The United Suckers of America
The U.S. midterm elections have been billed as a referendum on the presidency of Donald Trump. And many think the elections will chart the future course of American democracy at a time when anger, xenophobia, chaos and bitter partisanship and polarization have led people to despair for the future of liberal democracy.
Adam Gopnik is one of today’s most penetrating observers of American political culture. Like Alexis de Tocqueville, he brings something of an outsider’s perspective to the United States. He grew up in Montreal, where he attended McGill University. He moved to New York in the 1980s and has been a staff writer at The New Yorker for three decades. Adam Gopnik was Michael Enright’s guest on The Sunday Edition last January, just days before the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president.
Michael Enright: Why are Americans so prone to believe in things that are either unprovable or demonstrably false?
Adam Gopnik: The historian, the great Daniel Boorstin once wrote about how, since the beginning, the American colonies were businesses in which the investors had to attract English people to give up everything and come to this blank place to try to make a living, or create a new Jerusalem, or find gold. Boorstin said it shaped American civilization that we self-selected for people who believe in advertising. Again, it’s the less heroic side of adventurers who sought a new world. Yes, all that’s true, but to some degree, we are a nation of suckers. So, that’s part of it. I think, too, that the religiosity has something to do with it. I think once you are committed to believing empirically unprovable, supernatural things, that it is a shorter step to believing unprovable things in the rest of life, like the belief that climate change doesn’t exist or that you need to have 28 semiautomatic rifles to protect yourself against the hordes. I think our Protestant religiosity is an entry-way drug to other kinds of untrue beliefs.