George Packer returned from several years overseas writing about problems of the United States in the world, never imagining that the United States would become his next subject. But he was appalled with the condition of America when he returned and wondered what had happened to our forward momentum. In reading this book, you may feel the perplexity I had in the beginning, for his stories are wide-ranging and diverse and seem to bear no relation to one another. But slowly the accretion of pages, stories, and facts begin to take their toll and we begin to glimpse the outlines of our recent past and possible reasons for it. And something akin to a slow-burning rage may take hold in your breast.
Packer might be flint to dry tinder—many of us know what we think might be wrong with governance, banks, farming, energy policy, education—Packer hits all the hot, dry, sore spots in his round-the-country assessment in the form of interviews. He does not paint a flattering picture of anyone, really, (which one of us is perfect?) but neither is he completely negative except for the portrait of Newt Gingrich. Newt looks and sounds like a megalomaniac on the level of Ron Hubbard and according to Packer may have been the beginning of Washington’s political dysfunction and discourtesy. If Newt had left Washington when he was thrown out of office, we may have been saved, but he stayed around tinkering with political leadership using money and words. But Newt is not single-handedly responsible. We have ourselves to thank.
Packer allows us to imagine our own choices, had we other people’s lives. He is explanatory rather than judgmental. He shows us the curve of the earth and allows us to use our experience and observation to draw our own conclusions. And he is radicalizing me. I realize my own collection of facts, tempered by my education and experience, have caused within me a slow-burning anger over the widening inequality and waste of our vast resources, both human and soil-based. I do not admire the men and women of our Congress and I do not admire the echelons of wealthy bankers and corporate executives. I do not aspire to, nor do I wish my children to aspire to, their ranks. I want them to realize they are us, albeit with money they frankly do not deserve.
Packer is not prescriptive so the answers must come from within ourselves. But he does point out that the 99% have already staged a mass action in Occupy Wall Street. Deep feelings of injustice already roil through our cities and countryside. Now is the time to learn the skills you will need should your house be lost in a tornado, an earthquake, a flood, or a firestorm. Now is the time to be the leaders you wish your Congresspeople were. Now is the time to think for ourselves. Think. Soon, it will be time to short Wall Street.
You can buy this book here: