Check Your Amnesia, Dude: On the Vox Generation of Punditry

Last night, Donald Trump shocked the world, or at least the pundit class, when the New York Times published a wide-ranging interview Trump had given the paper on the subject of foreign policy.

Trump said some scary things: that he didn’t think, for example, that the US should necessarily come to the aid of a NATO country if it were attacked by Russia.

But he also said some things that were true. Like this:

When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger.

And while the article makes a muchness of Trump’s refusal to pressure Turkey over its response to the failed coup, the fact is that Obama hasn’t done anything concrete on that score either (as the article acknowledges). Nor did Obama do much about the coup in Egypt or Honduras. To the contrary, in fact.

But that wasn’t the focus of last night’s chatter on Twitter. Instead, the pundits and experts were keen to establish the absolutely unprecedented nature of Trump’s irresponsibility: his recklessness when it came to NATO,  his adventurism, his sheer reveling in being the Bad Boy of US Foreign Policy: this, it was agreed, was new.

In a tweet that got passed around by a lot of journalists, Peter Singer, senior fellow at the New America Foundation (who’s written a lot of books on US foreign policy), had this to say:

Hmm, let’s see.

Barry Goldwater said the US should consider using tactical nukes in Vietnam, which prompted one of the most famous campaign commercials of all time.

As Seth Ackerman quipped to me in an email:

TRUMP IS SO UNPRECEDENTED IN HIS RECKLESSNESS HE COULD LEAD TO A NUCLEAR BOMB GOING OFF RIGHT AFTER A LITTLE GIRL PICKS DAISIES IN A FIELD!!!!!!

And as Seth pointed out on Twitter, Goldwater wanted to hand the decision to launch nukes over to field commanders.

But Singer was born in 1974, so let’s stay within his lifetime.

In the 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan claimed that:

  • SALT II was illegal, even though it had been ratified by Congress; negotiated and signed by the Carter Administration (and was only pulled from a Senate ratification vote after the invasion of Afghanistan);
  • the United States had “no deterrent whatsoever” against Soviet medium-range missiles targeting Europe, even though it had submarines with 400 nuclear warheads patrolling the Mediterranean and the Northeast Atlantic, not to mention the thousands of other warheads that could easily be rained down on the Soviets in a retaliatory strike;
  • the United States had “unilaterally disarmed” throughout the 1970s, even though the US had built up its nuclear stockpile from four to ten thousand warheads during that decade (actually, he said that in March 1981, two months after his inauguration, though he repeated the charge during the 1984 campaign).

In other words, it should be possible to talk about the very real and undeniable dangers of Trump without ignoring or reinventing the insanity of American history.

(To be fair, I suffer from my own version of this amnesia: every time a pundit makes an ahistorical claim, I shake my head and wonder, have we ever had such a historically unaware media?)

Jamelle Bouie, of Slate, made a similar claim as Singer: 

“Modern” is a slippery word, though I assume it includes Reagan.

But let’s move beyond the statement to the larger point it seems to be getting at: Trump is like nothing we’ve ever seen before in the realm of foreign policy.

This is a country, remember, where it was the operational policy of the government, at the highest levels, to be able to fight and win a nuclear war. That wasn’t just the crazy talk of Dr. Strangelove. That was the reality that Dr. Strangelove was satirizing.

Up through at least the first term of the Reagan Administration—and probably beyond—high officials in the national security establishment were talking about fighting and winning a nuclear war.

One of the US Army field manuals stated:

The US Army must be prepared to fight and win when nuclear weapons are used.

Richard Pipes, Harvard historian and senior adviser to Reagan’s National Security Council (also father of Daniel Pipes), had his position characterized thus in the Washington Post:

His strategy, which he says reflects official thinking, is a winnable nuclear war.

Even the official US Budget for FY 1983 stated:

US defense policies ensure our preparedness to respond to and, if necessary, successfully fight either conventional or nuclear war.

