Those Alternate Realities

Paul Krugman had a recent column in the New York Times headlined “Why Does the Right Hate America?”

Although the headline was clearly meant as snark, it wasn’t wrong:  at its base, the division between MAGA voters and the rest of us rests upon MAGA’s clear distaste–even hatred–for the reality of today’s diverse America. That’s really what those anti-“woke” battles are all about; a not insignificant number of American citizens desperately want to “return” to an America that they mis-remember, an America that only existed in a Rightwing fever dream– a manufactured, inaccurate nostalgia for a world that privileged White Christian males.

Krugman began by referencing an essay by Damon Linker that profiled conservative intellectuals. Those writers, he argued, helped to explain where the MAGA right is coming from, and they paint a dire portrait of contemporary America.

For example, Patrick Deneen’s “Regime Change” describes America thus: “Once-beautiful cities and towns around the nation have succumbed to an ugly blight. Cratering rates of childbirth, rising numbers of ‘deaths of despair,’ widespread addictions to pharmaceuticals and electronic distractions testify to the prevalence of a dull ennui and psychic despair.” And he attributes all of this to the malign effects of liberalism.

When I read such things, I always wonder, do these people ever go outside and look around? Do they have any sense, from personal memory or reading, of what America was like 30 or 50 years ago?

I am old enough to remember the America of the 1950s and 60s, and like Krugman, my reaction to the quoted paragraph is incredulous.

I clearly recall separate drinking fountains for Whites and Blacks, the “Restricted” billboards on housing developments (warning that Jews and Blacks would be excluded), the rules prohibiting women from opening charge accounts or obtaining mortgages without a male co-signer…

Krugman is a bit younger; he references the Seventies, noting that these right-wing critiques of modern America seem “rooted not just in dystopian fantasies but in dystopian fantasies that are generations out of date. There seems to be a part of the conservative mind for which it’s always 1975.”

Start with those blighted cities. I’m old enough to remember the 1970s and 1980s, when Times Square was a cesspool of drugs, prostitution and crime. These days it’s a bit too Disneyland for my tastes, but the transformation has been incredible.

 OK, that’s something of a Big Apple-centric view, and not every U.S. city has done as well as New York (although it’s remarkable how many on the right insist on believing that one of America’s safest places is an urban hellscape). Chicago, for example, has done a lot worse. But between 1990 and the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic there was a broad-based U.S. urban resurgence, largely driven by the return to city life of a significant number of affluent Americans, who increasingly valued the amenities cities can offer and were less worried by violent crime, which plunged after 1990.

True, some of the fall in crime was reversed during the pandemic, but it seems to be receding again. And Americans are coming back to urban centers: Working from home has reduced downtown foot traffic during the week, but weekend visitors are more or less back to pre-pandemic levels.

This doesn’t look like blight to me.

What about family life? Indeed, fewer Americans are getting married than in the past. What you may not know is that since around 1980 there has been a huge decline in divorce rates. The most likely explanation, according to the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, is that expanded job opportunities for women led to a temporary surge in divorces as women left unhappy marriages, which receded as marriages adjusted to the new social realities. I take this to mean that during the “good old days” there was a lot of quiet marital misery, some of which is now behind us.

Oh, and when we talk about declining birthrates, we should note that a significant factor has been a huge decline in teenage pregnancies, especially among women 15 to 17. Is this an indicator of moral decay?

There’s more, and I agree with all of it.

As Krugman concedes, we Americans do still have big problems. (As he also points out, those “deaths of despair” and similar symptoms of dysfunction are mostly artifacts of rural areas of the country, not the urban “hellholes” that MAGA folks love to hate–those “cesspools” where uppity women and Black people and other minorities have the nerve to flourish…)

I couldn’t agree more with Krugman’s conclusion:

Indeed, some people on the right clearly hate the America we actually live in, a complex, diverse nation, as opposed to the simpler, purer nation of their imaginations.

Says it all….


