The opening paragraph of Mr. Ganesh’s latest essay relies on two instances of potted history of 1979, with the appropriate links to a report in the Financial Times on The Hostage Crisis and a 2011 John Dickerson commentary on Carter’s ‘Malaise’ speech. And a comment on ‘The Deer Hunter’ as the low point of Hollywood ‘Mythmaking Power’: gone were the days of William Wyler’s ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’, script by Sherwood Anderson and MacKinlay Kantor , cinematography by Gregg Toland. This Movie was unafraid to focus on Post-War America’s problems.
In 1979, the US suffered the twin ignominies of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet capture of Afghanistan. Inflation took off as the helpless president evoked (without saying the word) a malaise. In garlanding The Deer Hunter, the bleakest film of Hollywood’s bleakest decade, the Oscar judges met the national mood.
The political answer to this ‘malaise’ was Ronald Reagan and his ‘Morning in America’ , ‘I believe in States Rights’ of the opening of 1980 campaign speech, and his repetition of of the racist canard of ‘Welfare Queens Driving Cadillacs’. And his secret negotiations with the Iranian Revolution Leaders, undercutting Jimmy Carter’s attempts at negotiation.
What follows this opening paragraph is a Ganesh Political Melodrama, in all its breathlessness narrative power. A selection from this mock- epic retelling, of the political moments ‘we’ have recently experienced, in situ:
To salvage the positives from such a year will strain credulity. To suggest that Americans can end it with enhanced confidence in their republic will test the boundaries of good taste. And still the case is there to be made.…
In March, an allegedly irredeemable political class brokered the largest programme of fiscal relief in US history. It has been fitfully topped up ever since and a deal to the tune of $900bn passed Congress on Monday. Those who had hoped for more and better should concede that Washington has already outperformed dismal expectations.
It is one thing for China, or even a democracy as centralised as the UK, to take big and swift action in a crisis. For the US to do the same implies something good about its political model and the individuals who people it. To say so should not feel as subversive as it does.…
It is customary at this juncture to say that a cannier populist might one day succeed where Mr Trump failed. But the idea that an autocratic nearly-man must prefigure the real thing is too often written up as a teleological inevitability. The Republicans who succeeded Richard Nixon were Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush, not a gallery of sublime rogues.
If this collection of apologetics for the now ascendant ‘Centrism’, post election 2020 – that ‘Centrism’ being the alliance between the Neo-Liberals and the Neo-Conservatives, in all its moral/political toxicity. Yet Mr. Ganesh celebrates ‘a grudging baton exchange’ as important to the ’cause of liberalism‘. On that ’cause’ , in all its malign iterations look to ‘Liberalism A Counter-History’ by Domenico Losurdo.
As China avoids recession, it was prudent to cite 2020 as a grudging baton exchange from an ailing superpower to a rampant one. And perhaps even from multi-party democracy to more hierarchical modes of government. It matters to the cause of liberalism, then, not just to American pride, to hail the US system’s quiet resilience. The alternative is to do down the institutions that made a potentially terminal year merely dreadful. The trouble with pessimism is that it can be self-fulfilling.