The Four Narratives That Now Dominate American Life
George Packer in Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On
Hosted by Andrew Keen, Keen On features conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and writers about the economic, political, and technological issues being discussed in the news, right now.
In this episode, Andrew is joined by George Packer, the author of Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal, to explore the four narratives that now dominate American life: Free America, Smart America, Real America, and Just America.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: One of the chapters [in your book] is called “Make America Again,” rather obviously a play on “Make America Great Again.” What, in your view, was America? What captures its spirit, its uniqueness? What do we want to return to, or get forward to?
George Packer: That line actually comes from a Langston Hughes poem from 1935, and so I used it, yes, in order to make America great again. What Hughes meant was make America what it should be, not go back to anything because we’ve never been what we should be. To me, the core of America is the promise of equality, which is the first key word in the Declaration of Independence and which Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed in his great study of American democracy as the central driving passion in Americans. The thing we are most motivated by is a desire to be equal with others.
George Packer, a staff writer at The New Yorker from 2003 to 2018, has covered the Iraq War for The New Yorker and has also written about the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone, civil unrest in the Ivory Coast, the megacity of Lagos, and the global counterinsurgency. In 2003, two of his New Yorker articles won Overseas Press Club awards—one for his examination of the difficulties faced during the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, and one for his coverage of the civil war in Sierra Leone. He is the author of several books, including The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, and The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, which was named one of the ten best books of 2005 by the New York Times and won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award and an Overseas Press Club book award. In addition, he has written two novels, The Half Man and Central Square.