Reading to respond to: David Brooks, “America is Having a Moral Convulsion,” The Atlantic, October 5, 2020
David Brooks, a Canadian-born American who is widely regarded as a conservative-leaning moderate New York Times and The Atlantic correspondent, wrote what is a very timely and thought-provoking article in this month’s issue of The Atlantic. He describes a series of historical patterns in which periodic moral convulsions occur, in which people feel “disgusted by the state of society,” “trusts in institutions plummets,” “moral indignation is widespread,” and “contempt for established power is intense.” He then argues that in response, a “highly moralistic generation appears on the scene,” using “new modes of communication to seize control of the national conversation.”
That’s your generation, folks.
Is Brooks right?
Check out his argument in this very readable, very current article. He focuses on social trust. He ponders whether we are experiencing a period of national decline. He tells the story of Valentina Kosieva who has seen more in her 94 years of life than any of us have seen in ours.
This is not a happy article. But it does get you thinking.
So here are the questions I’d like you to address, in response to what you have read here. Be sure to make specific references to the reading.
- Do you think that people are operating in this moment as they seem to be because they do not have trust in—that they instead distrust--society? Why or why not?
- How do you respond to the question Brooks asks: are we living through a pivot or a decline?
- When you hear “the United States is the greatest nation in the world” or as Brooks writes “for centuries, America was the greatest success on earth, a nation of steady progress, dazzling achievement and growing international power,”what do you think?
- Do you think you have grown up, as Brooks argues, in the “age of disappointment”? Why or why not?
- Yuval Levin, a political analyst, argues that in high-trust eras, people have more of a “first-person-plural instinct to ask ‘What can we do?’ In a lower-trust era…there is a greater instinct to say, ‘They’re failing us.’ We see ourselves as outsiders to the systems..” Do you agree or disagree? And why?
- And what do COVID, the killing of George Floyd, have to do with all of this? And what does fear have to do with this?
Finally—and important, as you respond to this prompt, be certain to respond to at least one of your classmates by agreeing, disagreeing or amplifying something that they had to say.