A brief, painful, and thoughtful analysis of how “the passing of the Cold War could not have been more disorienting.”
More than three decades ago, the United States took credit for defeating communism, and pundits predicted wonderful things. Readers wondering why they never happened should turn to the latest from Bacevich (Emeritus, History/Boston Univ.; (Twilight of the American Century, 2018, etc.). He notes how pundits proclaimed that, as the sole superpower, we would lead the world to a better future with global corporate capitalism enriching everyone. Freedom, in this new era, required a new conception that emphasized individual autonomy. The author laments the decline of traditional morality, and he argues that completing the new order is the concept of presidential supremacy, including a freedom to make war, which presidents employ enthusiastically. Although still considered sacred, Bacevich writes, our Constitution no longer describes a government of three equal branches. The results? Military operations regularly fail at great expense. Unfettered free enterprise has enriched the middle class but excluded many. The most secure career for a high school graduate is the military. The author condemns Donald Trump’s three predecessors, who embraced the new order despite admitting that there were problems that they declined to fix. “Himself a mountebank of the very first order, Trump exposed as fraudulent the triumphalism that served as a signature of the post–Cold War decades,” writes the author. “On this score, Trump mattered and bigly.” Few readers would argue with Bacevich’s conclusion that today’s critical issues are fettering free enterprise in favor of those it excludes, confronting China’s new superpower status, and dealing with climate change, but they’re not catching on. Many Republicans grouse about Trump, but no groundswell opposes him. Democrats promote programs to fight poverty and promote social justice, thrilling their faithful but not former Democrats, some of whom still appreciate Trump’s flamboyant rhetoric.
A brilliant but ultimately discouraging analysis of how America messed up its big chance.