Afamiliar question in the Age of Reagan—when would the us Left revive once more?—had become by the last years of his regime the source of deep defeatism or, at least, nagging doubt. So much time had passed since the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement, itself the last, if an especially brilliant, note of 1960s inspiration. The various dreams of extending radicalism into the factories and blue-collar communities had beached on the shoals of layoffs, international market restructuring, and resilient racism. Meanwhile, ‘Black Power’ and ‘Chicano Power’ had been, with few exceptions, domesticated into electoral politics. Perhaps Gay Liberation, in both its strengths and weaknesses, spoke to a post-modern sensibility in which no true centre of power or potential dual power could easily be discerned. As with environmentalism, even the best hopes were shrouded with the fear that somehow time was running out. In these circumstances, aids looked like the perfect metaphor for the poisonous centre to the witless cheeriness of Morning in America. That Ronald Reagan presided happily over various forms of degradation whose consequences did not seemingly detract from his popularity was bad enough. The inability of the Left to project another vision that even its own faithful, let alone a wide public, could live by was somehow worse.

We’ve been there before, of course. Nothing could surpass the self-satisfaction America exuded in the prosperous 1920s. An anonymous communist, giving way to pessimism in the distant northern industrial village of Duluth, Minnesota, wrote already in 1920 that he found himself

Homesick for the home that
I have never seen
For the land where I shall look
horizontally
into the eyes of my fellows

Where the obligations of love are
sought for as prized and where
they vary with the moon.

That land is my true country
I am here by some sad cosmic mistake—
And I am homesick.