Reading George Packer’s Last Best Hope: America in crisis and renewal

Packer’s Last Best Hope: America in crisis and renewal (Ferrar, Straus & Giroux 2021) has aroused quite a bit of attention and comment in the media. At the heart of the book is Packer’s description of four Americas: Free America, Real America, Smart America, and Just America. The writing is solid and attractive. The reader, especially one who has been following the events of American life over the last several decades, will find much that resonates. Unfortunately Packer does not provide more than anecdotal evidence that these four divisions actually represent a factual description of the American social political landscape. No where is there any polling or survey data to substantiate his analysis. We are left with a warm yet fuzzy feeling that he might be on to something.

The last chapter, Make America Again, is disappointing in its weak analysis of what must be done to overcome the problems facing the country – equity, white supremacy, education, income and wealth disparities, healthcare, environment, family, housing, and on. Yet weaker is any indication of the political coalitions that might be needed to accomplish anything. No where is there mention of the American empire nor the enormous budget required to keep the US military completely dominant in the world even as the country has slid into a near 3rd world state.

These days there are lots of tongues wagging and fingers tapping bemoaning the state of the country. Too much of this output focuses on the sharp divisions between various segments of the political elite and claims of how various segments of the population line up in support or defiance. What we need is much more attention to the actual state of the country, what are the structures that have created and sustained the current dreadful state of affairs and a clearer understanding of who benefits from these arrangements. A starting point for these investigations must include a clear eyed view of how capitalism is actually functioning, the role of white supremacy, its past and present impacts, and the US empire – the resources and policies developed to sustain it. We can spend any amount of time speculating about the state of America’s political divisions, but it would be handy to have a sound, fact-centered analysis of our state of affairs. The only topic that Packer even begins to address in this fashion is at the end of the book when he mentions the tremendous increase in economic concentration, monopolization, of the economy and its impacts on competition and workers wages and working conditions.