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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The great convergence

In the New Republic articleObama’s old virtues,Karma Nabulsi suggests that Obama’s ascendanceis a function of “classical republicanism – a system prizing active civic engagement in a participatory democracy a very old theme that has been absent from viewf or a very long time. Perhaps. But the explanation for Obama’s political success might be even simpler:it is his promise of a uniting narrative in a disunited country.

America has long been celebrated for herpromise of a new beginning.Yet as her citizens cherished that promise,in the process anarray of divergentniches emerged.AndAmericabecame directionless.

The era of postmodernisma conceptdefined through the absence of a defining identitypartlyexplains this lack of direction.Protean and ambiguous,postmodernism reveals itselfin many facets of our lives,most obviouslyin our national sphere.For instance,intheNew York Times Magazine articleThe Posteverything Generation,Nicholas Handler asserts thatwe refuseto present a cast of inspirational or revolutionary characters on our public stage or to define a specific philosophy.Our failure to present a popular national hero,in this sense,isavictimtotheabsence of a distinct narrative.

And society refuses to adhere or conformto anyunifying narrativebecause they have grown sodifferent from each other.[T]he most powerful forces in our society are the emerging,counterintuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow,so suggests Senator Clinton’s former chief strategist Mark Penn inMicrotrends.And he’s right.The rapid alteration ofAmerica’s demographics,facilitated byincreased immigration,hascreatedan entirelynew landscape.Asmulticulturalisma product of this changing landscape permeates,the creationofspecific,conflicting niches with their respective needs occur.

While these unique nichesproliferate,our forms of expressionhavesimultaneouslyevolved.Ithas becomeslow and personal.Take individuallifestyles.Although dissatisfiedwithcertain practices,we don’talwaysretaliate through protests.Instead,some adoptcontrarian behaviorsby boycotts.Othersengage throughonlinechat rooms.These individual acts are not always directly apparent.

But exhibited intheseactionsis a fierce rebellionin the form ofincrementalactivism.The rejection of one lifestyle and the embrace of anotherare notindicators ofapathybut statements of intent.Postmodernismdoes not provide an encompassing idea,but lays the platform for change at an individual level.And we have embraced it.

Companiesfuelthis individualism further.To meet thebroad spectrum of individual-levelconsumertastes,corporationsorient their products accordingly.Preferences are analyzed and calibrated.Past ideas of mass-marketingareconsignedinsteadto low-end consumer products.Branding and advertising aredesignedspecificallyto satisfy consumption habits.At a large-scale,these miniscule changes magnify themselves intoa large change.As a result,segmentation abounds.

Moreover,with the nationmarginalized,even devoid,ofoutstandingnationalpersonalities,popular culturists replace them.Celebrities and musicians emerge as role models,with ourpreoccupation with the latest gossip on Britney Spears mental health andnews onBrad Pitt’s wreckingmarriageprevailing.Yet,while we appear to scrutinize theirbehavior andtragedies,we aren’tdelighting in theirmisfortune or limitationsas people.We are merely illustratinginterest because we lack national characters.

The convergence ofallthesefactors enabled the emergence of Obama’s candidacy.Promising a new brand of politics that transcended the past,he was,and is,an answer tothose longing foranational unity.His candidacy holdspromise tothe masseswanting to ally individualistic changewith a defining narrative.It’s no coincidence that when Michelle Obama remarked that[F]or the first time in my adult lifetime,I amreally proud of my country,she meant it.Becausehewas converging a divided country.It mattered.


ZACH HAN is lost in the reality that is life.Save him from postmodernism’s prison at zklhan@ucdavis.edu.


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