Last week Brooks offered nine, count-em, nine grand narratives packed into a single 866-word column, the material currently on his desktop cleaned up and put away, presumably, in order to get ready for another week.The Unwinding is an attempt to argue from anecdote.
Four of these sources of identity were from a “superbly clarifying speech” by George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Not four, mind you, but the four. Depending on who doing the telling, Packer said, the American story is to be understood as fundamentally libertarian (“free markets and free minds”), or a matter of globalization (technology regnant), of multiculturalism (overcoming bigotry), or of isolationism (make America great again).
Since none of these narratives offers a basis for governing in the twenty-first century,” Brooks noted two more, found in an essay by Michael Lind, “The New Class War,” which appeared recently in a new maverick conservative journal. If you haven’t seen it, American Affairs, is worth a look, as is Jacobin, a new left-wing counterpart.
Mr Brooks, however, might have too much at stake to be an objective observer.
Brooks adduced two slight variations, both of them descended from the original civic myth Brooks described in a column a couple of months ago, namely the Exodus story. In that account, national unity in the US had long depended on the shared experience of having at some point left the Old World for the New, of having ventured into a wilderness in order to join in the creation of a shining example to all humankind. But that story depended on a high degree of national self- confidence traditionally buttressed by religious conviction. For one reason or another, it no longer worked. An American “identity crisis” was at hand.Which of those two outcomes is likely to be more congenial to an Acela-corridor pundit?
Hence Brooks offered two new possibilities for going forward. One of them was to embrace Lind’s mercantilist model of the US as one contender among several in a multipolar world. “In this, to be American is to be a member of the tribe, and the ideal American is to be a burly protector of the tribe” – which Donald Trump aspires to be.
The other story Brooks envisaged is about “the talented community,” a celebratory image of America as “history’s greatest laboratory for the cultivation of human abilities,” a generous, open, welcoming society in which “everything is designed to arouse energy and propel social mobility” – in short, “an Exodus story for an information age.”