Home Featured The lie at the heart of America’s civic religion

The lie at the heart of America’s civic religion

The lie at the heart of America’s civic religion

Americans are, by and large, optimistic people. You’d have to view the world positively to set out on a hostile and unmapped continent. This optimism stuck with our people well past the frontier and can be seen in American music, literature, and theater. Foreigners, both friend and foe, have long remarked on this trait. “If there is a sort of national American emotion,” the English comedian Stephen Fry once said, “I would call it optimism.”

Since the 1960s, however, and even more acutely in the last 15 years, a creeping dread has entered the national psyche. This trend is observable in media, the arts, and political thought. Neither side of the aisle is optimistic: ABC News reported that nearly three-quarters of citizens believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The emperor has no clothes, but he still has the power to punish naysayers.

Some of this pessimism has to do with the normal decline of empire. No one nation can stay on top forever. Eventually, it reverts to the mean. But I see another factor to the despair choking our nation: Our civic religion is built on a lie, and our elite cannot solve the problems it promised to.

Every nation has a civic religion. In some states, it is explicit, such as the deification of Roman emperors. Others, like our American empire, have…

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