Monday, July 12, 2021

TIL: I'm on Team Smart America

I'm generally leery of analyses that divide people into two types, or four, or whatever. Clickbait headlines like "Which Avengers Hero Are You?" never get my clicks. Even tests popular in corporate America like Myers-Briggs, tests that are uncanny enough in their analyses that they seem to have been spying on me, earn my respect only grudgingly. Imagine my surprise when I found a political analysis that neatly divides America up into four factions that I think captures not just the red/blue divide, but the divides within those different camps as well.

In an essay in "The Atlantic," George Packer calls them Free America, Smart America, Real America, and Just America.

In Free America, the winners are the makers, and the losers are the takers who want to drag the rest down in perpetual dependency on a smothering government.

In Smart America, the winners are the credentialed meritocrats, and the losers are the poorly educated who want to resist inevitable progress.

In Real America, the winners are the hardworking folk of the white Christian heartland, and the losers are treacherous elites and contaminating others who want to destroy the country.

In Just America, the winners are the marginalized groups, and the losers are the dominant groups that want to go on dominating.
Source: The Atlantic.

George Packer has more to say about these different Americas, much, much more. But this tiny excerpt from his essay (and his forthcoming book) gives a good taste.

I see different Presidents as having represented these different Americas. George W. Bush was President of Free America. Barack Obama was President of Smart America. Donald Trump was President of Real America. I don't think Just America has had its own President yet. President Biden might have one foot in Just America and one in Smart America, but it's still early in his term. A President Bernie Sanders might have been the President of Just America, but his own attempts to grab the brass ring fell short of the Oval Office.

The satisfying thing about Packer's taxonomy for me is that it explains not just the divide between Democrats and Republicans, but it explains the tensions within each party as well. When Trump bested Jeb Bush in the GOP primary in 2016, it was Real America defeating Free America. When Hillary Clinton bested Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primary in 2016, it was Smart America defeating Just America.

As much as I think Packer's analysis accurately describes the state of politics in America today, it offers no prescription for getting ourselves out of our dilemma.

We remain trapped in two countries. Each one is split by two narratives—Smart and Just on one side, Free and Real on the other. Neither separation nor conquest is a tenable future. The tensions within each country will persist even as the cold civil war between them rages on.
Source: The Atlantic.

The tensions will persist. Yep, that sounds about right.

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