Thursday, October 27, 2005

American Malaise

Via Opinion Journal, conservative (not given to self-flagellation) writer Peggy Noonan paints a dark picture of America.

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."

A few weeks ago I was chatting with friends about the sheer number of things parents now buy for teenage girls--bags and earrings and shoes. When I was young we didn't wear earrings, but if we had, everyone would have had a pair or two. I know a 12-year-old with dozens of pairs. They're thrown all over her desk and bureau. She's not rich, and they're inexpensive, but her parents buy her more when she wants them. Someone said, "It's affluence," and someone else nodded, but I said, "Yeah, but it's also the fear parents have that we're at the end of something, and they want their kids to have good memories. They're buying them good memories, in this case the joy a kid feels right down to her stomach when the earrings are taken out of the case."

This, as you can imagine, stopped the flow of conversation for a moment. Then it resumed, as delightful and free flowing as ever. Human beings are resilient. Or at least my friends are, and have to be.

Contrast this mood to the giddiness prevalent all over India. If America, the long pole that holds up pro-India globalization, is in mourning, shouldn't we be taking notice?


doubtinggaurav said...


While I do not know how accurate this gloomy picture of US is, if US goes down in near future,whole of world will go with it, as US is rightly the prime mover of world, not only in economy,but ideas also


Jaffna said...


The United States is a key player in the global economy and in the world of ideas. But the contemporary world of ideas is not confined to it. Europe and India are other examples despite shortcomings.

indianpatriot said...

Hi doubtinggaurav,
US came into prominence only after the second world war. In 19th Century it was European dominance led by Britain. Dare I say in 18th Century it was India and China. In First millenium it was India( I mean until 1000 AD) when China became world's largest economy. To borrow a phase from Indian philosophy nothing is permanent. There is nothing like Madeline Albright's we are the indispensable nation like the way British used to claim their empire where sun never sets or the 8th century visitor to India claimed and I quote For Hindus there is no country like their country and they are so ignorant of the outside world. For them theirs is the only civilization. His name starts with Al Biruni something.

Prashant Kothari said...

Haven't read the entire Noonan piece but the snipped posted here is oh-so-cliched...

Doom-and-gloom mongers are nothing new..

And that anecode about the youth is so eerily old..

Old fogies have been complaining that young people are
a) spoilt
b) indulged
c) materialistic
d) superficial
e) all of the above
for decades, if not centures.. that's why they're old fogies

Go back to the 1950s (Sinatra's quote about rock music and young people then) or the 1960s (almost every conservative's lament about the cultural scene)... and you'll find Noonan all over again.

America has certainly many concerns.. but worrying about young kids buying more earrings isn't one of them.

Primary Red said...


Isnt' Ms. Noonan's comment really about the attitudes of American parents, less about the avarice of American kids?

The former is a symptom of the malaise she talks about.

Best regards.


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