Q: I wonder what feeling you have about America today? I mean, coming here, there's a sense that America's almost lost the will to live, it seems to be sad and lacking spirit, it seems almost as though it's rolling over and waiting to be overtaken by China and by India…
A: Yes. The great thing about the United States and the historically magnetic effect it's had on a lot of people like me is its generosity [he emigrated here from England in 1981 and became a US citizen in 2007]. To put it simply, broadmindedness; curiosity; willingness to accept strangers, allow them to become citizens really quite easily, assimilate to their arrival.
There's a tremendously cramped feeling now, a mean-spirited feeling that was very much to be detected in the last election cycle, people talking in what I would once have called Dennis Thatcher-ite terms--curmudgeonly, but rather less amusing than him: "Country's filling up with riff-raff; country's going to the dogs; President doesn't seem to be exactly 16 annas to the rupee, might even be a Kenyan." Petty, spiteful stuff of that kind, often from quite senior people. Hardly even deserves the name of cynicism or pessimism; it's just sour. And nasty. And boring. That's been a depressing reflection, yes.
And I know it comes from the feeling--they're probably both related--that the country itself has, very rapidly and suddenly and unexpectedly, ceased to be the hyper-power, that at best it's one power among many. And second and subliminally related to this, the feeling among--what should we say?--let's just say white Americans for now, the realization that they're not going to be the majority quite soon. They'll be the largest group, but they won't be the majority--actually, it's already true in several states, and it's going to be true in several more, and no one quite knowing how to react to that.
And all these things going to need very careful handling and require a lot of thought and reflection, and all I know for now is that there are several tones of voice in which NOT to talk about it--how not to address it--and one is by saying "the President is a secret Muslim," for example. Really unworthy stuff of that kind.
It's so excruciating to see the body failing while that mind remains so vibrant and singular. I'm continually amazed at how much knowledge the man has at his fingertips, especially of all the thorny political and national movements and upheavals of human history. These are exactly the kinds of things I can't really keep focused in my brain. (But don't let's use my brain as a yardstick for anything.)
He has gone rather suddenly from the hale and hearty roustabout and rogue to ill and fighting to having to cancel appearances and even missing writing deadlines. It's hard to continue to find pleasure from such ominous circumstances. I just find Hitchens' mind a nourishing thing. Love him or hate him, he's a rare intellectual genius and the world is simply much richer for his being here. One hoped for another 20 years of incendiaries lobbed from the man. Well, hope springs eternal; he's not gone yet.