Three books diagnose the decline of American greatness

Richard Beck in BookForum:

As we enter what feels like the second or third decade of the 2020 presidential campaign, a question hovers menacingly over American politics: Can liberals get a grip? Three years into the Trump era, it cannot have escaped anyone that the country’s political system is in the throes of a major crisis. Yet the mainstream of the Democratic Party remains bogged down, lurching back and forth between melancholy and hysteria. “The Republic is in danger!” the Rachel Maddows of the world intone, but aside from a Trump impeachment that has no hope of actually removing him from office, the solutions on offer stay the same as they were three, ten, fifteen years ago: means-tested tweaks to what little remains of the welfare state, limp appeals to civility and tolerance for (meaning accommodation to) opposing political views, and a “muscular” but gloomy foreign policy that envisions our forever wars stretching on for decades. For more than half a century, the political program that is now called American liberal centrism remade much of the world in its own image and turned the US into the preeminent military and economic power. Today, centrists’ best idea for a bold, young candidate is a millennial Harvard robot who worked for the odious consulting firm McKinsey before, as a midwestern mayor, apparently alienating every single black resident of South Bend. This is an ideology suffering from a failure of imagination.

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