a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.
So, we’ve been in conversation with Last Best Hope, George Packer’s recent book, and we continue with that this week. We recall that in part 1, we considered free America, and in part 2 we looked at smart America.
The failures of those dominant narratives, i.e., free America and smart America, are challenged/countered by two competing narratives. First, let’s consider the vision of America that is essentially a reaction to and rebellion against both free and smart America, but mostly the latter.
Packer traces his awareness of the emergence of a newly ascendant vision of America to a 2008 presidential campaign stop in Ohio. Packer writes [the author reads his text]:
It’s a vision that Packer describes as real America. Later, Packer adds a Sarah Palin quote from another 2008 campaign experience as he begins telling the story of real America:
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I think Packer’s plain-spoken, if sometimes harsh-sounding, descriptions of the four perspectives are deliberately caricature-like. Again, I believe that he does this for illustrative purposes.
Still, the way Packer characterizes this perspective is a bit of a stinger. I strongly feel my lack of emotional distance from real America when I consider Packer’s language and examine his insights. It’s not because the real America description applies to me or my outlook in any dominant way. Rather, it’s because it describes many, if not most, of the people I love and many, if not most, of my fellow Kansans.
Cynical political appropriation
DJT features prominently in Packer’s account of real America, because DJT became the voice speaking for real Americans. “The nationalist mantle was lying around, and Trump grabbed it, ‘I am your voice.'” [pg. 110]
Here’s a clip of Packer’s basic description of real America [i.e., terse excerpts drawn to form an outline from a longer text edited for time]:
Some real and free overlap
Packer clearly identifies the common ground between free and real with regard to DJT. It’s quite simple: he got them both what they wanted — i.e., tax cuts and deregulation for free America and conservative judges for real America.
They also both share a basic distrust of ‘elites,’ ‘experts’ and, especially, ‘elite experts.’ That works out differently in practice for these two perspectives — i.e., real America simply sees the system as rigged, and free America attempts to leverage the dynamic to place themselves on the privileged side.
In practical political terms, the rebellion against these failures took two forms: The Tea Party (i.e., the reaction of free America to smart America) and Occupy Wall Street (i.e., the reaction of just America to both free and smart Americas). Packer writes:
White identity politics
Packer identified (in 2008) Palin’s appeal as an indicator of the GOP‘s future. That future was identity politics; White identity politics to be specific. Packer writes: “By the time Palin talked about ‘the real America,’ it was in precipitous decline.” Now, that’s a political climate upon which resentment and outrage can capitalize. That’s exactly what DJT did. Packer writes:
She [Palin] was a western populist who embodied white identity politics. In her proud ignorance, unrestrained narcissism, and contempt for the “establishment,” she was John the Baptist to the coming Trump. [pg. 102]
Trump identity politics
Her Republican handlers tried to hide her. In 2008 the country was still too rational for a candidate like Palin. [pg. 102]
From Palin to DJT, Packer writes:
Real America is old.
However, after Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, in the twenty-first century context real America has taken on new dimensions. DJT assumed the White nationalist mantle and became the voice of real America.
Perhaps contrarian for some on this, Packer rejects the fascist label for DJT and argues that “white nationalist’ comes closer.”
Making DJT a fascist “lets the rest of society off the hook.” “We don’t have to ask ourselves how we let him happen.”
And, of course, progressive voices made it all about race and missed the opportunity to really understand. Packer writes:
Most of all, DJT is a demagogue. Packer writes:
While often challenging and difficult, Packer’s insights regarding real America are important. In my humble opinion, Packer’s section on real America alone [pgs. 101-118] makes the book a must-read.
Next week: “Four perspectives (visions) [pt.4].” Come and see.
[this post ~725 words (3 minute read) + 10:43 media/audio]