Dean Clough

June 9, 2021

Portico Darwin: Four Americas

Last time, Heather Cox Richardson (kudos again to Primo Harvey, PhD for introducing me to this brilliant scholar).  This time, the inestimable George Packer.  You can't say I'm not trying.   

Mr. Packer has a new book, and there's an essay based upon it in this month's Atlantic. For those of you without a subscription, the article (a long read) is here as a PDF.

For those of you without the time to read the article, here's a quick summary.  (I urge you to read the complete essay, as there is much context and nuance I can't hope to capture here.) 

While we're all familiar with the simplistic polarization trope of a "Red" and "Blue" America, Packer instead identifies Four Americas:

Free America:  the "Don't Tread on Me" libertarian America
Smart America:  meritocratic coastal/urban elite America
Real America:  white Christian middle America
Just America:  woke, identity politics America

His description and characterization of each is objective, describing the evolution and identifying the positives and problems of each group.  As you'd expect with Packer, he is both reasoned and reasonable.  

But it is the closing paragraphs of the essay which I found brilliant and moving, and which I am reprinting here in their entirety.  Perhaps we can leave behind the divisiveness of the four Americas, for just one, Equal America.  But it's going to take all of us to overcome what he cites in his final paragraph.
"All four of the narratives I’ve described emerged from America’s failure to sustain and enlarge the middle-class democracy of the postwar years. They all respond to real problems. Each offers a value that the others need and lacks ones that the others have.

Free America celebrates the energy of the unencumbered individual. Smart America respects intelligence and welcomes change. Real America commits itself to a place and has a sense of limits. Just America demands a confrontation with what the others want to avoid. They rise from a single society, and even in one as polarized as ours they continually shape, absorb, and morph into one another. But their tendency is also to divide us, pitting tribe against tribe. These divisions impoverish each narrative into a cramped and ever more extreme version of itself.

All four narratives are also driven by a competition for status that generates fierce anxiety and resentment. They all anoint winners and losers. 

In Free America, the winners are the makers, and the losers are the takers who want to drag the rest down in perpetual dependency on a smothering government. In Smart America, the winners are the credentialed meritocrats, and the losers are the poorly educated who want to resist inevitable progress. In Real America, the winners are the hardworking folk of the white Christian heartland, and the losers are treacherous elites and contaminating others who want to destroy the country. In Just America, the winners are the marginalized groups, and the losers are the dominant groups that want to go on dominating.

I don’t much want to live in the republic of any of them.

It’s common these days to hear people talk about sick America, dying America, the end of America. The same kinds of things were said in 1861, in 1893, in 1933, and in 1968. The sickness, the death, is always a moral condition. Maybe this comes from our Puritan heritage. If we are dying, it can’t be from natural causes. It must be a prolonged act of suicide, which is a form of murder.

I don’t think we are dying. We have no choice but to live together—we’re quarantined as fellow citizens. Knowing who we are lets us see what kinds of change are possible. Countries are not social-science experiments. They have organic qualities, some positive, some destructive, that can’t be wished away. Our passion for equality, the individualism it produces, the hustle for money, the love of novelty, the attachment to democracy, the distrust of authority and intellect—these won’t disappear. A way forward that tries to evade or crush them on the road to some free, smart, real, or just utopia will never arrive and instead will run into a strong reaction. But a way forward that tries to make us Equal Americans, all with the same rights and opportunities—the only basis for shared citizenship and self-government—is a road that connects our past and our future.

Meanwhile, we remain trapped in two countries. Each one is split by two narratives—Smart and Just on one side, Free and Real on the other. Neither separation nor conquest is a tenable future. The tensions within each country will persist even as the cold civil war between them rages on.

Yes.  Here is to a fifth America.  An Equal America.

I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on Mr. Packer's essay, and I will reprint your comments in their entirety, and also fully anonymously if that's your preference.

A highlight was White Claw investor Kevin Monza checking in from a wedding in Cabo San Lucas, regarding my Leader of Antifa blog post.  From an all-inclusive hotel.  Need I say more?  Yet, his comments were lucid  and clearly pre-happy hour:

"I am in Cabo for a wedding, but you were a topic today down here due to the blog. All good things obviously!"
It is a real complement that this current and future rock star is taking a few moments away from the tequila  lounge to read (and discuss with his fellow Millennial intellectuals) my blog.  Thank you, my friend.

My prolific pumping out of Travel Guides met with some fun responses.  George Valiant Walker, still engrossed in our early May trip to Mendocino, texted me a Facebook post that mentioned the gas station there being the single most expensive in the US.  It was $7.50/gallon in May when I saw it personally, and it's certainly more now.  But at least the views whilst pumping are great.

The esteemed Dr. Downs loved my Tupper Lake Travel Guide, but was happy to see the Sonoma one, too, if only because it's a tad closer, as she admitted

"I'm likely to go there before the Tupper Lake region." 

Oh, come on, Jet Set!  It's just SFO-IAD-PBG (once PBG reopens 6/22)!  But if not:  drinks on us at Starling!

The highest high came when sommelier-in-waiting and Wine Country pro Lauren Ryder complemented my Sonoma Travel Guide, but also shared another hotel secret, this one in Napa, and one that I can confirm is ideal.

"Loved hearing about the bar recommendations and the motel. We stay at a similar type motel when we are in the Napa area called El Bonita,  which we recommend. "

Last word goes to fellow golf exile Hunter Deuce.  As a co-conspirator of this past Sunday's trip, he sounds like he enjoyed my summary:

"Solid write-up. One of the things I liked about the Cuvaison tasting was the air of sophistication it lent to the whole trip. 'Oh, you went to a tasting at Cuvaison? How sophisticated and cultured of you'. 'Yes, I like to think so'.

Because without that we were just a couple of shitbags getting drunk at Steiner's."

Like his musical taste, Hunter is about half right . . . 

Thank you to any one that is reading this blog.

The subject is America, and here's a real American band.

You know, these guys are not one of my all-timers, but you have to tip your cap.  In fact, they'd almost have to make a list of America's 5 all-time best bands.  And to me, Pearl Jam and its ethos truly represent the best of America.  To me, that's authenticity.  Humility.  Quality.  Success.  Commitment.  Community.

Here is their epochal "Ten", in pristine high resolution.  There are even bonus tracks.  Enjoy.

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.