Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I loved this book. Kurt Andersen, creator of Spy magazine in the ’80s (and veteran antagonist of Donald Trump), has finally connected the dots in America’s self-told tale of exceptionalism. It’s about time.
Turns out we’re not exceptional in a good way.
I take that back. Sometimes, by pure luck or moxie, we’ve managed to do good things in spite of the real root of our exceptionalism. The truth is we believe in untrue things. Fantasies. Sometimes outright lies. And the perfect storm of lies and fantasies that put Trump in office has swept over the land again and again in our history.
Andersen goes all the way back to beginning, revealing that the earliest colonists weren’t seeking freedom from persecution or taxation, they were after gold! Honest to God, I did not know that. They believed, on the basis of a lot of hearsay, that the eastern seaboard held the next big mother lode. Of course they were wrong, and most of them paid with their lives, but shit happens when you’re chasing dreams, right?
The real Gold Rush came along eventually, but that too was a fantasy-fueled expedition, with folks who arrived after the first year or so failing desperately and ruining their lives. Like we’ve always heard, it was the people who sold Levis, pans, and shovels who cleaned up. But hey, we got San Francisco out of it. That’s good.
Seems religion was the source of a lot of our national fantasies, causing everything from witch burning to Tom Cruise (I mean Scientology), but more recently it’s behind some negative trends like disbelief in evolution, denial of climate change, and an aversion to public education. When a huge percentage of the people think the End Times are upon us, how are we supposed to make good policy? I guess we’ll be finding out here directly ….
At the end of the book, Andersen seems to relish the advent of Trump as validation of his theory, but he’s also as scared as the rest of us. It took a lot of deluded (and angry) voters to bring this about, and they’re not all that susceptible to logic so convincing them to change direction won’t be easy. It doesn’t help that conspiracy theories abound – such as the latest figment that says the Las Vegas massacre was staged and the victims were all actors – nor that the Internet makes it a breeze to spread them around. One man’s “fake news” is another man’s “God’s honest truth.” Oh joy.
Andersen’s book is a great analysis of how we got here, but it’s also an unsettling premonition of where we’re going. Our national propensity to fall for BS doesn’t seem to have changed, other than to have gotten worse. The only thing we can do now is savor the good things in life and call out the BS’ers wherever and whenever we encounter them.