THE EMU AND THE SUPERCOMMITTEE

November 22nd, 2011

Two big failures, one big reason

At least Europeans now understand their basic problem: They have multiple states with multiple cultures, whose differences make a European Monetary Union unsustainable.

Americans are still dreaming that they don’t have a cultural-differences problem. Here’s a typical quote, from the NYT columnist David Brooks (who should know better — he is one of the few public commentators who otherwise seems to grasp the importance of culture):

Americans in Oregon are barely aware when their tax dollars go to Americans in Arizona. We are one people with one shared destiny.

Maybe in Chevy Chase, Md. (where Brooks lives) it looks that way. But not where I live. Americans nowadays have profound and widening differences — for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere – and these days only seem able to put those differences aside if a major, 9/11-scale crisis hits, and then only briefly. In the absence of such a crisis, the deficit-cutting Supercommittee was always doomed to fail.

The most striking thing is our blindness about all this. We say that we despise Congress. We say — as the NYT this morning quotes people saying — that we have lost our faith in government. We denounce the “political polarization” in Washington. But we cannot see that these phenomena reflect our own fractiousness. “We the People” are an increasingly weird mix — of evangelists in rural Florida who walk the streets carrying crosses with wheels on them; crack addicts in inner Cincinnati; gays in San Francisco; porn-industry libertarians in L.A.; metal-pierced “crusties” at Occupy Wall Street; Sharia-observant Muslims in Michigan; weed growers in Northern California; Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn; Salvadoran gangs in Virginia; poor whites in Alabama; shale-oilmen in the Dakotas; polygamists in Idaho; hedge-funders in Connecticut; pundits and lobbyists in DC, and so forth and so on. Our faultlines aren’t always clear and geographical but it seems that increasingly, if we want to raise families or just to live among people we trust, we choose gated communities (if we can afford them). Our TV-dramas, reflecting our current mood, favor apocalyptic themes, e.g., a few survivors surrounded by dangerous zombies.

The fact that our national politics is similarly divided and gated and bunkered and  irreconcilable ought to come as no surprise. And yet it seems to. We aren’t yet ready to confront the reality. We still look away from it. We rage incoherently about the perfidies of Obama and the need for more “liberty,” or about the depredations of “Wall Street.”

Is it because we sense, at some deep level, that as soon as we do turn and confront the reality — that we are not one people, and do not have a shared “destiny” in any good sense — it will be game over for America as we know it?

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