The morale of a nation is ultimately a question of spirit rather than matter. Wilfred M. McClay writes:
There is no denying that we live in disturbingly anxious and contentious times. Apocalyptic assertions, profanity-laden tirades, public shaming tactics, and crude weapons of moral accusation have increasingly taken the place of rational discourse and the steadfast rule of law. There is something ominous in the air, a faint but unmistakable scent of dissolution. Even before the shamefulness of the Afghanistan debacle, still unfolding as I write, there has been a growing and justifiable disgust with the self-serving incompetence of our leadership classes, and a sense of resignation to a future of ever-growing polarization and irreversible diminution of our national self-understanding. Hard times give rise to troubled thoughts; and when the hardness of the times is in large part a product of our own folly and improvidence, the thoughts are likely to turn inward, like knives in the brain.
Hyperbole aside, though, this is far from being the worst such moment in our history. It is important to get a grip and remember that. We have experienced times like this before, even as recently as the 1970s. We can come back from this orgy of mutual recrimination, but only if we wish to do so. But this time around feels exceptionally perilous, if only because we are living through it rather than remembering it. And of course, that is not the only reason. In the Sixties and Seventies, the most radical and destructive influences in the culture were on the outside of the establishment, looking in. Now they are on the inside looking out, enthroned in university presidents’ offices and corporate executive suites and other centers of political and cultural influence, and able to use the awesome leverage of the law to do far more than just look.