Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg created a minor scandal when he was quoted in a Los Angeles Times story as saying Trump was caused by Obama:
“My message is not about going back to where we were,” he said.
For a lot of people, “‘normal’ has been a real problem for a very long time, and I think the failures of the Obama era help explain how we got Trump. I am running on building a future that is going to have a lot of differences.… One thing I learned in 2016 is to be very skeptical of any message that relies on the word ‘again.
The story now has a correction from author Evan Halper. “My story about @PeteButtigieg ends with him referring to the ‘failures of the Obama era.’ That’s an inaccurate quote — the result of transcribing a noisy recording at a loud rally. His exact words were ‘failures of the old normal.'” It’s a difference without much distinction except psychologically because Buttigieg’s “message about not going back to where we were” because it caused the present remains devastating.
There’s a deep desire in the liberal project to believe that until Obama everything was “all right” because it lets its proponents think that until the “old normal” was derailed by freak misfortune there was nothing wrong with it. But if something were wrong with the status quo ante itself, even the removal of Trump will bring no cure. The idea that the present form of liberal democracy is itself passing into history must be frightening to those who thought we had reached the End of History.
Buttigieg’s realization that the “old normal” may have collapsed ironically coincides with the 30th anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall, with whom the parallels are striking: the unexpected overthrow of another set of certitudes, the dismantling of an inevitable world order, the discrediting of a proud nomenklatura but on a much larger scale.
Despite Buttigieg’s denials, it was Obama himself who first explained that the old order was fading. As Martin Gurri (The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium) observed, Obama used this very explanation to justify reduced expectations:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Barack Obama, with this keen sectarian taste for condemnation, took it for granted that American life was getting worse in many ways. Whether the question at hand was extreme weather or economic inequality, the president in his statements described a society in moral and material decline. It hadn’t always been thus. Like every thinker—right and left, public and elites—who abominated the present order of things, President Obama looked nostalgically to the righteous past.
. . . during the post-World War II years, the economic ground felt stable and secure for most Americans, and the future looked brighter than the past. And for some, that meant following in your old man’s footsteps at the local plant, and you knew that a blue-collar job would let you buy a home, and a car, maybe a vacation once in a while, health care, a reliable pension. For others, it meant going to college—in some cases, maybe the first in your family going to college. And it meant graduating without taking on loads of debt, and being able to count on advancement through a vibrant job market.
But the golden age of high modernism was over. In the 1970s, the president explained, “this social contract” had unraveled, and we entered on our own fallen times.
Perhaps the trouble was that “the old normal” actually promised less for more people, a diminished America, a burgeoning China in exchange for a genteel yet threadbare sense of moral supremacy. This limits the potential of Hillary Clinton’s pledge to turn back the calendar. “We are in the midst of a global struggle between liberal democracy and a rising tide of illiberalism,” she claims. But maybe the public sees the choice in other terms. If Buttigieg is right, the world is at the end of one paradigm without having yet discovered the next. Neither impeachment nor the election of standard-bearers of 20th-century ideology can restore political peace. Only the discovery of a new consensus can do that.
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Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War, by Tim Bouverie. Drawing on deep archival research and sources not previously seen by historians, this groundbreaking history chronicles the disastrous years of indecision, failed diplomacy and parliamentary infighting that enabled Hitler’s domination of Europe.
Revolutionary: George Washington at War, by Robert E. O’Connell. An introduction to Washington before he was Washington. This book from an acclaimed military historian is a bold reappraisal of young George Washington, an ambitious if reckless soldier destined to become the legendary general who took on the British and, through his leadership, defined the American character.
God: A Human History, by Reza Aslan. “Whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we’re believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves.” This innate desire to humanize God is hardwired in our brains, making it a central feature of nearly every religious tradition, according to Aslan. In this book, not only does he take us on a history of our understanding of God but tries to get to the root of this humanizing impulse.
The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium, by Martin Gurri. This book tells the story of how insurgencies, enabled by digital devices and a vast information sphere, have mobilized millions of ordinary people around the world. It also ponders whether the current elite class can bring about a reformation of the democratic process, and whether new organizing principles, adapted to a digital world, can emerge from the present political turbulence.
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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
Open Curtains by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. Technology represents both unlimited promise and menace. Which transpires depends on whether people can claim ownership over their knowledge or whether human informational capital continues to suffer the Tragedy of the Commons.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific.