We used to be a proper country. Now we argue about Whoopi Goldberg.

How Americans lost even a vestigial capacity for seriousness about real problems

Whoopi Goldberg.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

A curious meme has been making the rounds on social media over the last few months. Easier to recognize than to describe, it revolves around photos of iconic yet antiquated settings of the American Century, like video stores, or chain restaurants that cater to families. Along with the image goes the caption: "We used to be a country. A proper country."

Following the usual pattern on Twitter, apparently unironic uses of the meme were quickly replaced by snark. Wits replaced department stores and hamburger dinners with pictures of tacky furniture or ads for schlock movies. The point — more implied than stated — was that idealizing the waning decades of the 20th century is, at best, ridiculous and, at worst, dangerously reactionary.

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Samuel Goldman

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard and was a postdoctoral fellow in Religion, Ethics, & Politics at Princeton University. His books include God's Country: Christian Zionism in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and After Nationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). In addition to academic research, Goldman's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.