Haven’t read these next two, just linking for convenience:
Particularly California history:
“Originally, [Mision San Francisco de Assis / Mission Dolores in San Francisco] comprised a fairly vast area, with 10,000 head of cattle, 10,000 sheep, many horses, etc., as well as workshops, farms and gardens. In a very real sense, it was San Francisco. Several thousand native Americans lived and worked there. Following Mexican independence, in 1834 the missions were ‘secularized’ meaning, in effect, that all their lands except that upon which stood the church buildings and cemeteries were seized by the Mexican government and given to private citizens. This impoverished the mission and lead to a decades long decline. By 1842, only a few Indians lived at the mission, and what remained of the building fell into serious disrepair.”
There’s an article in Wikipedia, I don’t know how accurate, about the Mexican secularization act of 1833.
The 1986 movie The Mission, with Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons, takes place a hundred years earlier on another continent. King Henry’s dissolution of monasteries was a couple of hundred years before that.
“It is now common for the simplest autonomous act – feeding the homeless – to be banned. Instead, the nascent virtue-consumer hurries home to slot some coins into the moral Laundromat of the charity sector. Their moral impulse is safely pooled, its messy implementation genteelly hidden. Yet this is a placebo that cannot take the place of human contact.” — Oxfam and the Fall of the Moral Monopoly, by Toby Guise
“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble, “that the universe, and every bit of the universe is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?”
His wife waited as those wait who know by long experience the mental processes of the person who is talking to them.
“I mean this,” said Dimble in answer to the question she had not asked. “If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.” — C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, quoted at Goodreads
Economics isn’t the whole story, but What’s Red, Blue, and Broke All Over? America, by Joel Kotkin, is worth reading.
“America’s diverse regions are critical to its ability to out-compete virtually all advanced economies. Great presidents, and effective political parties, recognize this reality. Franklin Roosevelt did not conduct the New Deal just to help New York; he brought jobs, money, and electricity to vast parts of the heartland, the South, and Appalachia. Ronald Reagan’s policies may have shocked New York glitterati, but won over its voters, and helped spark a financial boom that transformed Gotham into one of the great comeback stories of our era. Bill Clinton may have wowed the coastal crowd, but he never forgot where he was from, and created policies that sustained economic growth across much of the country.”
The author thinks we need better political leadership to unite us. I think the bigger problem is that half the nation (or whatever it is that exists between Canada and Mexico) hates the other half. Crazy leftists have come to dominate the Democratic Party, entertainment, big business, and academia. These are committed to the destruction of everything I care about. It’s hard to see what greater good is going to unite them and me.
You can’t just make up a foundational narrative
What’s lacking is a foundational narrative that all of us share. People like David Brooks seem to think that we can discover and articulate a new foundational narrative for America that will resonate. Implicit is the idea that there are lots of foundational narratives; there are not; there is only one: God made us, the world we live in, and everything that exists, from nothing. We screwed it up. He sacrificed enormously to fix it. His son, before we killed him, established the church. There isn’t another foundational narrative, just various more-or-less-obviously-goofy fables, and trivial re-arrangements of deck chairs.
UPDATE 2 January 2018: Another take here, disputing Kotkin’s thesis. Extra points for mentioning the Byzantine Empire. Back then it was Blues against Greens.