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Identity politics

“Americans don’t know who they are”

Joe McCarthy in 1951. Bettmann

If you want to understand America’s “insane” cancellation culture, remember that the US is a nation “of displaced people who are profoundly insecure”, says the American columnist and long-time UK resident Janet Daley in this Planet Normal podcast. That’s why we have periodic witch hunts such as the current one over identity politics and the anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950s.

Americans, for the most part, descend from homelands they have never seen. “They don’t know who they are or who they belong to. You see this repeatedly, even in Disney characters trying to find their way home… Nobody even knows where home is.” This is hard for Europeans to understand. Most British people come from families that have been here for hundreds of years, but there is “an existential uncertainty” in US life, a lack of “rooted identity”. This makes it a nation not of individualists, as often supposed, but of conformists.

And racism remains endemic. After eight years of a black president, it “breaks my heart” to see how many unarmed black people are still being shot by police. It’s very different in Europe, especially in Britain. You see far fewer mixed-race families in New York or Washington than you do in London. Partly because of the colonial experience, Britain’s racial integration is second to none. “I’m stunned with admiration” by how well it’s been handled here. Things still go wrong, but not on the same scale and not so often.

Listen to the podcast here, from 32 minutes to 45 minutes.