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A crisis of identity

Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

The Fourth of July was once a day of fireworks, street parties and national jubilation, says David Frum in The Atlantic. But listening to Americans talk about their nation’s history on Independence Day now is “like an encounter with a depressed person”. Reminding the person of how much he or she means to others, “how many admire and even love him or her”, only makes things worse. I once lived above a Manhattan psychiatrist, who told me his wealthy clients all arrived with the same complaint: “They thought they were frauds.” These days the American Dream is on the couch.

America is having an existential crisis, says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. A third of voters think the last presidential election was stolen, and are unswayed by a booming economy that just added 850,000 jobs in a month. The twice-impeached Donald Trump “is near-favourite to clinch the next Republican nomination”, even though America’s growth rate matches that of “mid-2000s China”. The story “isn’t that a rich country is so broken, but that a broken country is so rich”. Over the Fourth of July weekend, there were more than 500 shootings across the US. Yet America has a higher income per capita than Germany. Money has not bought happiness: “Which democracy would you bet on to be functional by mid-century?”

Yes, America obsesses about identity, says Janet Daley in The Sunday Telegraph. It always has. My native country is still young: we Americans are descended from people “rarely more than a couple of generations removed” from homelands they have never seen. “They don’t know where they belong or who they belong to.” So America has periods of “absolute self-lacerating insanity around identity”. The reason it’s prone to periodic witch hunts – McCarthyism in the 1950s, or the current one over identity politics – is because “people really have lost the sense of home”. We get a half-hearted, exported version of America’s identity crisis here in Britain. But back home it’s “to do with the very nature of the society”.

True, but now we’re more troubled than ever, says Andrew Sullivan in The Weekly Dish. Society rightly put a spotlight on America’s “profound legacy of racism” in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last May. But a wave of “woke” ideologues want to purge this country of its heart. Nursery children are being taught that America is “at its core an oppressive racist system”, designed to enslave and even kill the non-white. The cure, we’re taught, is to “confess racism” at every turn and internalise “complicity in evil”. Many people “don’t really believe in this stuff”. But when every important cultural power in America has bought into an ideology deeply hostile to western civilisation, “you can end up in despair”.