Here, Lapham writes of American exceptionalism as a means to separate ourselves from others. This division is a tool to reinforce neurotic fear which has formed the basis for the American psyche since the dawn of the Cold War. Americans, great and true, are most afraid not of death but of each other. Once the Cold War ended, the plutocracy needed a new enemy to reinforce this neurotic fear. They came up with each other: black Americans, gay Americans, atheistic Americans, “elites,” etc. We declared war on drugs (whatever that means; the crack and heroin won’t put up a fight) that turned up our policing and reinforced a fear much closer to home. Our neighbors could not be trusted. This worked for the 90’s as police forces swelled with new recruits and military-grade toys. In 2001, already afraid of the Russians and of each other, we got a new foe: “terrorism.” As if we didn’t realize we were already being terrorized by our own news media and government, we blindly waltzed into an unending fear of fear itself. This cesspool is what allowed the orange man’s rhetoric to work. Stoking that fear and declaring its “cause” fixed in his first 100 days, he won. We must stop being afraid.
After I read this article, I ran out to Barnes & Noble to buy a copy of this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly.