“New Fatalism” Is The Same Old BS

Statue of 19th Century civil rights activist Fredrick Douglass in Rochester, New York, before it was torn down by vandals in 2020.

George Packer is an excellent writer. Packer is not just a political writer for The Atlantic, he is also a novelist and a playwright.

However, Packer is also one of the Very Serious and Sensible Centrists of the Discourse, a group of people who see horrifying things happening in our country and figure the only thing to do is lecture the people who are pointing out the horrifying stuff. Their motivations seem to be driven mainly by the dislike of people on the left.

In keeping with such a view, Packer wrote this for The Atlantic:

Packer was reviewing a book by historian Jefferson Cowie, Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power. I have not read it but it is on my list, given the glowing reviews I have read about it. Packer’s takeaway is that we as a nation have entered something called “New Fatalism” and all the talk about actually teaching American history is nothing more than a promotion of doom and gloom with no real forward view of a better future. This seems a little odd to me, but that sense of oddity decreases when I think more about it.

For starters, activists and others pushing for a more complete reading of American history have been portrayed as negative nellies for a while now. But that is not really honest. People such as Nikole Hannah-Jones and Te-Nihisi Coates have been clear that their desire to tell the real story of American history is not about shaming, and they stress that there are many positive stories in our history. People like Minnijean Brown-Tricky, who was one of the Little Rock Nine who integrated schools in Arkansas in 1957, tell their story to school children not because she wants white people to feel ashamed, but as a parable about choosing right or wrong. They are actually rather optimistic about the future of our country, and people like them constantly talk about America’s potential to live up to its ideals.

Second, it is not fatalism to be aware of mistakes of the past so you do not repeat them. It is something that we should all aspire to, both as a nation and as individuals. Also, do you really trust anyone who has done something wrong, and then denies it ever happened? Look at who is leading the effort to whitewash January 6.

Third, a lot of these so-called centrists are very comfortable people, and very much remind me of this political cartoon:

Cartoon of two eagles sipping tea and not understanding why a mouse is frightened of an owl.

There certainly are whiffs of Weaponized Positivity, when comfortable people use “being positive” as a hammer to shut down any protest by less comfortable people. Of course, in turn, when such folks feel threatened by anything, let’s just say they suddenly seem rather angry and, well…negative.

Finally, there is the potential of Ivy League snobbery here. Packer is a Yale graduate, Cowies is from Vanderbilt and often pundits from Ivy League schools seem to not be able to comprehend a graduate of a non-Ivy League school could ever be taken seriously.

I do not know if Packer is trying to create a new term that will become the rallying cry to shut up activists. I could easily see it being used in the very near future as a label on people who point out Republican book bannings and denial of racism in our history.

As far as being able to bridge the gap between an honest review of our history and a view of an America that in the future fully lives up to its ideals, I think President Biden has proven adept in communicating this. His appearance in Selma this week is one example.

I think a lot of comfortable white people just do not want to deal with it. My advice to them is perhaps do not accept things that you yourself would never accept if they were aimed at you. And I will add, the messenger telling you about the bad things is never worse than the bad things itself.

The last word goes to D’Angelo.

One thought on ““New Fatalism” Is The Same Old BS

  1. My touchstones are where we are going at this point is Umberto Eco’s “Ur-Facism” definition and Arendt. The former Republican party is rapidly becoming dominated by the sort of people the greatest generation fought and died to save is from. And there are many comfortable “centrists”, Biden foremost, who refuse to grasp this. Many don’t care because, as your cartoon example illustrates, this doesn’t post a threat to them. Yet. Until their open-minded child announces they are gay, or are in love with someone of a different color. Or until they stall hauling Episcopalians and Moderate Suburban Methodists in front of tribunals to judge whether they meet the U.S. Standard of Our National Religion.

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