Past eras of stable white Christian patriarchal dominance are widely sanitized and mythologized in our political discourse
The NYT, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal continue to run ads on Twitter to this day...in the midst of horrific attack on the ADL by Musk and his zombified attack dogs...
This tells us all we need to know about the inexcusable failure by mainstream media to function as the 4th rail of democracy.
For all its failings, Substack enables newsletters such as this one to be a clarion voice of brutal truths.
A lot of great points. I strongly advise that you also reference the superb analysis of Professor Timothy Snyder, both in the podcast Timothy Snyder Speaks, and in his 2018 book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. He explains brilliantly that autocrats push the type of nostalgic mythology that you discuss.
This is great. I will be applying it in the current fight against religious RW extremist that are trying to close down our library over LGBT content. The free speech content/polarization parts really spoke. Thank you!
I read Heather Cox Richardson daily and I love her, but I think lately she is falling more and more into the nostalgia camp as she talks often about how Biden is trying to return us to steadier economic days and restore us to someplace we used to be. Perhaps this is partly why her appeal is so widespread. I long for better days since 45, but when I realistically look back in time, America has not been good to me and my working class family. Perhaps there was a sliver of time in there when life was looking up, when unions were strong and women and African Americans were gaining rights and power, but a short decade the 1970s were. Reagan and Gingrich and the GOP and the theocrats in that party got right to dismantling all that beginning in the early 1980s. So many "centrist" Dems have stopped things that would have helped families like mine. They stopped M4A and more. My own party threw me under the bus in so many ways. Yet, I am forced to keep voting for their nonsense in the ridiculous political system we have which pits one party against another with little to no chance of other parties winning. Instead, people like Sanders are called spoilers.
I think that there are several psychological factors at play here, as you touch on with reference to nostalgia being a component of human emotion. One factor is the nature of memory. An advisor of mine told me that in his view the best way to think about memory was to see it as creative destruction. People are not recorders of data, sensory inputs, or experiences. Instead we are synthesizers of experience, which depends on creating memories that coherently, but are characterized by a good deal of specific information being lost. There are numerous books and articles that describe this in terms of creating stories, or showing cognitive biases, etc. My point here is that memory for a halcyon past is filled with factual information lost and is subject to reinforcement by repetition (either internally or externally generated).
In the case of nostalgia, I think this dovetails with a second factor, namely survival. The misremembered past is appealing by virtue of the fact that we have survived it. The future offers no such comfort. Of course nostalgia works more soothingly for those whose social status means that they survived comparative advantage. But, even for those who don’t, the past is less threatening than what is to come.
This is a most fantastic article, and on one of my pet peeves. People wistfully longing for a glorious past that never existed.
Thank you for this. Right now, I’m listening to audo of Kurt Anderson’s book, “Evil Geniuses”, which combines cultural and political analysis to go into detail about when, where and why America began putting nostalgia (worship of the past) over interest in the new - starting in the ‘70s and ‘80s, with “Happy Days” and all that. It is a kind of cultural attempt to escape dealing with contemporary realities. And yes, it absolutely, if largely unconsciously, reinforces MAGA and other right wing political movements.
But seriously: What drives me crazy about the use of "polarization" is its epistimological and moral tone deafness. If I say the world is round, and you say it's flat, we're not "polarized." The metaphor of polarization depends on both poles being equally (if oppositely) "charged"--which, in the case of politics, means both sides must have some equal validity as regards facts. Polarization requires differing *opinions.* But the right has been lying to the public for--well, forever, but much more so since the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine and rise of Fox News. What people on the right now believe to be true is a stew of lies, myths, and slurs. That's not polarization. That's one side being gaslighted and brainwashed, and centrist and left media and politicians should call it out for what it is.
My one complaint about Zimmer is that, since I assume English is his second language, it bugs me that his writing in English is better than that of most people for whom English is their first, and often only, language. Of course, he's not a better writer than ME. But I couldn't write a sentence of German if my life depended on it.
Brian Linn had a similar piece regarding military recruitment
Thank you for this and the original piece. I’ve been particularly disturbed by how Brooks is leaning into nostalgia about marriage that helps fuel regressive agendas. https://annelutzfernandez.substack.com/p/making-marriage-miserable-again
Nostalgia for a past paradise that never was helps not at all, I agree. But neither does the utopian hope that we can impose perfection now. People need to talk in good faith and honestly. Demonizing those we oppose makes for warfare, not politics. Compromise is always hard, but must be hammered out.