The West is a victim of its long-term peace

It is not so much gunshots as it is that smiles make the photos a testimony of the times. “Santa Claus, please bring ammunition,” US Congressman Thomas Massey wrote on Twitter Top Seven Posing with a rifle in front of an blameless Christmas tree. His pun answer to the accusation of poor taste confirmed that it was “just” playing with freedom at work. He seemed to be asking, what is the worst possible scenario?

Five years after Brexit and Donald Trump’s vote, people still don’t understand to what extent populism boils down to comic rebellion, rather than (the original theory) economic dissatisfaction or (more like left-wing) doctrinal beliefs. This is to some extent a sport of laughing knights. Violence is not their desire, but they do not think it is a reasonable and unexpected result of their behavior.

Why, given the lack of warnings in recent history, should they do this? In terms of time, we are now almost as far away from World War II as we are from the American Civil War.Few voters in the West have seen catastrophic and life-threatening mistakes in their domestic politics (at least until Siege of Capitol About a year ago. ) Therefore, their appetite for political risk is natural. Think of it as a civic version of reckless consumption and investment at the end of the business cycle, when the last crash was too far away to remember. “Stability is destabilizing,” said Heyman Minsky, an economist who should have tried to make political comments.

Bob Dole was drafted into the army in 1942 © AP

Defining the problem of the West as a form of arbitrary rather than deliberate malice is not to minimize it. In fact, this is a more difficult problem to solve. This means that only violent crises can restore people’s healthy fear of extreme politics. Social media can be tamed, election black money can be banned, and education improvements have little effect. These are tactical answers to a structural question: In today’s motto, there is a lack of “hands-on experience” of the consequences of populism.

By definition, this is a problem that gets worse over time.Last weekend, World War II veteran Bob Dole died at the age of 98. The United States not only lost its talents Once productive senator. It lost one of the few terrible messengers in the first half of the last century. For the generations who remained more or less politically stable from 1945 to the millennium, the praise of him is truly a sadness.

Liberals have five years to study modern forms of populism. They still miss its playful element: they see politics as a low-risk team sport. Even those who believe in it tend to blame the inherent frivolity of the individual, rather than the historical background of catastrophically wrong election choices in people’s memory.This is not a fluke Most stable The main democracy, Germany, was the Second World War, or rather its provocative prelude, and it was not allowed to leave the country of public discourse at all.

If American democracy collapses, a complacent smirk, instead of a villain with a moustache, will become a host atmosphere. Of course, there are true believers and fanatics on the American right.Former Trump aide Steve Bannon is one of them, and so is the writer Michael AntonBut in the 1990s and (in the presidential candidate Barry Goldwater) there were many such people in the 1960s. What has changed is the proportion of the wider population who believe that extensive indulgence will not cause harm.

In contact with Trump voters and donors, a certain type of people reappeared: consistent civilization, vanilla in most of their tastes, and usually easier to accompany than them Left-wing equivalent. Some people are just loyal conservatives. (Dole himself is not more than a bit of tribalism.) Some people, like the most famous Brexitists, like the prestige of outsiders, and this prestige has so far been robbed of their own wealth and white people. Almost everyone is considered to be a promoter of civil damage to their country. When playing with people like Trump, their main failure lies in imagination, not conscience. They can’t imagine the worst. Two or three generations separate them from any useful historical lessons about what fissile material politics is.

To treat everything in public life as “inevitable” is to succumb to teleology. Nevertheless, with the death of Dole and his generation, it is still difficult for people to avoid the idea that as their memory of past crises fades away, society becomes more reckless and reckless. In other words, for the West, its final survival chaos is now before the lifetime of mankind, and the price of success is inevitable. It should expect its political vacillation until citizens taste the consequences again.

janan.ganesh@ft.com

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