Why Are Americans Mad?
Even though I don’t necessarily think that Brooks was wrong to say that the collective no longer holds the same, standard set of morals because of the success in America that the previous generation grew up in, I think he’s leaving out some very key factors here. America has been the most diverse it has ever been, we’re growing up with modern technology, and we live in a political climate where both sides are as polarizing as they can be with each other. I want to specifically focus on the last point for this question. I realize that this isn’t the first time that both political sides are at a standstill with each other, indeed, I think the era around Reconstruction is a great example of how the climate is like today as well. Both sides vehemently believe that their side is in the right to the point of extreme hostility. The things that each side values and are trying to protect are pretty similar to the two sides today. Compounded with the usage of social media and echo chambers, we often regard the other side as morally inferior and completely wrong. If a chunk of the population is split into two sides, it’s natural that this sense of distrust for our fellow Americans would be very high. In addition, using the examples of the government and institutional failures that happened in 2020 alone that Brooks listed off under the section “Failure of Institutions,” how can Americans be trusting when they constantly see how bad the government has been performing for the people?
I would say that the years leading up to where we are now was a decline, a dam that was right about to burst. I do have to say that there were some years that led to outbursts, such as gay rights in 2015 and the Black Lives Matter movement from 2014. However, the pandemic that we’re living through right now has been pushing so many otherwise apathetic or unaffected people into a massive state of mind, as the article puts it, “liberalism to activism,” though to me, it seems that Brooks believes the shift is from a general trend that became more exasperated in recent years rather than the last couple years igniting this switch. I would say that there is a growing decline in social mobility, economic stability, and mental health, and certainly 2020 has solidly contributed to the decline. But, one other thing that we as a society is going to maintain even after the pandemic is the knowledge that we’ve gained over this period. Much of the youth is more fired up than ever and traditionally oppressed groups and minorities have never reached this level of platform as they had before. However, even if I do want to be hopeful, the biggest and most important changes can only happen through the government. Brooks interestingly noted that every time the US goes through a catastrophe or some sort of extreme turmoil, there will always be a massive response of political reforms and social institutions. I believe that the election of 2020 will dictate whether or not we do go through that route or stay in this unrelenting decline. In the meantime, I want to stay hopeful and believe we’re in a pivot. Of course, the non-Trump side might not even necessarily do the right thing, and could continue to head into the course we’re currently in.
America is not the greatest nation of the world. America is the flashiest nation. It’s incredibly cunning in that it’s able to hide everything that is unglamorous about the country. America can never truly be a success story when the country has literally been powered through people who have been stripped bare of their humanity and have stayed shackled through the massively unbalanced socio-economic structure that we currently live in today. It‘s no surprise that everywhere you look on social media or the internet in general, you will find many non-Americans looking down on what it has become. Why has America, for so many years, refused to resolve these issues and truly be this country of the champion for equality, justice, and freedom that it has touted for so long? It’s simply because it doesn’t want to acknowledge them. Acknowledging them means that America is hypocritical, that it has been hypocritical from the start and has always been hypocritical since then. If you look at the composition of the government body and the wealth curve or anything of that sort, Brooks’s explanation of individualism is the key. People make decisions for what they most believe in, what they’re most affected by, and what they most care about. With individualism being driven so deep, it’s clear that that’s another reason why everybody was not championed for or accounted for.
I think @thesnackthatsmilesback puts it pretty well when they say that we’re not living in the age of disappointment but instead the age of knowing. Of course, newspapers, radios, and televisions have been widespread before the 2000s and especially so in the 1900s, but modern technology has put so much on our fingertips. Gone are the days where we actually have to wait to get our daily or weekly newspaper, instead, we can literally google anything we want under a second, provided that someone reported on it of course, which it almost usually is. It’s strange, we’re supposed to be more progressive than ever, yet when we look at what the government is doing and examine the framework of our society, the changes that we want to see are definitely not there. People have different ideas of “disappointment.” Some people are disappointed that the recent generation have become too “soft” and “sensitive,” which @user1234 also noted. Some people are disappointed because social mobility and the wealth gap is ever increasing despite a more educated population than ever. Some people are disappointed as the world becomes ever more connected with each other through the Internet, they feel helpless as they see the innumerous injustices, corruption, oppression, and abuse still going on. Brooks merely mentions the massive declining of the mental health and morale of young Americans as the climax of this moral climax, but I believe that the declining mental health is most attributed to the fact that because Americans have been more aware than ever of the precarious situation they themselves are in. It’s surprising at first to hear that depression is more common in developed countries than undeveloped countries, but I think it makes sense if we look at the amount of awareness, knowledge, and conversations that are happening to the people.
I think it’s more of “we’re victims to the system” rather than “we’re outsiders to the system.” I do agree with Levin however that the institutions dictate how success should be achieved and in turn spur how people should act and behave and do in order to be successful. I mean, Donald Trump is an example of a reality TV star becoming one of the most important American figures, therefore proving Levin’s claim that politicians only want to be in the spotlight, not because they believe they can help the country. Similar to how @Cookie Monster mentioned about the privileged class trying to preserve and maximize profits through the expense of everyone else, large corporations and of course the wealthy and the privileged still do the same thing now, largely because the system that the institutions have established allows and encourages for this type of thing to occur. The thing I disagree with though, is that the people still believe they have to live by this system, but feels powerless to act because of the means to change them (money, power, affluence) is unfortunately out of reach for those who truly needs it and the ones who do feel either apathetic or that they simply don’t want to change the status quo.
George Floyd is a fierce reminder that without changing or reforming the existing institutions, nothing would change. Because it happened during a time when everybody was glued to their phone, nobody could escape this grim reality. Tens of millions of eyes were on the justice system as the perpetrators were tried, so was it really surprising that Americans were enraged at our institutions and at our laws when they saw the outcome and finally realized America is no “champion of the people”? COVID only further highlighted the incompetency of our government and especially our figurehead. America is finally having its cracks exposed.