Saturday, May 25, 2019

Greg Wiener: "It's Not Always The End Of The World"

   President Trump recently declared that he won the White House in “one of the most hard fought and consequential elections in the history of our great nation.” It is not difficult to conjure elections that mattered more, like Thomas Jefferson’s in 1800, Abraham Lincoln’s in 1860 or Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1932. What is becoming difficult to find is a modern aspirant to the White House who does not think of himself or herself as the solution to a world-historical crisis.
  There is no question that Mr. Trump’s political style is aberrant. But what if, all things considered, the needs of the moment are ordinary? That is the first question demanded by the foremost political virtue: prudence. Prudence is a capacity for judgment that enables leaders to adjust politics to circumstances. In extraordinary times, prudence demands boldness. In mundane moments, it requires modesty. Lincoln, the foremost exemplar of prudence in American political history, can instruct today’s voters in both ends of that continuum.
   A related point: stop with the frantic, ceaseless, reflexive change. 'Hope' was a good campaign slogan; 'change' not so much. We have it so good--basically all of us--in the historical scheme of things, that the vast majority of possible changes will make things worse--many catastrophically so. Reagan, Bush and Bush were much more on target with 'stay the course.' 'Stay the course' doesn't mean never change anything. It's a matter of emphasis. I fell for 'change' at the time because I was convinced that he meant, roughly, change the tone in Washington; soften the partisan divide. Which I think was and is imperative, Gingrich having wrought what he wrought. But the GOP was having none of it. And, anyway, one can see all sorts of things in your average one-word slogan.
  Wiener ends:
Before claiming instead that every election revolves around a crisis, political leaders should embrace what Edmund Burke called “a moral rather than a complexional timidity.” Voters ought to share Lincoln’s skepticism of the rhetoric of catastrophe. That would be a prudent response to our grandiose politics and the grandiose politicians who peddle it.


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