I was thoroughly captivated by this comprehensive and riveting history of America. Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening to the USA today- this post-factual, “fake news” moment they’re all living through -is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of America’s national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fantasy is deeply embedded in America’s DNA.
It’s 500 year spread of history takes us from the extremely fanatical founding pilgrim fathers (who vowed to kill any Catholics of Quakers who landed on their New England) through fraudsters, quack salesmen, Salem trials of “witches”, the “anything can go” sixties to conspiracy theories and being able to set up any variant of extreme Protestant Christianity you choose to.
Andersen’s fascinating book explains the rise of that ’80s developer — short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump, but does much more besides. This “500-Year History” begins before the establishment of the nation, reaching back to the birth of Protestantism and Martin Luther’s attack on the Catholic Church. Funny, illuminating, and disturbing in equal measures, it describes a phenomenon far more sweeping than any one president.
A persistent thread in “Fantasyland” is Christianity — the astounding number of Americans who believe in heaven and angels, which most of Europe gave up decades ago — Andersen reserves a starring role for secular Spiritualists. They were supposed to be a counterpoint to narrow-minded evangelicals, but Andersen says the New Agers committed an even greater sin than the faithful. What Anne Hutchinson started, Gestalt therapy finished off in the ’60s. Fritz Perls, a psychotherapist and Gestalt founder, simply put it: “I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine.” Or put more simply: You do you.
At the end of his book he tries to redraw a boundary that moves us a little closer to sanity. “You’re entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies, but not your own facts — especially if your fantastical facts hurt people,” he says, echoing a comment by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Enjoy – I did