from Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal, The Better Angels of Our Nature
When did the decline of American character begin? Maybe it was between July 1969, when two Americans walked on the moon, and a Saturday that August, when 400,000 Americans rolled in the mud at Woodstock. Maybe it was when that year’s commencement speaker at Wellesley said it was the mission of her generation to search “for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.” Maybe it happened the night of January 14, 1970, when Leonard and Felicia Bernstein held a soiree for the Black Panthers, inaugurating the era of radical chic.
Or maybe the date came later, when American culture sanctioned the idea that self-actualization should count for more than your children’s emotional health. Or when bragging ceased to be considered uncouth, and ignorance ceased to be embarrassing, and lying ceased to be shameful, and the habits of understatement gave way to ever more conspicuous displays of wealth, desire, feelings, skin.
Whenever. Whatever. Pick your date and trend. Not everything that happened to the American character in the past 50 years is bad—we are more tolerant, more empathetic and more relaxed—but much of it undoubtedly is. If Republicans are going to spend the next few days talking about making America great again, shouldn’t part of that discussion also be about making Americans great again—or, at very least, making us better?