American Stagnancy in “Angels in America”: What’s next for the U.S.?

When reading Angels in America, there’s no avoiding its overtness when it comes to the political. The era of Reaganism and conservatism in the 1980s is depicted as one seeking stability of power from the status quo; and, the traditional moral values that, for example, have privileged the traditional, white, heterosexual American. Angels in America therefore places emphasis on the notion of progress and of moving forward. When Prior rejects the angels’ prophecy, for instance, and chooses life and all its uncertainties, it is symbolic of how life and living is about change, not stagnancy.

But in Angels in America, the liberal left is not necessarily made to be any better than the seemingly antagonized right-wing Reaganists. Louis, for instance, despite all his “big ideas” about progressivism and American liberalism, remain just that– big ideas. Louis’ own perceptions of liberalism and American freedom, much like the conservatism he hates, also seems to be focused on a select few, and ignores those such as Belize who emphasizes the significance of race in the political sphere. Therefore, while “the left” and “the right” appear to be polar opposites, neither seem to fully take into account the voices of those who are marginalized or at the periphery.

In thinking about Angels in America, one cannot help but think about the present socio-economic and political state of the U.S. The problems of institutional racism, socio-economic inequality, flawed healthcare, and toxic American individualism and exceptionalism have all resurfaced with full force in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic. And while one can say the Trump administration has exacerbated these problems, they are problems that have always been so deeply rooted in America society, and perpetuated throughout the centuries of even Democrat presidencies. In spite of its more recent signs of progress– such as with the election of the first African-American president, or the legalization of same-sex marriages in all 50 U.S. states– America continues to fall back on a traditional national narrative, and in turn, a broken socio-political system driven by this narrative. Yet if anything, the ending of Angels in America does offer a glimmer of hope, as its final words echo the current state of activism and change-making in the country. “We won’t die secret deaths anymore”– no longer will anyone keep silent.

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  1. I like the way you’ve adjusted the lens here to account for Angels’ internationalism (or at least its capacity to take a wider angle when accounting for “America.” I’d love to pick up this discussion in class before we end.

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