One of the most iconic excerpts from Tony Kushner’s tragically beautiful Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes centers around the continuous, detrimental effects that extremism of uninformed politics has on the United States. The excerpt begins with the words, “there are no gods here, no ghosts and spirits in America”. This signifies the lack of substance in America, as a nation, stating that this country has no guardians watching over its people. Four deities are listed, “gods”, “ghosts”, “spirits”, and “angels”, but they each represent unique and different concepts. I interpreted “god” and “angels” as having a protective and positive connotation, whereas “spirits” and “ghosts” have more of a negative one. I think this implies that belief in something greater than oneself and one’s existence doesn’t exist, regardless of what power you may believe in, religious or not. In this way, there seems to be a message of universal deception and hopelessness in regards to beliefs in something greater than oneself.
The excerpt continues with, “no spiritual past, no racial past, there’s only the political”, further emphasizing the emptiness and hollowness of the reality of life in America. The words, “no spiritual past” connect directly to the previous sentence as well as adding another layer to it — there has been no foundation of a belief system that focuses on things greater than the self in America. “No racial past” adds to this feeling of vacancy, as it blames the country for a lack of acknowledgment of racism. By saying there is no past to race implies that diversity is not acknowledged, and is ignored, which highlights the ignorance of social justice and equality in this nation. The third part of the sentence, “there’s only political” is a strong statement and implies that there is an overwhelming focus on politics; the desire to control structures and institutions is more respected in America than the desire to help the people.
This is further explored in the final section of the excerpt, “and the decoys and the ploys to maneuver around the inescapable battle of politics”, which implies that America has its priorities twisted, set on manipulating, tricking, and surpassing others, especially the most vulnerable members of society, such as minorities. The words, “decoys” and “ploys” have a rhyming aspect to them, which adds to the, literally, twisted nature of the nation’s focus. Furthermore, the words used to describe politics, “inescapable battle”, emphasize the isolating and restrictive nature of existence in America.
Why does this matter? It matters because, although Kushner is writing about the AIDS epidemic, uninformed politics is not bound solely to this period. Unfortunately, ignorance and lack of acknowledgment of the past and the multitude of identities that exist in the nation due to an obsession with politics and status exists greatly today. The hopelessness, isolation, and fear experienced by individuals in the AIDS crisis still run in the veins of the nation today, as skewed priorities have been an American staple long before the 1980s. This excerpt serves as a bridge that connects decades of ignored cries for help. We must begin to acknowledge the past, spiritual and racial, if we wish to see angels in America.