I finally caught up on a recent essay in the New Yorker by Evan Osnos entitled “Pulling Our Politics Back From the Brink.” [HT to the FT’s Swamp Notes newsletter.]
It’s absolutely worth reading for at least three reasons:
First, it offers a strong recapitulation of the history of (reasoned) argument, paranoia, partisanship, violence, and entertainment in American political life — all of which are dramatically exceptional in comparison to any “peer” country, and most of which are unfamiliar to the average citizen.
Second, it’s frank about the risks. Not only are we awfully divided, but the country is awash in weaponry in a way that’s essentially unprecedented. The perceived stakes keep getting higher, the tolerance or appetite for violence keeps growing, and there’s now some level of orchestration from the very top.
Third, it’s practical and hopeful, citing and summarizing both a commission report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that includes 31 achievable proposals for a rejuvenated (and less violent) politics and some new sociology that argues that it’s possible — though not preordained — that people can rescue their political culture.
History rhymes, and we’ll soon see if we’re in something more like the antebellum or the Gilded Age. Here’s hoping we can indeed pull back from the brink.