Newspaper article International New York Times

Tangled Fate of Prosperity and Struggle

Newspaper article International New York Times

Tangled Fate of Prosperity and Struggle

Article excerpt

What is so puzzling about modern America is how it thrives and withers at the same time.

If today's America were a cocktail, the recipe might be: a single shot of Shanghai, a double shot of Greece and a couple dashes of French bitters.

That is to say, a part of the country still lives on history's cutting edge; a part of it is corroding from within, its people losing faith in the state and their own power to bend fate; and a part of it muddles in between, fretting over what once was.

Inequality is the watchword of the season in America. But in many ways the country's divisions are stranger and more complex, less clear-cut and straightforward than disparities of class, race, gender, geography. What is so puzzling about modern America is how it thrives and withers at the same time -- often within the same industries, neighborhoods and families. Hope and fear, resilience and resentment, in a close, tangled dance.

America still runs laps around its peers in so many ways, and yet America is falling behind those peers on everything from infant mortality rates to Internet speeds. This is the country of crumbling bridges and the country of Apple. A question hovering over the republic -- a question this column will keep asking -- is how the dance between these Americas plays out. Can the America of cars powered by renewable energy save the America of Detroit? Can the America of Twitter save the America of bankrupt newspapers? Can the America of MIT OpenCourseWare, the online publication of course content from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, save the America of Chicago Public Schools?

Former President Bill Clinton argued that "there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." But these days, at least, the medicine, abundant as it is, isn't reaching the right targets. America brims with problem-solving capacity, but its problems persist undaunted.

Among other reasons, this may be because the hurting America belongs to what the writer C.Z. Nnaemeka calls the "unexotic underclass" -- people with "big problems" but "maybe not the Big Problems -- capital B, capital P -- that get 'discussed' at Davos" during the World Economic Forum meetings. …

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