The politics of petulance America in an age of immaturity

Alan Wolfe, 1942-

Book - 2018

How did we get into this mess? Every morning, many Americans ask this as, with a cringe, they pick up their phones and look to see what terrible thing President Trump has just said or done. Regardless of what he's complaining about or whom he's attacking, a second question comes hard on the heels of the first: How on earth do we get out of this? Alan Wolfe has an answer. In The Politics of Petulance he argues that the core of our problem isn't Trump himself--it's that we are ...mired in an age of political immaturity. That immaturity is not grounded in any one ideology, nor is it a function of age or education. It's in an abdication of valuing the character of would-be leaders; it's in a failure to acknowledge, even welcome the complexity of government and society; and it's in a loss of the ability to be skeptical without being suspicious. In 2016, many Americans were offered tantalizingly simple answers to complicated problems, and, like children being offered a lunch of Pop Rocks and Coke, they reflexively--and mindlessly--accepted. The good news, such as it is, is that we've been here before. Wolfe reminds us that we know how to grow up and face down Trump and other demagogues. Wolfe reinvigorates the tradition of public engagement exemplified by midcentury intellectuals such as Richard Hofstadter, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling--and he draws lessons from their battles with McCarthyism and conspiratorial paranoia. Wolfe mounts a powerful case that we can learn from them to forge a new path for political intervention today. Wolfe has been thinking and writing about American life and politics for decades. He sees this moment as one of real risk. But he's not throwing up his hands; he's bracing us. We've faced demagogues before. We can find the intellectual maturity to fight back. Yes we can.

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Subjects
Published
Chicago, IL : The University of Chicago Press 2018.
Language
English
Physical Description
ix, 210 pages : 1 illustration ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 185-199) and index.
ISBN
9780226555164
022655516X
Main Author
Alan Wolfe, 1942- (author)
  • Mature liberalism
  • Democracy's demagogue
  • The return of mass society
  • From conspiracy to irony
  • Tragedy, comedy, and American democracy
  • Immature democracy
  • Some lessons for the future.
Review by Choice Reviews

Wolfe (Boston College) has written a very timely and interesting book on American politics. He identifies what he sees as a ubiquitous problem in American politics—immaturity. Although he outlines how immaturity has taken root and how it plays into other problems in US democracy, the book is not simply a complaint about voters and political leaders. Instead, Wolfe describes how he thinks Americans could move beyond the immaturity that seems to characterize politics today. Importantly, the book reminds readers—many of whom likely feel a sense of hopelessness when they look at politics today—that Americans have dealt with immaturity in previous political eras and prevailed. Wolfe believes they can do it again. Interestingly, in the final chapter of the book, Wolfe provides some specific ideas that he believes could help improve US politics—things such as trusting experts, avoiding conspiracy theories, and paying attention to informal norms. This book is sure to stimulate important dialogue about the state of US politics and what Americans can do to renew their democracy. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.--A. Weinschenk, University of Wisconsin-Green BayAaron WeinschenkUniversity of Wisconsin-Green Bay Aaron Weinschenk Choice Reviews 56:07 March 2019 Copyright 2019 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Wolfe (emeritus, political science, Boston Coll.; At Home in Exile) explores how those ultimately responsible in a democracy, the citizenry, created an environment for a demagogue to be elected president. Throughout, Wolfe compares and contrasts the environment that gave rise to America's two most infamous demagogue politicians: Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump, while also exploring how Trump takes ignorance and attacks to a never-before-seen level, damaging all of politics and governance, with detrimental consequences for opponents and supporters alike. Some modern readers may have difficulty following the frequent references to midcentury intellectuals such as Lionel Trilling and Reinhold Niebuhr. Wolfe reminds readers to treat every vote as if the future of democracy depends on it—because it does. He also offers sage advice: distrust politicians who only promise good news, trust experts, and avoid conspiracy theorizing. VERDICT This review of how we, as citizens, created the current political state with immature political leadership in the context of midcentury intellectual thought will mainly interest readers of political theory and those seeking a deeper understanding of the current political climate.—Zebulin Evelhoch, NC LIVE, Raleigh Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Argues that the current political mess is due to a national climate of immaturity that seeks and accepts simple answers to complex questions and has decided that the character of candidates is unimportant.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An author and professor emeritus of political science at Boston College argues that the current political environment can be attributed not only to the current leadership but also to a national climate of political immaturity that seeks and accepts simplistic answers to complex questions and has renounced valuing the character of would-be leaders.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

How did we get into this mess? Every morning, many Americans ask this as, with a cringe, they pick up their phones and look to see what terrible thing President Trump has just said or done. Regardless of what he’s complaining about or whom he’s attacking, a second question comes hard on the heels of the first: How on earth do we get out of this?   Alan Wolfe has an answer. In The Politics of Petulance he argues that the core of our problem isn’t Trump himself—it’s that we are mired in an age of political immaturity. That immaturity is not grounded in any one ideology, nor is it a function of age or education. It’s in an abdication of valuing the character of would-be leaders; it’s in a failure to acknowledge, even welcome the complexity of government and society; and it’s in a loss of the ability to be skeptical without being suspicious. In 2016, many Americans were offered tantalizingly simple answers to complicated problems, and, like children being offered a lunch of Pop Rocks and Coke, they reflexively—and mindlessly—accepted.   The good news, such as it is, is that we’ve been here before. Wolfe reminds us that we know how to grow up and face down Trump and other demagogues. Wolfe reinvigorates the tradition of public engagement exemplified by midcentury intellectuals such as Richard Hofstadter, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling—and he draws lessons from their battles with McCarthyism and conspiratorial paranoia. Wolfe mounts a powerful case that we can learn from them to forge a new path for political intervention today.   Wolfe has been thinking and writing about American life and politics for decades. He sees this moment as one of real risk. But he’s not throwing up his hands; he’s bracing us. We’ve faced demagogues before. We can find the intellectual maturity to fight back. Yes we can.  

Review by Publisher Summary 4

How did we get into this mess? Every morning, many Americans ask this as, with a cringe, they pick up their phones and look to see what terrible thing President Trump has just said or done. Regardless of what he's complaining about or whom he's attacking, a second question comes hard on the heels of the first: How on earth do we get out of this?   Alan Wolfe has an answer. In The Politics of Petulance he argues that the core of our problem isn't Trump himself'it's that we are mired in an age of political immaturity. That immaturity is not grounded in any one ideology, nor is it a function of age or education. It's in an abdication of valuing the character of would-be leaders; it's in a failure to acknowledge, even welcome the complexity of government and society; and it's in a loss of the ability to be skeptical without being suspicious. In 2016, many Americans were offered tantalizingly simple answers to complicated problems, and, like children being offered a lunch of Pop Rocks and Coke, they reflexively'and mindlessly'accepted.   The good news, such as it is, is that we've been here before. Wolfe reminds us that we know how to grow up and face down Trump and other demagogues. Wolfe reinvigorates the tradition of public engagement exemplified by midcentury intellectuals such as Richard Hofstadter, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling'and he draws lessons from their battles with McCarthyism and conspiratorial paranoia. Wolfe mounts a powerful case that we can learn from them to forge a new path for political intervention today.   Wolfe has been thinking and writing about American life and politics for decades. He sees this moment as one of real risk. But he's not throwing up his hands; he's bracing us. We've faced demagogues before. We can find the intellectual maturity to fight back. Yes we can.