A Trip into The Political Desert

Harper’s Magazine/ May 2012 Issue


That the U.S. is ideologically divided should surprise no one – in fact, it may not be of as much concern as the political pundits would have us believe. What does concern this reader is that political talking points are pushing everything else aside in magazines such as Harper’s.

In this issue, Thomas Frank weighs in on the late Andrew Breitbart as if Andy’s posturing, yelling, and righteous indignation were of significance in these United States. Only at essay’s end does common sense begin to reign. Frank’s realization here is that old A.B. was just a personality, not a voice compelling us from our political wasteland.

And Lewis Lapham’s signature essay on the consequences of forgetting the lessons of history leaves us wallowing in political mud without any view – from above or from the past – to render perspective. Even Ben Austen’s piece of reportage on the demise of public housing leaves us with only crumbling, existential fossils of the Great Society, without an insightful explanation of cause and effect.

With such posturing – and without incisive examinations (which remains the responsibility of media) – we'll remain a divided country. 

Fortunately, fiction gives us a moment of relief. Paul Theroux’s story, “Our Raccoon Year,” clever juxtaposed a season of fending off raccoons against a father, frustrated by a mother’s absence from the family. It’s a clever piece that leaves much to the reader to discern. Too bad the rest of this issue didn’t lead me to that point in assaying this the second decade of the twenty-first century.


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