The American Future

A curious title for what is a work of thematic history about America interspersed with passages of personal reminiscence, but Simon Schama’s book was written during the 2008 election, those days of surging hope when it seemed the US might reinvent itself instead of tightening harder into acrimoniously gridlocked incomprehension among its various racial, religious and ideological components. Seems a long time ago now. I suppose it was intended as an exploration of the past as a guide to the future, though its optimistic tone seems set at odds with much of the evidence it presents: anti-Chinese pogroms, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the continued presence of the psychopathic ethnic cleanser Andrew Jackson on the nation’s $20 bill, for instance. But not all: the first part of the book is largely devoted to the Meigs family, whose most illustrious member, Montgomery C., built the Capitol dome and brought potable water to Washington DC as well as acting as Quartermaster General for the Union as it out-organised the more tactically accomplished Confederacy to achieve victory in the Civil War. The second raises an important point about the constitutional separation of church and state: that it successfully and enduringly enables a culture in which (unlike Europe, where religion largely expired in the great upheaval of 1914-45) all shades of belief from wacko fundamentalism to militant atheism can sit sincerely side by side without one Talibanising the others, and that this enforced plurality gives America not just incredible appeal but enduring power and effectiveness. That is the side of the American story that it is hard to keep sight of when the political twilight descends, as it has again so frustratingly since 2008…

This entry was posted in anybody up there?, misery for the many, freedom for the few, read and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s