  1. I’m 79 years old and I remember getting my first credit card – mine and mine alone – from Barnett Bank in the late 1970s. I also remember having to ask my husband to cosign a contract to paint our house! Also when an insurance agent declined our application for car insurance because (at that time) we were “living in sin.” Ah yes…the good old days.

  2. I got my first credit card in my name only in 1979 (Sears, RIP) and my second one (Shell) two years later, and thus having established my own, good credit rating, left my toxic marriage.
    Back in the “halcyon days” MAGA remembers, if someone had a serious heart attack, they died, nothing could be done. Diabetes was almost impossible to manage effectively. The list goes on. But at least women and people of color knew their place and were kept under control.
    There was nothing good about the “good old days.”

  3. Krugman’s closing words are a little off. Many of the MAGA folks are older, and they don’t imagine the good old days, they remember them. And most of them are also rural folk from farming communities, when there were lots of family farms and life was reasonably good. They didn’t have race problems, because hardly any people of color lived in the rural areas, at least outside of the south. And you remeber the good things more than the bad things. Most of those folks probably never heard of the phrase, “correlation does not show causation”, and so they look at the obvious things, the cultural changes. and then came Earl Butz and told the farmers “get big or get out”, and the right wing churches turned political and the right wing radio hosts, and then fox news, fed and expanded their fears. What’t to now understand? It really all makes perfect sense. Now we have to utterly and totally defeat the MAGA crowd, so othat they know they can’t have our country. Although the literalist churches know they have god (lower case intentional) on their side, so they won’t give up, but the political class will have to give up. And this is an aside – only about 10 to 15 percent of people are paying attention to politics. the rest are living their lives and ignoring the Washington DC crazies. So don’t sweat the polls. Much of the uninformed will start paying attention a month or so before the election. And don’t forget Taylor swift, who is tremendously influental with young people. She posted something encouraging her fans to vote, and the voter registration rate jumped by more than an order of magnitude! We still need to do whatever we can to win, but I have a lot of hope.

  4. The “dystopia” was brought to the fore by wretched creatures like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. They pushed this narrative so that the weaker minds, like Hamlin’s rats, would follow and bring these wastrels to power. They DID see the ennui and exploited it in the most sinister way.

    And here we are, fighting for our very democracy. History was supposed to teach us to avoid such pitfalls by tyrants and psychopaths. Then, we were still pretty anti-Semitic during WW II until we saw the implementation of the horror real tyranny can bring.

    Until we rid ourselves of the vermin like Trump, Bannon and the drooling MAGA morons in Congress, we will be at risk to lose our nation to monsters.

  5. Two comments on the comments if I may: excellent observation Ms. Anne Johnson. The Republican’s only strategy is the politics of resentment and that’s why they win in the economically ravaged rural areas. And, Mr. Turner, though I don’t disagree, the cancer in the Republican Party started much earlier and the two you cite are merely logical outcomes from the rot that preceded them. And, IMHO, that rot took root in January of 1981. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. When you stop reading about current events, does MAGA still exist? Does the New York Times still fly off the newsstands?

    From an independent realist, there’s not much difference between the tribes of Eastern Liberal and MAGA. One waxes their believed moral superiority over the screeds of MAGA.

    It’s all a distraction…buy your Christmas decorations and get those hung up soon to show how much you love Christ. Add your blue square in support of Israel.

    Distractions…buy, buy, buy…

    Yeah, I can see why MAGAs hate the America we’ve become.

  7. I’m reminded of two experiences I had as a young white man in my first job as a management trainee in banking. I spent time in every department—-one of which did installment loans for new furnaces. The bank used a map with red lines and it showed which areas of Indianapolis were off limits. This was in 1971 before the practice was made illegal. Fast forward to the late 1970s and I put in an offer on a well-maintained home located south of 38th Street for $59k in the Meridian Heights neighborhood. It appraised at $39k because of the “neighborhood”. The good, old days? BS.

  8. People in lots of rural areas lead comfortable lives, typically surrounded by family and friends, church and jobs, and “downtown”, where they meet and talk to like others. They do suffer from hard work and its attendant toll, early aging and death. That’s the old folks.

