Jesse Walker on Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge


According to Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge, the two great currents of the '70s were suspicion and nostalgia, a skepticism toward American institutions and a yearning for American innocence. "There were two tribes of Americans now," he writes. "One comprised the suspicious circles, which had once been small, but now were exceptionally broad, who considered the self-evident lesson of the 1960s and the low, dishonest war that defined the decade to be the imperative to question authority, unsettle ossified norms, and expose dissembling leaders." The other tribe "found another lesson to be self-evident: never break faith with God's chosen nation."

Perlstein is partly right, Jesse Walker argues. Americans in the 1970s were indeed torn between a drive to question authority and a longing for an authority they could believe in. But the evidence in Perlstein's own book shows how hard it is to divide those forces into two distinct tribes. Suspicion and nostalgia were woven up with one another, tangled so tightly that they might be inseparable.