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There Is Only One America Worth Saving

Without fixing America, there is no saving yourselves and your families

David Samuels
November 14, 2023

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This article is part of What Now?.
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I have never been one for offering other people advice. I frankly have no idea how to. In general, I wish the Jews of America and everyone else the best of luck. I wish you all long lives filled with peace and happiness, and much nachas from your children and grandchildren.

I should also note here that my family is not American. It is perhaps for this reason that none of the starry-eyed hopes and expectations and prepackaged narratives of ethnic or group triumph or defeat by which Americans seem increasingly to define themselves have ever struck me as anything other than silly and indeed mostly repulsive. What grown-up man or woman of any serious caliber would ever wish to describe themselves, or have their life’s work appreciated, as an expression of the victorious telos of an externally defined group of people with similar skin tone, or penis preferences? Oh my, how cute, a lady doctor! Let’s give her tenure at Yale. I mean, either you are a capable, or even spectacularly capable, physicist, or radiologist, or carpenter, or you are not. That’s how narratives of group entitlement and pride have always landed with me. It’s bullshit.

Part of the reason that I hate identity politics bullshit is that I love America. I particularly love American literature and music, which is why I became an American writer, rather than, say, a British writer, or a French writer, or a Canadian writer, or a Russian writer, or an Israeli writer, which are all things that, from one personal or historical angle or another, I might have accomplished. The forms and narrative preoccupations of what has historically been defined as American writing interest and delight me. You either like America, American-style writing and American writers, or you don’t. Being an American, and being an American writer, are personal choices—which to my mind are made all the more valuable and unique because they are choices, rather than fixed identities given to a person at birth.

I want to be clear that when I say that I am an American writer, I mean exactly that—and not an “American Jewish writer” or any other kind of garbage-language hyphenate. I pray sometimes to a Jewish God, and I like the company of other Jews well enough, especially if they are religious types—but, as a writer, I have never trafficked in Jewish schtick or been especially drawn to Jewish tropes. I had no desire to be the Marx Brothers or Isaac Babel. I don’t have any nostalgia for the Lower East Side or the Catskills, or Jewish sports heroes of the 1930s, because no one in my family had any memory of those things, since none of us grew up here. The American Jewish experience is as much mine, or probably less mine, than the experience of the Black kids who were my neighbors growing up in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s: I can write a better rap producer from the Bronx, or Biggie Smalls-type rapper, than I can write a rabbi. Maybe, someday soon, I will find that I am left with no choice other than to define myself as an American Jewish writer, because there will be no such category as “American” left. I doubt that, though. I’d sooner become a redneck and write country songs.

No amount of guilt-tripping from my so-called fellow American Jews or even my biological parents has ever made the slightest dent in my assurance that I am an American writer, with my own hunting dog and a safe full of shotguns. Which is why I feel equally at home voicing my opinion that the so-called “identities” of African Americans, LGBTQ+, Hispanics, MENA, Palestinians, and other generally ahistorical contributions to the tribal quota sewer system that Americans have chosen to live in these days are also, equally, crap. As far as I’m concerned, being an American is a cultural choice, with its own history, aesthetics, music, literature, etc., which are available from whatever angles to whoever chooses to make some original use of them. If you don’t like American-type things, it feels entirely reasonable to suggest that you might enjoy living somewhere else.

My larger point here is that there is only one America that, literature- and music-wise, is worth preserving—and it’s not the ugly mess of identity politics and quota systems that elite institutions are currently using to define themselves. This seems especially true when so many of the alternatives—including in Ukraine, which is the country that my family is from, which is currently being put through a meat grinder by Vladimir Putin—are such obviously terrible places to live and raise children. People who value the third world post-colonial experience of tribal hatred and mass slaughter have many other places on Earth to choose from besides America. Why import the fever-dream hatreds and large-scale social failures of the entire rest of the planet to America, of all places?

People ask me sometimes how I expect to continue to publish my work in fancy magazines or be offered fellowships at Harvard and Yale if I insist on advertising what I actually believe. The answer is, I don’t. I don’t insist on anything. I don’t care about any of these places anymore, nor should any honest person concerned about the deep trouble that this country is in. The time to have ceased believing in or caring about the world of official American culture is when it became indistinguishable from official Soviet culture, which was at least a decade ago. People who go on pretending that this culture is not morally, intellectually, and creatively bankrupt in order to gain some personal advantage or honor are themselves quite obviously corrupt. While I have plenty of vices, that kind of personal emptiness, rooted in fear of the consequences to one’s career or reputation, has never been a temptation.

What happened to the America I love, starting perhaps 15 years ago, can best be described as a broad-scale social, cultural, and political collapse. It was driven in part by technology, and in part by an accompanying movement toward oligarchy, two phenomena that have been plain to most sensible observers for years now. What I personally find shocking is the idea that the effects I am writing about appear to have suddenly become clear to so many others only in the past month.

Still, I’m not here to judge. As a fellow traveler, at whatever distance, the one personal request I do have is to please stop wasting your breath about all the important institutions that need to be saved, because it’s annoying and also pointless. The institutions you want to save are already gone. If you still controlled them, you would not have to be complaining and threatening. There is no more Harvard. There is no more New Yorker. There is no more Alfred A. Knopf. Your kids’ private school? It’s gone, too. You can’t change these places.

What you can change, I guess, is whether you keep giving them money in order to be made a fool of.

I’m not being an asshole here. I’m just telling you the truth, which is that you can’t change places that only exist in your imagination. In reality, which is a shared social space, the places you imagine all disappeared for good at least 10 or maybe 15 or 20 years ago. They’re gone because the values that produced them are gone. The institutions you once valued were allowed to become vessels of a new identity politics culture, paid for by America’s richest oligarchs, who aren’t you. The purpose of this institutional capture, as far as I can figure out, is to help enact a kind of colonial divide-and-rule strategy by which America’s billionaires avoid paying taxes for things like decent schools or drinkable water. In return for their tax breaks, the rest of us get to inhabit a world of corrosive mediocrity marked by ever-growing social division and toxic third world tribal politics, produced according to whatever bullshit party line will be dreamed up next by the Central Subcommittee of Queer Leninist Theory in Pursuit of the Harmonious Welfare of the People of Eastern Congo.

Why didn’t you notice any of this before college students began marching in favor of genocide or tens of thousands of demonstrators waving Palestinian flags defaced the U.S. capital? Mainly because being assimilated has a way of making people mentally lazy. This is also why so many of the people who have suddenly woken up to the unpleasantness of the current situation imagine there is something they can do now to “save the Jews.” There isn’t. You can’t have “the Jews” without “America.” Your enemies know it, too—which is why they’ve been trying to trash America, and replace it with something else, in the name of defeating “white supremacy,” which is simply another third world conspiracy theory. Jews, America, it’s all the same thing. Jews made America possible, and vice versa. They hate you, and want to destroy you, your power, whatever they imagine you control, which in reality isn’t very much. But it’s something. And for now, at least, it’s still yours.

The choice that is facing you is therefore a simple one: Help fix America, and then worry about the Jews. Because without America, there is no saving yourselves and your families. America is something far greater than the lies and the curses of the people who want to negate and destroy a history and culture for which we should all be grateful. And if that sounds too uncomfortable, or too radical, perhaps you’d be happier living somewhere else, too.

David Samuels is the editor of County Highway, a new American magazine in the form of a 19th-century newspaper. He is Tablet’s literary editor.