    The young folks aren’t prepared to leave this familiar world because what’s the alternative? Cities they are unfamiliar with where people shoot and get shot regularly and die of stress and dope and overcrowdedness and crushing crowds of such diverse people? No thanks.

    Familiar is so comfortable.

    Then there are, of course, exceptions like me. I couldn’t wait to get out on my own and go to engineering/male/military school more than 600 miles away without the chance of a car of my own. I worked in school at a snack bar and as a surveyor for Herkimer County all summer. That, plus some my parents chipped in, was enough to live comfortably, mainly because I could leave the military aspects after two years and found friends with cars and the joy of hitchhiking.

    I met my partner for life back in Herkimer. In September 1964, we were married, had a honeymoon in Cape Cod, and started my life as an engineer. In August 1965, we had our daughter, followed by a son two years later and another son two years after that.

    Those were maturing times for both Judy and I. She had all she wanted, a husband and family to care for, and I was stressed by how steep the climb appeared to be for me to earn my salary and more and learn how to imagine strange production process improvements and turn my dreams into the reality of parts, pieces, and machinery that improved manufacturing.

    Judy and I and our kids have turned out to be strangers to our roots. We moved on from them. We have traveled in the US, Europe, and Africa and lived in Mexico, and I worked for a Swiss company after my central retirement. We did great.

    We generally like the world and hate wars. We don’t think that my old political party, Republican, does. Many rural folks I left behind fear debt and don’t distinguish the national debt from theirs. They see me and Democrats in general as out-of-control liberals who are dragging the life of the rural folks down into a sewer of diversity and selling out to a one-world government that can’t possibly work because others are so strange. We’re spending the whole country into debt that can never be repaid. We are godless heathens, to boot. We hug trees, for god’s sake. We love animals as pets rather than as domestic enslaved workers and food.

    I get it.

  9. I agree with all that you say. At the same time I feel like you are leaving out a few important things that add to the complexity of the situation. None of what I say – is meant to detract from the Insanities of the Republicans, the Right in general, and the horrific combinations of Big Money Manipulation – most vivid in the “allyship” of the (Evangelical) Christian Right.
    I’m 72 years old. The worlds of my childhood and early adulthood were the end of an era of “community” that hasn’t been replaced by anything viable for many people. Yes – the religious organizations along with other parts of our society were racially segregated. There also were communities – of mainstream religion that grounded people and the religious community helped both their community and others outside of their community some of the time. There was much more of a world of both union based and non-union based “careers” both in factories (which went abroad and shut down – (significantly in the Midwest where you live). Along with the (much less than now) exploitation of workers – they weren’t changing careers (of necessity) multiple times and families often lived – extended families in the same geographic areas. Even among Black and Latino Communities – they had a stable community – with some significant class diversity in their communities. This loss of Community is important! On top of this – the “prosperity” of today with Joe Biden at the leadership isn’t helping the working class workers – who are making Wages that are Far from living Wages and who no longer, if they ever did, have employer based – Good Health Insurance. The voices of Hatred and Division – have multiple audiences that hear their words. There is the clear voice of Racism – from Privileged white people – upper-middle class – who resent – “the others” – who are impinging upon their “rights” to predominate and lead. There also are a lot of people – A Majority of Whom are WHITE – whose household incomes are less than 1/3rd of our income – and we aren’t “wealthy”. For them – organic food, international climate change issues and much more – must seem like a Craziness – when they are trying to pay their heating bills and more with great difficulty. 14 Billion for Israel – as Biden wants – and how much to help the family whose income is $30-60,000 – year – with costs rising rapidly. We need to have both compassion – and deep listening, as well as ORGANIZING and SERIOUS WORK – on multiple levels – including the 2024 Elections – but not just that!

  10. Anyone, conservative or otherwise, who attributes “widespread addictions to pharmaceuticals ” to “the malign effects of liberalism,” should read Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones, and think of the Sackler family. That should point them to the correct source of that problem.

