SMG: Nostalgia can inspire; it can also cripple

From John Fea’s excellent book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

Scholar Svetlana Boym describes nostalgia as a “sentiment of loss and displacement” that “inevitably reappears as a defense mechanism in a time of accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals.” … Nostalgia is closely related to fear. In times of great social and cultural change, the nostalgic person will turn to a real or an imagined past as an island of safety amid the raging storms of progress … “progress didn’t cure nostalgia but exacerbated it.” …

In the end, the practice of nostalgia is inherently selfish because it focuses entirely on our own experience of the past and not on the experience of others. … Nostalgia can give us tunnel vision. Its selective use of the past fails to recognize the complexity and breadth of the human experience.

It’s impossible to read that section and to not think of newspaper journalism, of our nostalgia for the golden days of the pre-digital world and our fetishization of print.

We fear our falling status in the media world and look back at the times when we were kings. In a time of great changes to our routines and our business models, we look to the imagined past as the way things should be. We focus on what it was like for us and people who look like us, ignoring how women, journalists of color and other marginalized communities lacked the voice they have now.

Nostalgia can inspire. It can also cripple.

Remember two years ago, how we all read Hillbilly Elegy because everyone said that was the book to read to understand Trump voters? Well, Fea’s book does the job we all expected Hillbilly Elegy to do. It’s a wonderful book that places Trump’s win in the historical context of the American Christian right. If you’ve ever asked the question “How could people call themselves Christian and vote for a guy like Trump (especially after being against Bill Clinton), this book answers that.

Also, Hillbilly Elegy was a perfectly fine and interesting memoir. It just didn’t live up to the hype everyone gave it, which is not the fault of the book of the author.

Dr. Brian Moritz, also known as the Sports Media Guy, is an assistant professor at SUNY-Oswego. For more of Brian’s work, check out his website at