This week we sat down to debate America's greatness—or lack thereof. Somewhat to our surprise, we found a source of agreement between us: our belief in American exceptionalism, even if we have very different conceptions of the role of morality and "progress" in forging the American idea.
Countries in Europe may have a more leisurely pace of life and higher levels of reported happiness, but is that really what Americans want? Should it be what they want? Central to all of this are the questions of the state, democracy, and the double-edged sword of meritocracy. If, contrary to popular belief, a certain degree of dysfunction is what makes American society so dynamic, are we better off being a "failed state" then having a strong, efficient state like in Norway, Denmark, or France?
In Part 2 of our discussion, available here for subscribers, we turned to the question of whether the main problem facing American democracy is Trump himself or Trumpism as a movement. If it's the latter, do intellectuals' dire warnings of the threat to democracy really matter, especially if Trumpism is all about resentment? Many American pundits compared the rise of Trump to the rise of Hitler, adding to their sense of urgency in "stopping" him. But, we ask, would a greater awareness of the dangers of Trump really have prevented his rise? Is it possible—or morally appropriate—to stop a criminal before the crime is committed?
The debate over January 6 hinges at least in part on whether it qualified as an "attempted coup." If the coup had succeeded, would it have blocked Biden's transition to power—or was America's messy, dysfunctional democracy a protection against such an outcome?