  11. George Marx – kudos.

    The reality that pains me deeply is the end of shared values…shredded by technology dividing us into thousands/millions of mini-tribes, each of which believes in itself as the ultimate guide to behavior. Each generation the “MEness” increases, neatly modeled by the parents.

    Between “Bowling Alone” and “Amusing Ourselves to Death” we have deeply carved an alternate reality. IGIO.

  12. My area of extremely gerrymandered rural Indiana is full of maga republicans. The most vocal racist and hateful white nationalist ones live within the city limits of the county seat. Forty to sixty years ago, thanks to the UAW, they had very good paying factory jobs with great benefits and always voted for Democrats. Then their jobs were sent to Mexico. Thankfully, most of them are senior citizens that will be taking their ignorant hate and racism with them to their graves.

    The senior citizens that are not racist or hateful republicans are almost all farmers – either retired or still actively farming. They’ve always been republican and, unfortunately, still believe the propaganda that democrat politicians only want to take their hard earned dollars with higher taxes and give it away to lazy people that refuse to work.

    The younger generation of hateful magas were raised by those former factory workers and are almost all members of the local fundamentalist evangelical churches. Over the past several years they have been encouraged by their preachers and congregations to run for office. As candidates they are grossly unqualified for the offices they run for, but manage to win local elections anyway. They win because their congregations back them and most other republican voters don’t bother to research the candidates and can be counted on to vote a straight ticket.

    Indiana will continue to become more red and more maga as long as both the state and national democrat party leadership chooses to ignore the rural areas. Does anyone ever hear anything from the D leadership? In the rural areas we Dems are on our own. When our county chair has asked for help he is met with either complete silence or is told they are only helping the larger cities. The state party continues to ask for money from the rural Dems while ignoring the radical right takeover of rural government.

  13. I relocated to NoDak in 1987, after lenthy trucking to mainly urban areas and anywhere else. being raised in the shadow of NYC, Newark,N.J. from 1955/69 then Norfolk Va to L.A.Ca in 1970. big city mainly.until Bakerfiels Ca. high school. 1970. change wasnt welcome in that burg. mostly dust bowl seeds and its offspring. some bucked the system, if you didnt care if you ever got anywhere.
    I hated the system of bakerfield. (mccarthys shit hole)(and still is)so much as Nam raged I joined the Navy to get out. being returned to normal area, of So calif. I lived thru the going liberal times in the L.A.area. 1970s was all every one needed,and could succeed. then came reagan. watching the labor wages stall, and growth in the blue collar sector drag. untold was a shit hole war going on no one noticed much in central America. if ya wonder why cocaine became a natl pastime,it was literally flown in by the ton to support that war,with glee from the reagan whitehouse to counter any monetary support from the gov..its deep,but was easy to follow the trend and moves if you were part of it. Gary Webb was spot on..the changes bought by a single bill the manditory sentencing scheme, was a diliberate crushing if users,though bought on by the ease of import.william casey and king (bush )geo. the 1st allowed… this isnt trival crap,or a conspiracy from some social media. it was the start of controling people for others gain. the so called tax cuts were actully a growth for millionaires to become billionaires and locking up vast economic resources to a single playing field. theirs,the monied bunch,selected mainly by others with money,and the same ALEC style think tank goals. they have belittled via commercial media the working class and its living standards. if ya think the changes rep johnson and his church ilk peddles will be some sort of calling,its nothing more than think tank jargon to make people believe its gonna save something. though recent past history as mentioned here,the think tanks that are hired to make issues,have used past issues to further the working class as loosers. ask the question,who and what policies are made,by these think tanks,and who financed them? and why? most politicians today dont even talk a word without obvious think tank words,carefully worded to make a point,er,even subtle. if you listen to my speil , im direct,to the point,take it apart in your world,all you have is lawyer speil,and thats where it muddies and supports the BS. i maybe regarded the other side of the fence,but is seldom mince words,the words that only drag community and life down,either your in the game or/if just talking. the fact is, rich private people now hoard alot of money that could be flowing in the local economy. that alone sets the standard today. the rich control by deny. the working class either comes back now, or we just kiss the rich,,mans,,ass.. forever….

