presented as a webinar due to the pandemic). To prepare for the lecture, I read the speaker, George Packer’s, most recent book, Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal…(Interview with Packer on Steve Kraske’s, Up To Date program)
Kraske observed to Packer that he ultimately found the book to be hopeful, because it outlines a way forward at a time when so many voices see no good way out. Along our way today, I’ll share some passages [i.e., text quotes and audio clips (read by Packer himself)].  
In this brief audio clip, Packer describes our context from 2020 [clip, pgs. 63-4]
“But if I were to put it in a single sentence, I would say: ‘Inequality undermined the common faith that Americans need to create a successful multi-everything democracy.‘” —G Packer

Something to grasp

Of course, any particular way of describing the American situation is a colossal reduction. Still, it can be quite helpful to break the big picture down into graspable narrative handles. Packer’s rendering of four visions serves as a useful framework for our discourse on “public political opinion.”
Packer describes the previous [pre-1970s] two-party framing as “… the two relatively stable narratives of wanting to get ahead and wanting a fair shake.” [my emphasis; pgs. 69-70]:
Last week I suggested that our polarized division can be generalized into two perspectives (visions). In, “Dueling realities,” I wrote:
The “right” tends to oppose intervention and the “left” tends toward rectifying inequality. In a society that has been politically sorted quite thoroughly, we’ve created an orthogonal-like — apples vs oranges — dynamic making coherent, productive discourse illusive.
Packer further nuances our political space by sorting Americans into four narrative visions that all vie with each other for influence, prominence, and even dominance in society. DJT basically organized the free America vision and real America vision factions into a coalition.

Four visions of America

Packer’s rendering draws sharp caricatures of actual perspectives. By that I mean that the images that Packer renders tend to exploit the conflation that naturally attends ‘pop’ understandings of top-down political ideologies.

Gratefully, by design, Packer’s writing helpfully exaggerates the perspectives — his mash-ups, as he expresses them, tend toward the hyperbolic side of the coin and, again, I think this is meant for illustrative purposes. When distinct ideologies get mashed-up together into a top-down vision that gets messaged through talking points and then applied on the ground, caricatures kind of naturally emerge. 


Heads up: David Brooks has recently published a piece in The Atlantic that treats his vision of (Burkean) conservative ideology that pairs nicely with Packer’s argument. I highly recommend Brooks’ article [link here]. 



Free America

“In the past half century it’s been the most politically powerful of the four,” [Packer, pg. 70]



Packer writes that the free America vision has constituent strands: e.g., legacy elitist traditionalism (later: White Christian evangelicals’ neo-traditionalism); anti-communism; and libertarianism. Ronald Reagan’s ’80s reflect the public ascendency of the free America vision.

The free America vision has an enduring thread. Packer describes [pgs. 73-4]:



“If ‘government’ just gets out of the way,” is a free America mantra. However, as Packer notes, Reagan’s freedom had some troublesome baggage for which the freedom vision had no answers, e.g., “corruption” (“financial, political, intellectual, moral”), ‘crony capitalism’ and raw inequality. Worst of all, it overlooks our part as individuals in a democracy [pgs. 77-8]:



This self-locused freedom brings to mind Peter Pomerantsev’s description of post-Soviet Moscow:



Packer draws on thinkers such as Alexis de Tocqueville, John Dewey, Walt Whitman, et al. to show how the free America vision ultimately falls on its cynical understanding of freedom. Packer writes [pg.80]: 



Packer also describes the moral gap between the libertarians and the neo-traditionalists (White Christian evangelicals) and explains that it was bridged by Reagan in his expression of the free America vision [pgs. 76-7]:



We’ll pick it up from here next week. 



Freedom isn’t free. Freedom is relational, it’s a both/and. Packer argues it’s for grown-ups.

I do recommend that you read Packer’s book. —Clip from pgs. 79-80:



And then, too, on free America‘s leadership [pg. 82]:



Pomerantsev, full quote:



Next week: “Four perspectives (visions) [pt.2].”  Come and see.

[this post ~725 words (3 minute read) + 11:21 media/audio]



Your thoughts? 





8 thoughts on “Four perspectives (visions) [pt.1]

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