The Freak Show

My idea of America was formed by stories about the Founding Fathers that my grandfather told me when I was a boy, by road trips through the Rockies with my parents, by reading almost everything by Mark Twain, by Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau, especially Whitman, by Kerouac and John Dos Passos, by Frank Capra films, Coppola films, Jimmy Stewart, and Billy Jack, by childhood memories of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and their murders, by the war in Vietnam and the protests against it, by Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, underground comics, the 1977 New York Yankees, loud music of all kinds, fireworks, hamburgers, and French fries.

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The American Idea
Scholars, novelists, politicians, artists, and others look ahead to the future of the American idea.

The America that I love bears little relation to the freak show now peddled by Hollywood and the cable-news networks. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with some of the poorest people in this country and some of the richest, and it’s left me feeling that we have far too many of both. The best lives, the happiest and most satisfied ones, seem to be lived somewhere in between. I have no tolerance for the anti-Americanism overseas or the complacency here at home. I worry about the extremes and the extremism that have deeply taken root—the anger, the arrogance, the lack of empathy and compassion. The current state of the union brings to mind Thomas Jefferson’s famous remark: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

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Eric Schlosser, a National Magazine Award–winning investigative journalist, is the author of Fast Food Nation (2001) and Reefer Madness (2003).

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