  14. Mr.Marx:
    any enity thats traded on the stock market is from profit. alot of it from denied wages. any buisness that is for the good, health,science,etc, that would bennifit the masses,shuoldnt be traded,instead for the good,the actual people who make the economy run. instead,its agreed driven economy. and the loosers are the working class. In the U.K. the gov is starving natl health care system,forcing it to vote for,for-profit schemes. since London is ceneter monitary trade,seems it goes hand in hand with the british tory.(and the crown) if the media hasnt warned its outcome,to the public in a public forum, then obviously, that media traded on the market and its greed driven so called investors,could care less if the working clasd struggles more,while its belittled by those who make the profits they hoard. eat the rich..

  15. The real problem is that the MAGATS believe that they have the Divine Right to rule over this “Christian” nation. That belief can be found as far back as the Grant Administration. It wasn’t widespread as it is today, but it was there.

  16. Its always easy to play the race card when you really font have much to complain about. Its very true the country has moved leftward.
    The constitution on almost every level is being usurped, ballots in 6?swing states had over 475 cases the courts ignored according to the news media, ballot boxes are being stiffed and being caught on surveillance cameras in Democrat election primaries.
    The country we live in is more corrupt than ever and its not white christians that are noticing alone, many black coworkers are asking me if I have a problem if they vote for Trump, crazy? They look surprised when I telll them Im a moderate and a vote against Biden doesn’t mean anything except you love your countryand community than the false politicians we have on the extreme left.

  17. Imagination can be fun, and it can be i important in regard to creating art, and the like, but it is not a good place in which to live, and as above, that is where the Magats do live.
    The concept of multiculturalism is anathema to them.
    I am 81, and grew up in NYC, knew about the Times Square area’s difficulties, was glad to see it cleaned up; grew up in a mostly Jewish self-imposed ghetto, just as people living in other neighborhoods lived in Italian, or Polish areas, while most non-whites were relegated to places outside the red lines.
    Anti-Semitism, and other bigotries were present, “fucking Jew-bastard” slid out of one bar’s open door, in Brooklyn, in the ’70’s, as I coincidentally walked by.
    I not not doubt that there were many places where everybody looked the same, and grew up believing that that was the way it was “meant” to be.
    But change is! And, evolution (part of the reality Mike Johnson can not comprehend) favors those who can adjust to change.

  18. Sheila – I love how some of the comments here tend to prove Krugman’s point. Fantasies abound.
    Good post, BTW.

  19. I am old enough to remember working as a grocery clerk in an integrated neighborhood in the late ’50s, when men came in on Friday evenings to cash their paychecks after working in the big factories just down the street. Many were illiterate, needing someone to witness their “X” on the endorsement line, sending half of the money “back home” via money order. Those checks often were well over $350, a lot of money at the time. The men were working in foundries, and big assembly plants, trained on the employer’s dime, had no healthcare or pensions to speak of unless they worked in a union shop. All of those high paying job were for white men only, men of color did the menial janitorial work or worked on the loading docks doing the grunt work for lots less money. No one household had more than one car, if that.

    There were very few extremely old people. Cancer was a word whispered about because people believed it might be contagious. In medicine, almost no vaccines, no antibiotics but penicillin.

    Pregnant teenage girls disappeared to an “aunt’s house” far away to deliver a child that was whisked away at birth or were rushed into a “shotgun” marriage by both sets of parents to avoid the social stigma of marginalizing gossip.

    Women did work outside or from the home in those working class neighborhoods, taking in laundry, sewing, ironing. Mine worked as a typist from home, transcribing legal paperwork then as a clerk working second shift in an international company. No pension, paid vacation or health insurance at the time. Women needed a male relative’s co-sign to get a checking account.

    “Others” were marginalized into their own networks, small businesses, pick up jobs wherever they could find one that allowed their “sort”. It was ugly and depressing to live in places that enforced the racial, class and religious barriers that the ruling white power structure enforced with the active support or passive complicity of law enforcement or clergy.

    No way would I want to go back to that time.

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