There’s a reason Bob Scheer titled his classic book on Reagan’s national security policies “With Enough Shovels.” (h/t Josh Cohen)

I’ll admit that I find it hard to take this ahistorical high dudgeon of the pundit class seriously.

Whenever I hear this kind of stuff—with all the faux-seriousness and operatic gnashing of teeth, the pompous heavy breathing, the weird identification with America’s global mission (as Tim Barker mused on Twitter, does Bouie seriously think the “end of US hegemony would be more dangerous than nuking a small post colonial state?”)—I wonder, whom are they performing for? Each other? Themselves? Political elites?

My mind wandered to Ted Knight’s Judge Smails from Caddyshack.

But there may something less funny going on here.

A lot of these pundits and reporters are younger, part of the Vox generation of journalism. Unlike the older generation of journalists, whose calling card was that they know how to pick up a phone and track down a lead, the signature of this younger crew is that they know their way around J-STOR.

Many of them have read the most up-to-date social science as well as the best history, from Ira Katznelson to Eric Foner and so on. Bouie, in particular, is among the most talented and learned of his generation. His articles, even when I disagree with them, are well-researched and grounded in the latest scholarship.

Yet so many of them seem to lack the most basic gut impulse of any historically minded person: if you think something is unprecedented, it’s probably not. Check your amnesia, dude.

Part of this is due, as David Marcus reminded me, to the fact that though some of them do read history, a lot of them tend toward the more ahistorical branches of the social sciences. Psychology and econ or the quantitative or rational choice parts of poli sci, without the more historically focused mediations of a subfield like American political development, which not only teaches us about the temporal dimensions of American politics (that allegedly permanent rules and norms sometimes change) but also about the temporal underpinnings of our knowledge of American politics. But that’s not all of it, I don’t think.

Though I’m a political theorist, one of the things I benefited from growing up when I did was that I had incredible history teachers: first in high school (Allan Damon, Tom Corwin, and Steve Houser, unbelievable all) and then as a history major in college (John Murrin, Arno Mayer, Lawrence Stone, among others). What all of these teachers gave me, beyond some rudimentary awareness of the past, was an unshakeable sense of the historical nature of knowledge. The sense that all of us are embedded in time, that when we look back to the past we’re doing so with questions from our present, that every consensus is contingent and provisional, that today’s knowledge is just tomorrow’s belief. Some people get this from Gadamer, I got it from E.H. Carr, which we read in high school European History. (The buzzing, the buzzing: another image from a book that I’ll never forget!)

I know this is nothing deep or fancy, but it does make me wonder if today’s generation of commentators, raised as so many are on the assumption that the biological sciences and social sciences—with neuroscience as the master mediator—are the source and model of all knowledge, are somehow at a deficit. Even when they read history: because they’re led to believe, once they’ve digested Katznelson or Foner or whomever, that they’re really getting the truth, the past as it was, without that sense that Katznelson on the New Deal is only this generation’s New Deal. And that tomorrow we’ll have another New Deal.

I’m not quite sure how far we can take this—sometimes, often, I feel paralyzed by the sense of relativism this leaves me with—but it does induce a certain humility.

And, as I said, a basic gut check when it comes to claims about the absolute novelty of our situation.

Update (July 22)

On a related note, here is Matt Yglesias today:

Being president of the United States is hard work. It’s important work, and Donald Trump has proven time and again he’s much too lazy to do the job….It [Trump growing, learning, working to acquire new knowledge] doesn’t happen because he can’t be bothered. It’s terrifying.

And here are some facts about Ronald Reagan, which were reported widely at the time.

  • A White House aide told Newsweek in 1982 that “he [Reagan] probably spends two or three hours a day on real work. All he wants to do is tell stories about his movie days.”
  • Reagan himself told a biographer, “I’m a lazy fellow. I work up to a certain point, but beyond that point, I say the hell with it.”
  • Early on, the Washington Post reported, “More disquieting than Reagan’s performance or prospects on any specific issue is a growing suspicion that the president has only a passing acquaintance with some of the most important decisions of his administration.”
  • The Los Angeles Times described a president so removed “from the day-to-day workings of the White House…that he is unaware of the dimensions of the problem or of its possible consequences.”

