Dreaming Up America
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With America ever under global scrutiny, Russell Banks contemplates the questions of our origins, values, heroes, conflicts, and contradictions. He writes with conversational ease and emotional insight, drawing on contemporary politics, literature, film, and his knowledge of American history.
admire Bill Gates and Steve Jobs more than the billionaires who made theirs speculating with other peoples’ money—and for the technology the mechanic creates and utilizes. We’re not superstitious about it the way some cultures are. We don’t look down at physical work. And we don’t look down at the mechanic or the engineer. We admire them. In a way, that admiration, genuine and heartfelt, has given us an advantage in the industrial and post-industrial eras. In the 1930s, with the development of
times as well, almost like a sales pitch that the older generation of salesmen has told you will work every time. They’re not wrong. You see it today with George Bush’s rationalization of the war in Iraq and throughout his policies, particularly in the Middle East. To save the world from itself. This refrain reappears every now and then, but not with the kind of intensity and ease as it did for the colonial powers in the nineteeth and twentieth centuries. That missionary zeal of saving the poor
the state, the sharp distinction between our legal and political system on the one hand and our religious ideas and institutions on the other. One of the things this allows is great religious tolerance; but another thing it does is demystify national identity, to secularize it. To me, this is a very good idea, something much to be desired, that the framers thoughtfully included in our national idea from the beginning. IN THE period after September 11, 2001, there was a strong surge of national
that, or perhaps because of it, we’ve managed in the process, by means of the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to create one of the most extraordinary political organizations on the planet. Through those documents alone we have integrated those two warring impulses more usefully than through any other existing political or social institution or structure. They have served as a bridge, incredible and unprecedented, joining together in one place in two texts all our
early portrayals of the Irish in American newspapers, in American writing and in early films—as a sexually reckless, self-indulgent, musically inclined, happy-go-lucky people—and the way that African Americans were portrayed in the same period, and even until recently. The same kinds of stereotypes and prejudices were applied to both groups. When I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, my father and other Anglo-American men of his generation used to refer to Italians as “Guineas.” I never knew