Written on August 19th, 2021
Written on June 3rd, 2020
In Last Best Hope, GEORGE PACKER explores four narratives that he says now dominate American (political) life: Free America, a nation of separate individuals that serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy; Smart America, the world view of Silicon Valley, the Clintons, and the professional elite; Real America, the white Christian nationalism of the heartland; and Just America, which sees citizens as members of identity groups who either inflict or suffer oppression. Though they may dominate, these narratives clearly do not speak for all, nor do any of them offer a viable path to restoring or sustaining a thriving democracy. What narrative might?
Written on February 5th, 2015
GEORGE PACKER’s recent essay in the Atlantic, We Are Living in a Failed State, was being quoted a lot – before George Floyd’s death and the ensuing days of rage. Packer is the author of 2013’s THE UNWINDING, which reported on a country growing vulnerable to a demagogue like Trump, and 2019’s Richard Holbrooke biography OUR MAN, just out in paperback. He’s a staff writer at The Atlantic and I reached out after reading two of his recent essays The President Is Winning His War on American Institutions and We Are Living in a Failed State. We talk about how it all fits together.
NYTimes review: “This book hums – with sorrow, outrage and compassion.”- #8 Best-seller
GEORGE PACKER has written a remarkable book, THE UNWINDING: An Inner History of the New America. In it, he argues that seismic economic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, leaving the social contract in pieces and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. Packer sees America as a superpower in danger of coming apart at the seams, its elites no longer elite, its institutions no longer relevant. We’ve covered a lot of this ground before on Free Forum, but the power of THE UNWINDING is in how Packer tells his truth.
He begins – “No one can say when the unwinding began – when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way. Like any great change, the unwinding began at countless times, in countless ways – and at some moment the country, always the same country, crossed a line of history and became irretrievably different. If you were born around 1960 or afterward, you have spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding.”He follows the prologue with a series of newsreel headlines in the fateful year of 1978 and goes on to combine the intimate stories of several Americans–Dean Price, the son of tobacco farmers in the rural South who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South; Tammy Thomas, a factory worker in Youngstown trying to survive the collapse of her city; Jeff Connaughton, a Washington insider bouncing between political idealism and the lure of organized money; and Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire with a radical vision of the future–with biographical sketches of this era’s leading public figures, from Newt Gingrich to Jay-Z, and collages made from newspaper headlines, advertising slogans, and song lyrics, Packer captures the flow of events and undercurrents that have set America in decline.
Publisher’s site for The Unwinding