I was recently introduced to the beautiful writing of Wallace Stegner by my friend Rachel Rizzo. I’ve been reading a collection of his essays titled Marking the Sparrow’s Fall which, though drawn from various publications throughout his life, amount to a love letter to the American West. But it’s a lot more than that, really. Stegner is poetic, managing to seamlessly weave memories, keen observations, and a kind of frontier philosophy together in a way that captures something about America that certainly most Europeans, and even many coastal Americans, rarely appreciate. It’s a literature of American exceptionalism, but it’s not the treacly stuff that sustains large swaths of Washington, DC.
I bring Stegner up as I grapple with my friend and Wisdom of Crowds co-founder’s excellent new essay in The Atlantic, which if you haven’t yet read, you ought to. It’s not Shadi I’m grappling with per se, as I broadly agree with his diagnosis in the essay. “American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever,” he writes. “It’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief.” Certainly, yes.
Still, I’m tripping up on something. And I think that something is the question of what exactly this “American faith” might be.