There’s a different point to be made here about the amnesia of the pundit class.

Yglesias’s complaint is a frequently heard among liberals. As Alex Gourevitch reminded me, they said the same thing about George W. Bush. Remember all those vacations he took? (879 days, or 30% of his time in office.)

But here’s the thing: Ronald Reagan (or George W. Bush] wasn’t terrifying because he was lazy. Do we honestly think that if he had worked harder he would have been less terrifying? When your entire belief system is jackboots and smiles, it doesn’t get less scary because you work harder; the opposite, in fact. Honestly, I’m thankful Reagan was as lazy as he was. God only knows how much more havoc he might have wreaked had he been awake during those precious afternoon nap hours.

Likewise, Donald Trump. The notion here is that if he had more knowledge of the things he talks about, if he just worked harder at his job, his positions would be moderated. Like Ted Cruz?

 

42 Comments

  1. Paul Rosenberg July 21, 2016 at 3:34 pm | #

    Amen! I was lucky enough to have math & chemistry teachers who taught courses historically. It’s not just understanding of the social world that’s impoverished by lack of historical perspective.

  2. RickM July 21, 2016 at 3:43 pm | #

    Amen, too! And thank you, Corey. Excellent as always. E.H. Carr in high school history! Not where I went to school. I also learned (basically taught myself) and have taught modern biology using its history at every step along the way. The students who get it will go far and contribute much. The others will become anesthesiologists.

  3. michaelrmattson July 21, 2016 at 3:53 pm | #

    It’s probably because history education, in public schools at least, rarely reaches the modern day. All of the classes I took ended at World War 2 or Vietnam. The changes in politics over the past ~60 years are largely ignored, and left for the individual to discover on their own. The history of ideas is completely ignored. The public school I attended offered one philosophy course, and stopped including history and politics in the core curriculum, leaving them as extra-curriculars that could be skipped in favor of more math and science once past sophomore year. As a result, the current state of political debate is viewed as if in a vacuum.

    This also explains why bizarre worldviews like libertarianism are so popular among young people. Without a knowledge of the history of neoliberalism, or a history of the shifting overton window of American politics, it seems like a perfectly natural political stance. When in reality it’s quite bizarre and doesn’t really exist in other countries. It doesn’t help that politicians and pundits constantly appeal to the past in self-serving and revisionist ways – without a proper history education, the past becomes something molded entirely by popular stereotypes and caricatures (Hamilton, anyone?).

    Cutting a bit deeper, the easy availability of information means that general knowledge is no longer much of an asset. It’s all about skills and ability to navigate the huge amount of information available through the internet. What benefit is it to learn world history when wikipedia is available? It’s all about resume building, and general knowledge doesn’t translate to a resume or career like specialization.

    • Rob July 21, 2016 at 6:58 pm | #

      Good point. On a basic political level there’s been a lot going on — there’s always a lot going on. Maybe some of the amnesia stems from thinking that history ended (a la Fukuyama). Nothing much happened during the Cold War; and certainly nothing since it ended. We are an amazingly ahistorical nation.

  4. Will G-R July 21, 2016 at 4:20 pm | #

    What amazes me isn’t so much the amnesia, the assumption that any particular development is unprecedented. Quite a bit about the 21st-century world is genuinely unprecedented in human history, particularly when it comes to economic and technological development. What amazes me instead is how many historical comparisons these people actually do make (Trump as Hitler/Mussolini being the comparison du jour) while at the very same time treating present-day developments as if they’re totally unprecedented anyway. It’s as if history is just another mode of narrative fiction, and “Trump is Mussolini!” has nothing more genuinely informative to tell us than “Trump is Joffrey Baratheon!” or “Trump is Jabba the Hutt!” might.

