February 7, 2017

“THAT’S NOT WHO WE ARE:”

The problem with this rhetorical line is that it implicitly undercuts itself. If close to half of America voted for Republicans in the Obama years and support Trump today, then clearly something besides the pieties of cosmopolitan liberalism is very much a part of who we are.

This self-undermining flaw makes the trope a useful way to grasp the dilemmas facing Trump’s opponents. In seeking to reject Trump’s chauvinist vision, they end up excluding too much of what a unifying counternarrative would require. . . .

But meanwhile for a great many Americans the older narrative still feels like the real history. They still see themselves more as settlers than as immigrants, identifying with the Pilgrims and the Founders, with Lewis and Clark and Davy Crockett and Laura Ingalls Wilder. They still embrace the Iliadic mythos that grew up around the Civil War, prefer the melting pot to multiculturalism, assume a Judeo-Christian civil religion rather the “spiritual but not religious” version.

Trump’s ascent is, in part, an attempt to restore their story to pre-eminence. It’s a restoration attempt that can’t succeed, because the country has changed too much, and because that national narrative required correction. The myth of the “Lost Cause” had to die, the reality of racial wrongs required more acknowledgment, the Judeo-Christian center had to make room for a larger plurality of faiths.

But so far we haven’t found a way to correct the story while honoring its full sweep — including all the white-male-Protestant-European protagonists to whom, for all their sins, we owe so much of our inheritance.

Well, Ross Douthat almost gets it.

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