A withering broadside against the immaturity that infests American politics, revealing itself in populism and demagoguery.
Both the left and the right take it on the chin in this tough-minded analysis by Wolfe (Emeritus, Political Science/Boston Coll.; At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews, 2014, etc.), who has written 22 books. It is not the author’s aim to merely assail the unreasoning, petulant behavior of Donald Trump and his “base,” which is like shooting fish in a barrel. Clearly, Wolfe abhors the president and finds him dangerous yet only a symptom of the disease. What he investigates is why, with all the potential leaders available to them, the American people elected a manifest incompetent. Though his book is very much about the collective childishness of American political discourse, the title is somewhat misleading. It is not just petulance that infects our politics, but also a plague of misguided populism and demagoguery that feeds on ignorance, fear, and a persistent current of racism. While some readers may question the author’s conviction that politics is one of the noblest of human enterprises—“an efficient and beneficial way of holding a society together” without its various parts waging war against each other—his contention that we do not take our political responsibilities seriously enough is inarguable. “Responsible politics cools down rather than heats up,” writes the author, contrasting today's intellectual malaise with a golden age (1940s-1950s) of political thought in America represented by the writers Wolfe calls “the mature liberals.” Some were home-grown, others intellectuals and scholars who immigrated to the U.S. after World War II, well acquainted with what demagoguery had wrought in Europe. Though fierce anti-communists in the main, they were a bulwark against the vituperation of America's most notorious demagogue, Joseph McCarthy.
Though Wolfe sometimes wants to have it both ways and may be too trusting of the motives of elites, this is a persuasive and alarming book.