[W]hat really stood out about this last year is Trump himself. He is such a unique figure in our time. He’s kind of the perfect foil to reflect everything that’s excessive and vulgar and disgusting and tasteless and cheap and greedy about American culture. He is the perfect mirror to reflect everything about our society. — Matt Taibbi
Our president is not only the leader of the Executive branch of our government. In many ways, the president represents our national image, both domestically and internationally. Change is upon us. Elections have consequences. It is more than having one leader and then another. It is more than a transfer of power—it also represents a new image of who we are. With the transfer of power, we are also transferring the image of America that reflects our society and our culture.
This election forces us to raise several large questions about the nature of the American Identity and how it changes.
Are we an exceptional country because we are the leader of the free world? Was it ever true or a willing self-deception?
Must we hold the high ground as leaders of fairness and justice for all?
Are politics a Republican zero-sum game or a Democratic “all-for-one, one-for-all” mentality? Or is it the case, as author Stephen Kinzer thinks, that America has a divided soul (see Luke Wallin’s article)?
Is it the case, as Naomi Klein has said, that climate change implies the end of capitalism, because capitalism implies unlimited growth and climate change means embracing the limits of our planet’s resources?
Is racism a significant limiting force in our culture? What is racism? Is it a universal characteristic of the human species controlled by “civilized” rules and regulations (see John Peterson’s article)?
Are women’s issues human issues? Is feminism necessary as an antidote to misogyny (see “Four Million Marchers in 600 Cities”)?
To what extent is the discrepancy in our wealth an indication of the discrepancies in our morality?
Are we predominantly a nation following the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” or “Whoever has the gold makes the rules?”
Where does Trump stand on all these issues? Where did Obama stand? How important is it what their stance is? Are we an authoritarian tribal fortress America or a cool and rational, deliberate, shared-responsibility America? How much does the president reflect who we are?
These are all questions that we would like to try and address in this and coming issues of Sisyphus. This issue is focused on American Identity. In this issue, the authors and artists struggle with our challenges as a nation, with our history of inequality, but are engaged in finding those random acts of beauty that shed light on what it means to be an American, to transcend the chaos of change that threatens to engulf us all. Art reminds us of the optimism of the culture, and a time when the spirit of cooperation was a guiding force. We reach out to our readers to continue to keep all voices heard. We have included links to inspirational speeches and organizational guides. There are essays about globalism versus populism, and warnings about the re-emergence of the Southern Strategy. There are poems about civil rights struggles, LGBTQ issues, loss and grief. There are photo essays on Alienation, The Women’s March, the beauty in the comings and goings of average Americans travelling in the United States. Where are we, as a nation, going?
These times are unprecedented. They are not normal. As we struggle to find a path in this new version of our American Identity, we count on artists, philosophers, and thinkers to help us find the way to the soul of who we are as people. Cultural shift is upon us and we must find an oasis, a light to guide the way.
There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. — Edith Wharton, novelist (1861-1937)