    Of course the people who act this way are still able to take the work of any particular academic historian like Foner and imagine it as having emerged from a black box containing pure number-y science-y goodness, but expose them to the actual process of sorting through empirical questions and making assessments and predictions without the benefit of an unproblematically tidy dataset to simply run through R or SPSS to receive The Answer, and they might as well regress to the level of a stoned high-school kid asking how we really know that George Washington, like, ever actually existed, maaaan.

  5. Sandra July 21, 2016 at 4:29 pm | #

    Not only did US foreign policy rest on the goal of waging & winning a nuclear war, it rested (and still does I think) on waging several wars at the same time and winning them.

    There used to be a part of the college (and often high school) curriculum called US Diplomatic History. Later it became History of US Foreign Policy. That’s what I studied in my last 2 yrs in high school and later in college. There is no question that throughout the cold war US policymakers were far more insane and dangerous in their aims and vision than anything Trump has said.

  6. Stephen Zielinski July 21, 2016 at 4:37 pm | #

    Well, American foreign policy is nothing but reckless. And, NATO stands as an unreliable opponent of and existential threat to Russia. Trump’s statement might undermine the confidence some in Europe have in NATO. But, the institution is hardly an anachronism. It is one of Uncle Sam’s cat’s paws. Sam is not motivated to use these instruments for the benefit of anyone but his alone. Sam intends to unnerve Russia. Most Europeans will not benefit from another America-Russia conflict. In fact, that conflict threatens their material well being and their very existence.

    America’s power confers a sense of entitlement on its political elite broadly considered. Moreover, American power is neither desirable nor durable. We should expect a fraction of the pundit set to be more than water carriers for Uncle Sam and his empire. Historical awareness helps. So too good sense.

  7. Roquentin July 21, 2016 at 4:51 pm | #

    While I think you are correct, the hysteria about Trump (and really, it can only be called hysteria) serves a necessary purpose ideologically. I am always surprised at the number of people who act as if racism, sexism, and homophobia in the GOP is somehow new. Or worse, act as if Trump was the first person to ever talk about building that stupid wall. I struggle to remember a time when the GOP wasn’t (I’m only 33 though. Didn’t Pat Buchanan talk about it in the 90s?). We’re making this election about personalities to avoid talking about how these are deeply embedded structural problems. It’s so damn easy to say Trump is awful, in part because it’s true, but also because this is a convenient way to avoid a lot of far tougher questions. Even if you got rid of Trump, considerably more than half the GOP voted for him and nearly half the general population that votes supports him. These people aren’t going away, and since we live in a democracy they will have to be addressed one way or another.

    Let’s cut the bullshit, the only thing that makes Trump “special” is his crass and vulgar language. This cuts to the heart of his appeal, the heart of whats going on in this election more than anything else. From this angle, the people clutching their pearls over what he says object less to his ideas than how he conveys them. He doesn’t uses the necessary, sanitized codes, dog whistles, euphemisms, and jargon. No wonder the lower class likes Trump. They aren’t stupid, they see straight through it. Just about everyone does, except for maybe a handful of liberals who are still fighting the “language wars” and trying to convince everyone that talking differently (well, not even differently, just using different words) will solve everything. At worst this kind of politics is just the table manners of the upper class, the kind of ideas they picked up in school and it serves as kind of a membrane through which the unwashed masses can’t pass.

    From this angle, Trump’s vulgarity really does look populist, doesn’t it?

  8. xenon2 July 21, 2016 at 4:52 pm | #

    What wrong with being anti-NATO?
    I’m print-disabled and this was a very
    long post.

    NATO is Washington’s army in EU.
    No good can come of it.
    I’m sorry if I’ve missed the meaning
    of your post, but I had trouble getting thru it.

    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-08-18/why-ukraine-crisis-west-s-fault
    I’m sorry, too, if I’ve posted this before.

