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Perhaps it was only a matter of time, once the Soviet Union collapsed, for American patriotism to wither and recede. With no superpower to oppose it, with the world now open for full Americanization, borders were unnecessary and nationalism was obsolete. Let the globalization begin and old loyalties end!

It seemed so rosy and benign at the start. In 1993 the world was getting more democratic and capitalist by the month. The End of History was at hand. What thinkers meant by the declaration was that the ideological challenges to social democracy (free markets + individual rights + a generous safety net for those left behind) were no more. China was no threat; it would join the league of nations as a willing trade partner and shed its communist trappings. Russia would modernize, and people in the Eastern Bloc would wear Levis and eat McDonald’s and listen to Springstein—a libertarian utopia.

Intellectuals liked it because it matched their cosmopolitan profile (cosmos- + polis). Ever since Voltaire they had fashioned themselves citizens of the world, able to cross borders and feel wholly at ease in faraway lands. No World War II-style devotion to the flag for them. Jingoism was for dimwits, not thinkers and professors and critics. Their employers, too, claimed the cosmopolitan mantle. “We are a global university!” one after another proclaimed, and to prove it they recruited and enrolled more foreign students every year. (Foreign students pay full tuition up front—no messy financial aid and scholarship and loan factors.)

The Nineties, yes, the last decade of the second millennium, before 9/11 and Facebook and texting, when you could meet your mother at the gate as she flew in from the midwest and your kids didn’t walk around with 200 photos of themselves in their pockets. Two-and-a-half decades past them, they look happier than ever, certainly in terms of the national mood. Global warming was to most people a theory, not a doom, systemic racism was but an academic term, and nobody knew what Fentanyl was.

The United States was riding high, no doubt. Could anyone in that heady time imagine a foreign leader coming to Washington DC in a sweatshirt and telling a fawning Senate and House that the billions of dollars in aid already sent to his country weren’t nearly enough, as a vice president and speaker of the House unfurled his country’s flag with all the exuberance and glee of mothers at a picnic handing out ice cream cones? They outdid veterans of the War in the Pacific saluting the Stars & Stripes. When was the last time our legislators showed as much naive excitement for an American thing?

By Mark Bauerlein

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