Is America bonkers?

I’ve been back in the US for a while, and most of what I’ve seen/heard has got me thinking: this country is going bonkers. I don’t really get much of what I’ve witnessed. OK, so the country is going through a period of reinvention – I think I get that. It is trying to bring itself out of an economic hole, and reinvent its image abroad as well as at home.

But is it actually trying? In bookstores, Glenn Beck is a big seller. Sarah Palin’s reality TV show has prompted more than a handful of people to whisper to me: “I think she’s going to win in 2012.” I see and read a lot about Obama hatred – some of it crazy rabid talk, other times it’s quiet mumbling about how he simply isn’t getting anything done. I read journalists’ columns in which they lambast other journalists’ work and think: Whatever happened to the old maxim of ‘don’t say something unless it’s worth saying’?

I also hear the same old stories: racism and sexism in the workplace abound, you can only get ahead by knowing the right people or sleeping your way to the top, hard work doesn’t get you anywhere, blah blah blah.

A lot of it is pure moaning, in my opinion, focusing on the negative instead of the positive. Some of it is simply people desperately trying to use their disadvantages as advantages, to game the system by pulling the victim card. Some of it is justified. But I’ve heard it all before.

I think something’s wrong with the system, personally. I think people are getting “enlightened” at US universities and through their therapists in order to learn how the world isn’t fair and how they’ve been treated badly, rather than how to navigate the world and make it work to their advantage and just deal with it. I look at the national conversation, and all I hear is hate, vitriol or woe-is-me talk. Did the United States not learn anything from its misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq? Did Americans not learn that in parts of the rest of the world, and even in parts of this country, some people have no opportunities? If American democracy is so bad, why do we want the rest of the world to have what we have? And why do we wonder why India and China are rising past us, when we’re so mired in our own negativity?

During a recent visit to Austin, Texas, an old guy looked at me and lamented: “Americans never learn,” he said with a sad smile.

Too true, too true.

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