The following is from our November issue. Forty-one symposium contributors were asked to respond to the question: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?
I sit down to ponder whether there’s cause for optimism about America’s future on a day that brings proofs, as the days regularly do, that a significant number of Americans—Americans of all ages—live lives bereft of any sense of identification with the nation, with all that it has been and all that it is. This is not a cause for optimism. True, that sense of identification still lies entrenched in the hearts of most Americans, but there is no missing the fact that it would not have been necessary to make grateful note of that point, say, 40 years ago. Decades of revisionist history taught as revealed truth in high schools and universities have taken their toll, decades in which students have learned, at the hands of politically progressive instructors—there are precious few of any other kind in most institutions of higher learning—to view their country as a rapacious exploiter of the poor and the oppressed, and fierce enemy of justice and truth.
But we know all this. We’ve known it for a long time—books galore have been published and conferences held on the transformation of our campuses into centers of indoctrination and thought reform. What we’ve not quite grasped are the insidious consequences of decades of this learning, which has sent countless graduates into the world armed with a degree and an education shaped by poisonously distorted views of their nation, its history, and its values. These are the graduates who now people our media, of course. It was from the political swamplands of such learning that the current president of the United States came as well. No need to ask why the members of our media took so easily to candidate Barack Obama: they had gone to the same schools and shared the same assumptions.
The more dramatic impact of this learning comes in the form of views that most Americans, fortunately, still look upon as aberrations. Few people take the 9/11 Truthers seriously, and rightly so—but that their view has taken even as much hold as it has is altogether telling. These middle-aged and older Americans have found in this deeply held faith—that American leaders arranged to have 3,000 American citizens slaughtered—an outlet for their fixed idea that the U.S. government is a source of evil and an enemy to fear. To encounter any Truther in standard mode is, of course, to witness psychological disturbance of a familiar kind—a kind not far different from the sort found in people who believe that the CIA has implanted radio transmitters in their teeth to control them.
What is significant about the Truthers is the reach of their views: all sorts of Americans can now be found entertaining the possibility that America could well have been responsible for 9/11. Academics, entertainers—too many are now drawn to a view that would have been limited to the clinically deranged 50 years ago. The belief that the United States planned the 9/11 attacks testifies to an unparalleled hostility toward the nation, not just its government. And such belief can now be pronounced aloud and considered an acceptable—indeed distinguished—viewpoint.
So it happened that I could hear, the week I write this, Tony Bennett’s views, offered on Howard Stern’s radio show. Bennett said that the United States, which had bombed other countries, had “caused” 9/11. He let it be known, as well, that we—not the people who flew the planes into the buildings—were the terrorists. We hear voices like this regularly these days. They’re worth noting because of what they represent. So, too, if we’re looking for a bright side, are the splendid tides of outrage with which Americans respond to this preening pathology.
Dorothy Rabinowitz writes on politics and culture for the Wall Street Journal.