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George Packer, “American Identity in the Era of Trump”

The Oregon Humanities Center is pleased to continue its exploration of the theme “We the People” this winter with American journalist, novelist, and playwright, George Packer. Packer will be visiting the UO as the OHC’s winter term Kritikos Professor in the Humanities to present lectures on the topic of “American Identity in the Age of Trump” on Wednesday, January 24th at 7:30 p.m. in 182 Lillis Hall, UO campus; and on Thursday, January 25th at 7:30 p.m. in Portland at the White Stag Block, 70 NW Couch St.

In Packer’s view, “The Trump Presidency is a symptom of the fracturing in American society that goes back years and runs deeper than economics and politics to the meaning of being an American. None of the currently available narratives of national identity point a way out of our failure. Is there another way to think of ourselves as Americans?”

George Packer has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 2003. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Dissent, Mother Jones, Harper’s, The Nation, World Affairs, The Atlantic, and other publications. His book The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq (2003) was named one of the ten best books in 2005 by the New York Times, and won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award as well as an Overseas Press Club book award.

His most recent book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013) is considered his most ambitious work to date. A New York Times Bestseller and winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Nonfiction, The Unwinding focuses on the sense of crisis currently gripping America, and the seismic cultural, political, and socio-economic shifts that, in a single generation, have turned us into a country of “winners” and “losers.”

Packer tells the story of the unraveling of America over the past three decades (1978–2012) through the lives of Americans from many different walks of life, including “a North Carolina evangelist, son of a tobacco farmer, pondering the new economy of the rural South; a Youngstown, Ohio, factory worker struggling to survive the decline of the manufacturing sector; a Washington lobbyist confronting the distance between his ideals and the realities of the nation’s capital; and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur pondering the role of e-commerce in a radically changing economy. Interspersed throughout are profiles of leading economic, political, and cultural figures, including Newt Gingrich, Colin Powell, Raymond Carver, Sam Walton, and Jay-Z. Also sprinkled throughout are alarming headlines, news bites, song lyrics, and slogans that capture the unsettling feeling that the nation and its people are adrift. Packer offers an illuminating, in-depth, sometimes frightening view of the complexities of decline and the enduring hope for recovery.” (Vanessa Bush, Booklist)

In addition to his many essays and two works of non-fiction, Packer is the author of two novels, The Half Man and Central Square. His play, Betrayed, ran in Manhattan for five months in 2008, and won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. A Guggenheim Fellow in 2001–02, Packer has taught writing at Harvard, Bennington, and Columbia. He currently lives in Brooklyn.