Tag this one for your next long-reads session: Frank Rich's latest New York magazine cover story explores the current state of declinist panic in the United States as nostalgia for something that never was. It's an insightful piece, worth a read as doomsaying becomes de rigueur in American punditry and bemoaning the loss of an imaginary land that looks a lot like Andy Griffith's Mayberry is a common motif. But you won't have time to digest it thoroughly until after work, so in the meantime it's just worth taking note of the particularly clever cover art. This being an essay about the cycles of panic about the decline of America, the designers at New York called back to Time's iconic April 8, 1966 Is God Dead? cover, which itself sparked some of that panic as members of the clergy fiercely protested such a provocative suggestion of a crisis of faith. This time it's an idealized America, not our faith, that we're at risk of losing, but to Rich it's an old refrain that does not come true, largely because that idealized America never really existed. As Rich writes:
The wave of nostalgia for Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and for the vanished halcyon America it supposedly enshrined says more about the frazzled state of America in 2012 and our congenital historical amnesia than it does about the reality of America in 1960. The eulogists’ sentimental juxtapositions of then and now were foreordained. If there’s one battle cry that unites our divided populace, it’s that the country has gone to hell and that almost any modern era, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, is superior in civic grace, selfless patriotism, and can-do capitalistic spunk to our present nadir. For nearly four years now—since the crash of ’08 and the accompanying ascent of Barack Obama—America has been in full decline panic. Books by public intellectuals, pundits, and politicians heralding our imminent collapse have been one of the few reliable growth industries in hard times.
In fact, Rich argues, it's not an actual decline of some imagined notion of "America," but rather all the hand-wringing about it, that represents what's truly wrong with our country. People mistake progress, such as the election of an African American president, for decline, Rich concludes. And in doing so, they cause that decline.
Read the article in full at New York magazine.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.