The sky is falling! The end is near!
Just in time for the Christmas season, Pat Buchanan has published yet another jeremiad warning that America is about to go belly up. You’d think that the American public would get tired of the unrelenting gloominess of the far right and left. But you’d be wrong. Already the book is climbing up the bestseller lists, giving us further proof that, despite our collective obsession with living the good life, we Americans love the sweet rush of anxiety. Maybe it’s just the antidote for our apathy.
You have to admit that there’s something unseemly about citizens of history’s most powerful country—economically, militarily and culturally—always fretting about their coming demise. Sometimes it gets downright pornographic.
But like it or not, it’s part of who we are, the flip-side of our patriotic jingoism and a legacy of those intensely religious Puritans that lives on in this secular age. In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan called the United States a “shining city on a hill,” he was borrowing—and embroidering—a famous line from the 17th century governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. Winthrop didn’t use the word “shining” in his original 1630 sermon; his message was not triumphalist.
Winthrop and his fellow Puritans believed that in their escape from religious persecution and their settling of a new world, they had entered into a covenant with God. They were ordained to be an example to the world and to establish God’s kingdom in wild, chaotic North America.
That meant they had a high standard to live up to. If they pleased the Lord, the Almighty would bless them. But if they did not, Winthrop cautioned, “We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of this good land.”