The American Way
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This article appears in the Fall issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. That image of mid-century America was always incomplete, but insofar as there was a culture of consensus, it was not a wholly spontaneous development. The United States is surely different today—the lines of cleavage have shifted, the media have fractured into separate worlds, and we have a president who acquired power with explicitly anti-immigrant and racist appeals.
But the midth century experience nonetheless offers instructive lessons for confronting the divisions that endanger America now. National unity in the midth century, as the historian Wendy L.
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While Franklin D. Chamber of Commerce in the late s. Rather than question whether there was an American way, other groups sought to appropriate the idea. In a world with anti-Semitism and other hatreds on the rise, interfaith groups promoted the American way as the ability of people with different religious beliefs to live together. The fall of France to the Nazis in was widely interpreted as evidence of the danger of a divided society, and when the United States entered the war, it became a national imperative to encourage mutual tolerance and cooperation.
Wall points out a key difference between the elites who promoted civility and tolerance and others, including those on the left, who put equality at the center of their vision. Overcoming that failure became the concern of the civil rights movement and liberal reforms of the s, which in turn gave rise to the politics of white backlash that we have been living with ever since. America seems forever caught in a racial loop, in which efforts to escape from racism repeatedly expose how deep it runs and set off new bursts of hatred.
Other groups also face prejudice, but the situation of African Americans is historically distinct. Racial slavery was a singular evil lasting more than two centuries, and overcoming its long aftereffects poses singular demands for tenacity in the struggle for justice. While the new immigrants have enlarged the nonwhite base of Democratic support, they have also intensified the politics of white grievance and backlash. Faced with right-wing xenophobic attacks on immigrants, many of us are drawn to a general defense of all the foreign-born in the country.
But distinctions are necessary. The young Dreamers who grew up here and know no other country ought not to be confused with those who may have come recently as adults and overstayed their visas.
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No political party can expect to win majority support if it fails to make clear the primacy of those obligations. Her arguments are phrased in dollars and cents, and her case, though effectively put, is peculiarly lopsided. This book is rather similar to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, another crusading volume. Miss Mitford does not write as well as Miss Carson, but she manages to put forth the same kind of well organized, highly emotional appeal.
No one can read either book without becoming concerned, and perhaps a little angry. But there is a fundamental distinction between these two books: Miss Carson has the courage to criticize the American public as well as the pesticides industry. Miss Mitford confines her attack to the undertakers and their abettors.
The American Way: The American National Standard (ANS) Development Process
Miss Mitford emphasizes that morticians take advantage of bereaved friends and relatives. This is undoubtedly true, but people have arranged funerals, both in America and else-where, for a long time, without allowing morticians to take advantage of them. What is peculiar about Americans which makes them so vulnerable? Unfortunately, this is a question she hardly considers at all, although one might expect it to be a central question about The American Way of Death. Miss Mitford is content to delineate a scandal, with only the most cursory attempts to explain its presence in our society.
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