Americans Have Lost the Willingness, Ability to Share a Common National Identity
We don’t need more unity.
Apologies to Sean Penn, who last week made an earnest case for that virtue in an appearance with — of all people — Sean Hannity on Fox “News.” The actor was discussing “what I experienced emotionally” in Ukraine, where he had been filming a documentary when Russia invaded.
“We all talk about how divided things are here,” he said, “but when you step into a country of such incredible unity, you realize what we’ve all been missing.”
It’s a seductive argument. Penn is hardly alone in sensing that something important has gone missing from America. And when you consider the besieged people of Ukraine, all pulling together, striking as a single fist against a common foe, it’s natural to identify the missing thing as unity.
But what we are seeing in Ukraine is the predictable byproduct of an immediate existential threat. Take away the threat and the unity will go with it. This is not to demean the stubborn, inspiring heroism of the Ukrainian people. It is only to say that it reflects the exigency of the crisis — not some essential nobility of character that this country lacks. If you doubt that, recall how unified Americans were after September 11 and December 7. Then recall how quickly we returned to our bickersome ways.
So, the view from this pew is that what has gone missing from this country is not some idealized unity. Rather, it is something more profound. We no longer share a narrative. We no longer have a common thread.
A poll released last week by Economist/YouGov testifies eloquently to this. The survey, which asked 1,500 Americans which news organizations they trust the most, came back with a truly stunning result:
Republicans trust almost nothing.
Even Fox is trusted only by a bare majority (53%). And the rankings go downhill from there.
PBS? Twenty percent.