Although George W. Bush is a man without intellectual pretensions, his departure from office brings down the curtain on a distinctive era of American political thought. Ideas that recently qualified as smart have suddenly become passé. Propositions once alluringly au courant now appear not simply obsolete but absurd. The bubble of American triumphalism has burst.
That bubble first appeared as the cold war was ending. Triumphalist thinking derived from two widely held perceptions.
- The first was that the unraveling of the Soviet empire had brought history to a definitive turning point. According to this view, the annus mirabilis of 1989 truly was a year of wonders, sweeping aside the old order and opening the door to vast new possibilities.
- The second conviction was that it was up to the United States to determine what was to come next. Basic arithmetic told the story: there had previously been two superpowers; now only one remained. Henceforth, the decisions that mattered would be Washington’s to make.
Triumphalism is the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others.
Triumphalism may both benefit and prove detrimental to the survival of a doctrine, culture, or social system. Dangers include:
- Impaired ability to judge the value or morality of the group’s actions;
- Cessation of creativity and innovation within the group;
- Blindness to other groups’ strengths and innovations;
- A tendency to over-reach against the group’s competitors, based on an inflated sense of the likelihood of triumph in conflict.
At the same time, triumphalism also provides impetus to proselytization, conquest and the general expansion of a group or doctrine.Many successful historical movements have worked from a triumphalist base. Examples include the Islamic conquests of the 7th century, European colonialism, and the concept of manifest destiny which helped the United States to dominance in North America.
as mass immigration increases diversity, it reduces social cohesion and civic trust
.. the trust problem is not a simple matter of racist natives mistrusting foreigners, since social trust is often weakest among minorities — which is one reason why the most diverse generation in American history, the millennials, is also the least trusting.
.. It’s one reason why campus politics are so toxic, why Democrats struggle to keep their diverse coalition politically engaged
.. Then linked to these ethno-cultural tensions are the tensions of class, where mass immigration favors stratification and elite self-segregation.
.. regions and cities with the largest immigrant populations are often the wealthiest and most dynamic.
.. The hinterlands are also filled with people who might want to move to wealthier regions (or who used to live there) but can’t because an immigrants-and-professionals ecosystem effectively prices out the middle class.
.. Thus our rich and diverse states also often feature high poverty rates when their cost of living is considered, while second and third-generation immigrants often drift into the same stagnation as the white working class
.. Which in turn encourages them toward mild contempt for their fellow countrymen who don’t want to live under a cosmopolitan-ruled caste system
.. For some pro-immigration Republicans this contempt is Ayn Randian: We’ll all be better off with more hard-working immigrants and fewer shiftless mooching natives. For pro-immigration liberals it’s the predictable cultural triumphalism: The arc of history is long, but thanks to immigration we won’t have to cater to heartland gun-clingers any longer.
In both cases there’s a fantasy of replacement that’s politically corrosive, and that’s one reason why Donald Trump is president and Jeb! and Hillary are not.
.. Hence my own view that keeping current immigration levels while bringing in more immigrants to compete with our economy’s winners and fewer to compete for low-wage work represents a reasonable middle ground.
I am a national security Never-Trumper who, after the election, made the case that young conservatives should volunteer to serve in the new administration, warily, their undated letters of resignation ready. That advice, I have concluded, was wrong.
.. The tenor of the Trump team, from everything I see, read and hear, is such that, for a garden-variety Republican policy specialist, service in the early phase of the administration would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation.
.. The president-elect is surrounding himself with mediocrities whose chief qualification seems to be unquestioning loyalty. He gets credit for becoming a statesman when he says something any newly elected president might say (“I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future”) — and then reverts to tweeting against demonstrators and the New York Times. By all accounts, his ignorance, and that of his entourage, about the executive branch is fathomless. It’s not even clear that he accepts that he should live in the White House rather than in his gilt-smeared penthouse in New York.
.. The canary in the coal mine was not merely the selection of Stephen K. Bannon for the job previously filled by John Podesta and Karl Rove, that of counselor to the president and chief strategist. Rather, the warning signs came from the Republican leaders excusing and normalizing this sinister character — and those who then justified the normalizers.
.. No band of brothers this: rather the permanent campaign as waged by triumphalist rabble-rousers and demagogues, abetted by people out of their depth and unfit for the jobs they will hold, gripped by grievance, resentment and lurking insecurity. Their mistakes — because there will be mistakes — will be exceptional.
.. Until it can acquire some measure of humility about what it knows, and a degree of magnanimity to those who have opposed it, it will smash into crises and failures.
.. Until then, let the Trump team fill the deputy assistant secretary and assistant secretary jobs with civil servants, retired military officers and diplomats, or the large supply of loyal or obsequious second-raters who will be eager to serve. The administration may shake itself out in a year or two and reach out to others who have been worried about Trump.