  9. nihil obstet July 21, 2016 at 5:36 pm | #

    History is inherently political. Was the Civil War about slavery or states’ rights? Did capitalism naturally result in better lives for the whole population or were workers’ shares of production won against brutal state/industry repression? And so on. Like the fight against science, there has been a conservative fight against anything but the great, good, heroic America myth. In the end, it’s easier and safer to deemphasize history, and the vox pundits have come of educational age in a time when schools conveyed the message that history doesn’t matter much. It’s shallow and trivial and simple sweeping sentences are its essence.

    On the thoughts that we can fight and win a nuclear war — the current administration proposes to spend upwards of a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to upgrade the U.S. nuclear weapons so that they will be more “usable.” The dream lives on, and it’s still a nightmare.

  10. momilli July 21, 2016 at 9:51 pm | #

    I was born in the Vox generation’sblissed-out, context-free 83 and left a burgeoning career in post-45 American intellectual history for medicine. Most health care policy writers my age, with great exceptions like Adam Gaffney, have this same thing going on. They’re not untalented or stupid, just a little adrift from “big picture” questions. Not all of them are health care providers, but I could see where our professional training could condition that way of thinking about policy into people. At the student and resident level, much of it takes a free-floating and ahistorical approach, calling it problem-based learning, clinical vignettes, narrative medicine as individual witness &c. — storytelling that decontextualizes epidemiology and illness and sets emotional distance from the social implications of practice. It’s particularly bemusing given that medical numeracy requires one to internalize historical context — who/what/when/where, which methodology was chosen, what was the quality or age or method of an automator affecting what reads (“reference ranges”) are normal on the test. It really makes me wish historians of medicine like Nancy Krieger wrote more often for the popular press, or were read more in medical schools. There are test questions to see who can ID the FDA and the parts of Medicare. Most of my coworkers and old classmates read Vox and Slate during lectures.

  11. Ramesh July 21, 2016 at 10:46 pm | #

    Thank you. Chomsky has been talking about the importance of history in science. I found these two of his very valuable:

    Noam Chomsky | Science, Mind, and Limits of Understanding
    https://chomsky.info/201401__/

    and

  12. Ramesh July 21, 2016 at 10:47 pm | #

    Noam Chomsky: “After 60+ Years of Generative Grammar: A Personal Perspective”
    https://youtu.be/Rgd8BnZ2-iw

    These lessons are lot more important in sciences.

  13. Steven Levine July 22, 2016 at 12:31 am | #

    Corey (if I may) I don’t think your taking into account the purpose of these speech acts: not really to describe but to have a certain perlocutionary effect on the reader which involves them understanding that statement x is really really bad.

  14. Raven Onthill July 22, 2016 at 12:56 am | #

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. You can’t see the forest for the trees. Some of the sharpest people I know, who do know the history, and who cite Reagan, are concerned. The longest peace Europe has seen in centuries is at risk, not just from Trump, and you tell us we don’t know the history.

    I just had occasion to refer to Orwell’s review of some Wells articles wherein Wells took the position that Hitler was a buffoon and a trumped up threat. Orwell, writing after the Battle of Britain, was not amused.

    • Corey Robin July 22, 2016 at 11:43 am | #

      Your comment interests me, at the rhetorical. For years, the Munich analogy was used to amplify the threat of the Soviet Union, to accuse liberals of being soft on communism. Now it’s being used to amplify the threat of Donald Trump, to accuse leftists of being weak on Republicans. I’m sure there’s something more to be said about that.

      • Raven Onthill July 22, 2016 at 2:11 pm | #

        But in my analogy, we are Germany. So my analogy is not with Munich, but the German elections of 1932. Trump is a cruder Reagan, perhaps, but Reagan was restrained by the world order of his time. Those restraints are gone, and the fragile peace and prosperity of the past 70 years is at risk. Yes, that peace was imperfect. There were bitter wars in that period. But millions have been lifted out of poverty and a third global war has been been avoided.

