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Memento Mori

The Discovery of America

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Oh, what a great moment for America!

I'd better clarify. I mean that expression of rapture not in terms of what Donald Trump may do to or for America (inasmuch as we can't be sure yet what he's capable of doing, one way or another). The majesty of the moment consists in the siren blasts and whiz-bang explosions that enliven the world around us. Amid the uproar, we're taking a look at ourselves. It's time.


This priceless moment takes the form, partly, of tantrums raging in the media and on the streets of cities like Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, by folks whose definition of democracy is "your freedom to agree with me." Let 'em rant, I say; let 'em cavort. It's part of something larger: to wit, the birth of the understanding that in our complex age we are a complex people reluctant to confront complex problems due to the sullen simplicities retailed by our Keepers of Opinion -- who presently are in flight. They'll recover their form, but meanwhile...

Donald Trump came to bust things up. I didn't latch onto this for a while, and said so publicly. I thought many of his backers expected of him no higher purpose than that of kicking over some furniture in our political and cultural living room. Well, maybe. However -- to switch the metaphor -- I think he has turned over some flat rocks, revealing assumptions and habits of mind that don't fit present necessities.

The first assumption is that of an intellectual governing class based on the East and West Coasts: well-educated, spacious in viewpoint, taking its cues from The New York Times (more on that in a moment). The governing class trafficked in large ideas -- e.g., Obamacare -- that it sought to apply to local situations, without reference to local needs and capabilities.


The second assumption is that of education and "knowledge" mattering more than virtues such as responsibility, self-restraint and personal dignity.

The third assumption is that of a media establishment -- including, conspicuously, The New York Times -- sifting conscientiously the information we need most and dispensing it to us, with accompanying instructions for its use.

The fourth assumption is that of the marginality, if not the worthlessness, of social and cultural norms: particularly such norms as derived from a "God" no one can see (who, according to them, is probably just a fairy tale for kids).

The fifth assumption is of deep-dyed American guilt for historical "sins" (good religious word as it might be) not atoned for in the judgment of the governing class: for instance, slavery, an institution abolished a century and a half ago at the cost of 750,000 American lives and the ruination of a whole region. A duty to open our doors to the world -- no filter applied for merit or need -- comes with this recognition of past crimes, at least in the judgment of the governing class, whose members scan The New York Times for counsel. Naturally.

There are more assumptions, but these will get us started. What the presidential election seems to have achieved is less the enthronement of a new governing class than the aborning recognition that another America lies to the west of the Appalachians and the east of the Rockies. The Columbuses of the media have discovered, in their embarrassment, an America that spurned recommendations (commands?) to vote for Hillary Clinton. Of the media's take on all this, the Columbia Journalism Review's editor-in-chief, Kyle Pope, declared this week the need for "diversifying our newsrooms so they more accurately reflect the country we're supposed to be covering" (with opinion, he added, isolated from reporting).


There should be more of this sort of thing, as maybe there will be, once the acknowledgement has sunk in that this strange country, America, has dimensions, viewpoints and plain old needs unguessed at by the genius whose email I received this morning: "Boycott Trump States: make moral spending choices."

Oh, boy. Where do you start with such? At the ballot box, possibly.

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