Sasha Abramsky: Look Ahead in Anger





[Sasha Abramsky is a Sacramento-based freelance journalist and a lecturer in the writing program at the University of California at Davis. He is author, most recently, of Inside Obama's Brain (Portfolio, 2009).]

In many ways, whether our political leanings are left, right, or middle of the road, rage is our shared experience these days. One way of looking at what is happening is that it is an expression of our anxiety over what increasingly looks to be Pax Americana's departing hegemony....

As America's undisputed global dominance ebbs—trimmed by China's surging economic might, by the European Union's growing presence as a global player (even given the travails triggered by the recent European debt crisis and the fears of a Greek default dragging the euro zone into a deeper recession), by the United States' own economic and military overstretch—the rage culture has matured to the point where it is coming to be a dark, and perhaps even a dominant, part of America's identity.

A stab-in-the-back narrative is being crafted within the world of conservatism: Things were going along just fine for a globally dominant United States (forgetting, conveniently, the depth of anti-American sentiment that developed around the world during President Bush's tenure, culminating in the financial collapse of 2007-8) until a radical President Obama decided to expand government, shrink the private sector, and traverse the world apologizing for America's purported past misdeeds. Like the decadent Europeans, guilt-ridden after their centuries of colonial dominance, so Obamians came into power intent on downplaying America's glory and its exceptionalism, and on talking up its sins....

as Britain's position as a pre-eminent power collapsed post-World War II, the country responded with a strange mixture of fury and resignation. "I must say it's pretty dreary living in the American age, apart from if you're an American, of course," opined the drunken, nihilistic, spiteful, and utterly depressive Jimmy Porter, bitterly, in Look Back in Anger, the famous postwar play and later film about British angst and the loss of illusion. John Osborne's creation was the quintessential rage drama in a Britain when young people could still recall a childhood living in a land of undisputed supremacy, and could look forward to a middle age of mediocrity in a victorious but bankrupt kingdom and to an old age of national insignificance. And when they were angry enough about it to be shouting bloody murder and casting around for people to blame.

Half a generation later, as the British public grew more accustomed to the country's diminished role in world affairs, at least some of the anger had changed to sarcasm, humor, and self-denigration. The era of Monty Python had commenced. National quirks that previously signified greatness were now derided. Stiff upper lips, the queen, Winston Churchill, those were now the stuff of jokes rather than the majesty of empire.

That said, the anger never entirely dissipated: The 1970s, the era of London punk rock, saw a surge in fascist street politics in many poor communities. The 1980s were pockmarked by skinhead violence and football hooliganism. And today anti-immigrant parties like the British National Party are sometimes making electoral inroads, at the local if not the national level. Britain is a land that knows how to laugh at itself, but it is also a place still riven with a subterranean fury at the hand dealt it by recent history....


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