        If the Vox commentators are forgetting history, it seems to me that you are also doing so. There has been a progression from Nixon, through Reagan, arguably W. Bush, and now Trump. And I agree, the Vox commentators do not see this progression and so are shocked that we have arrived at the gates over which is written “Abandon all Hope,” when the right has been making that journey for decades. But you also do not seem to see this progression. Trump is a cruder Reagan, perhaps, but the world order of this time is much different that that of Reagan’s time. Not only Trump, but the Tories in England, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia and, yes, Schauble and Merkel (And why am I writing as though these people are absolute monarchs?) are ready to unravel that fragile peace and prosperity, to replace it with something unknown but far harsher.

  15. mark July 22, 2016 at 5:10 am | #

    Generally, advertisers use superlatives and thinkers comparatives.

    When I listened to Turkey’s (now failed) coup on the BBC World Service, and then saw the rather peculiar aftermath, it made me think of the Gunpowder Plot, particularly the way James I knew that a plot was in progress and he let it happen to flush out the conspirators as well as aiding him politically in dealing with other of his religious enemies.

  16. Edward July 22, 2016 at 6:21 am | #

    Goldwater isn’t the only candidate who suggested using nukes. In 2008 Clinton hinted at using nukes against Iran, as Mike Gravel points out here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBcMUZAXMW4

    I think there was a point in the primary where the candidates were explicitly asked about this. Obama stammered a “yes” while Clinton smirked and gave a definite “yes” to using nukes against Iran if they did not end their nuclear program.

    As long as we are discussing crazy U.S. foreign policy plans, lets not forget the Project For A New American Century.

  17. Roquentin July 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm | #

    I already commented once before the update, but I can’t resist addressing it. It’s doubly relevant given your recent post about Speer. Zizek had a really good bit in a recent speech where he argued that not only was Speer not somehow less bad than his other high ranking Nazi peers, he was worse. A good case could be made that since he was reasonably intelligent and competent that he personally prolonged the war for a significant amount of time due to how well he performed as Minister of Armaments.

    This is great, because the only thing our current ideology values seems to be competence and a certain version of intelligence. The ideology goes something like this: the current system is perfectly fine, the only problem is that we have negligent and incompetent people running it. I hardly need to go into detail to explain how conservative this line of thought is, how deeply it is devoted towards delegitimizing any kind of serious change or threats to those in power. The mere fact that this argument is more likely to come out of the mouths of liberals only goes to illustrate just how bankrupt that sort of politics is. Their case is basically “we’ll run the brutal machinery of neoliberal capitalism better than those clowns in the GOP.” Sadly, they often deliver on this promise, the only pledge during an election that can really be believed.

    • Will G-R July 22, 2016 at 4:04 pm | #

      “the current system is perfectly fine, the only problem is that we have negligent and incompetent people running it.”

      We already have a word for this ideology: “liberalism”. If you think there are problems with actually-existing global capitalism but you still trust that the institutions of capitalist democracy could potentially solve these problems, you’re a liberal. If you think these institutions are incapable in principle of solving these problems without more fundamental changes, then you’re not a liberal anymore. Radical leftism isn’t just a “more liberal” form of liberalism itself, a bit further left on the quantitative spectrum of progressiveness or whatever; it’s qualitatively distinct from liberalism and should be conceptualized as such.

      Even though the above may seem insultingly obvious to anybody with the least bit of philosophical background, mainstream US politics has made such a complete mess out of what should be basic terminology that the point is still worth repeating at any opportunity where it might find an audience.

      • Roqeuntin July 22, 2016 at 6:20 pm | #

        I agree completely.

  18. Tom R July 22, 2016 at 2:40 pm | #

    Trump was asked about nukes in the interview. I don’t know how to interpret his answer.

    SANGER: President Obama, as you probably know, as you probably read, is considering a no-first-use pledge before he leaves office for nuclear weapons. We don’t have one right now. Some other nations do, some don’t. Would you consider that stabilizing?

    TRUMP: Depends on who we are talking about, it depends on who we are talking about. I would only make that commitment as the agreement is being signed. I wouldn’t want to play my cards. I don’t want to say that.

  19. Michael Chishti July 23, 2016 at 3:00 am | #

    Probably one of the most important articles I’ve read this year. WaPo just recently ran this sensational editorial headline: ‘Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy.’ It is probably true that he is a threat to American democracy; it’s demonstrably false that he’s a _unique_ one.

  20. davidly July 23, 2016 at 4:13 pm | #

    I agree that the critique of Trump as unprecedented is woefully uninformed, or, as the case may be, down to ulterior motives (which you can never rule out). However, as regards Reagan and Bush II I think you’re missing something: Their inactivity as presidents had a lot to due with the fact that their VPs were more involved, and the state subsequently benefited by having a Chief Executive with more real plausible deniability than was probably typical. Not that this bolsters the case for Trump as a unique danger. As you point out, the analysis itself is quite common.

  21. mdm July 23, 2016 at 4:46 pm | #

    No excuses for Bouie. We both studied politics at UVA around the same time. UVA’s Politics department (and History department) both have some very good American Political Development scholars. In addition, UVA is home of the Miller Center which is focused on “understanding of the presidency, policy, and political history for the nation’s governance challenges.” The Center brings many of the top political / public policy historians and political scientists to Grounds to workshop book chapters. Furthermore, the Center runs a fellowship for young scholars that “employ history to shed light on American politics and public policy, foreign relations and the impact of global affairs on the United States, media and politics, and the role of the presidency in shaping American political development.” That’s where I was spending my time while in Charlottesville.

  22. SocraticGadfly July 24, 2016 at 2:17 pm | #

    Obama DID do something about the Honduras coup, Corey! HRC helped organize it.

  23. David Waldstreicher July 24, 2016 at 4:17 pm | #

    Just caught up with this one after spending a weekend with historians of the early republic… where there was a lot of talk about how terrible Trump is, but strikingly few comparisons to Nixon, Reagan Bushes. Corey is undoubtedly right about the naïve social-science orientation of the pundit class – and he might have included David Brooks and his tendency to claim humanistic traditions while sententiously citing social scientific studies to support his beliefs about Human Nature.

    But there seems to be something else about the amnesia, something about the sheer bleakness of US political history since the 1960s, with so many claims about “morning in America” and so many bad presidents. Obama built on these expectations and is in turn limited by them. I think it is a lot like the span from Jackson (no, I refuse to say he was a good president) to Buchanan , if I can say that without seeming to predict a civil war. The exaggerated expectations of Obama, and the intense hatred of Obama that got Trump his start and recalls reactions to Lincoln in 1860-61 and 1864, seem to me to suggest an extreme heightening of presidentialism that is inherently ahistorical even as it is predicated on false memories of Greatness and Leadership. We refuse to learn the lessons of, say, Stephen Skowronek’s work, which to me suggest that it is crazy to think that presidents make us “win” or keep us “safe” all by themselves, unburdened by decades and more of history – and history here means everything from policy path dependence to the memes or memories of rhetoric past that remains in our heads and our speech even when we aren’t conscious of their roots.

  24. Paul Yamada July 25, 2016 at 1:22 pm | #

    is it plausible that had Francis Fukuyama actually read and studied philosophy, (eg, actually read Hegel and Marx) instead of Kojeve and Huntington he would not have written that shallow, gag inducing book?

  25. Gray July 25, 2016 at 6:36 pm | #

    Many here seem to forget that when the USSR finally lost their hold on Eastern European countries then broke up there was rush by those countries to join NATO. Having experienced USSR (Russian) domination they wanted to make it sure it didn’t happen again. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t . . .

    I think that if you are going to talk about Reagan and nukes should mention Reykjavik, just to be fair.

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