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Declining Competence

To put it bluntly, it would be impossible in America today to assemble a group of people with anything near the combined experience, learning and wisdom that the 55 authors of the Constitution took with them to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787.
- Professor Forrest McDonald, National Endowment for Humanities' Jefferson Lecture, 1987, quoted by Sam Roberts in Forrest McDonald, Historian Who Punctured Liberal Notions, Dies at 89, NYT, Jan. 22, 2016


British workmen in the nineteenth century, undiverted by mass media, often read deeply and thoughtfully.
- William Manchester, The Last Lion, Sphere Books, 1984, p. 108.


Thus, for instance, our Afghanistan and Libyan follies weren’t nearly as important or destructive as our Iraq debacle of the prior decade, but they were more revelatory — in the sense of demonstrating that humanitarian interventions and nation-building projects don’t work out any better with liberal technocrats in charge than under Cheneyites, that there wasn’t a simple “good war” waiting to be fought by smarter people once the Bush-era cowboy spirit went away.

Or again, the election of Trump probably wasn’t the moment of authoritarianism descending — but it was an important moment of exposure, which revealed things about race relations and class resentments and the rot in the Republican Party and the incompetence of our political class that inclined everybody to a darker view of the American situation than before.

Or yet again, what changed in our relationship to Silicon Valley in the 2010s wasn’t some new technology or business model, but our gradual realization of what those technologies and business models were doing to our minds, what they probably weren’t doing for social or economic progress, and how the internet might need to be resisted rather than just happily embraced.
- Ross Douthat, The Decade of Disillusionment, NYT, Dec. 28, 2019


We are quickly approaching the end of the 2nd decade of the 21st Century and I think it's high-time that Americans woke up to the fact that there is no universal law that mandates the U.S. as the preeminent country in the world. Sure, the number of uber-rich capitalists has grown and everyone is working 2-3 jobs to keep up with the Joneses, but these metrics ignore some other grim details: the country has taken 10 steps backward in terms of investing in its infrastructures, in reforming its educational institutions and its badly broken (Darwinian) health care system. There have been few, if any, attempts to re-tool our shuttered factories and shrinking manufacturing sector. There has been virtually no progress in moving the country away from fossil fuels in order to ensure a better environmental future. Deeper still is the rot of nationalism and bigotry spread by what can only be called "the New Confederacy." I think Americans are far too optimistic about their future. For them it's about the sizzle and not the steak. The rest of the world is coming. Are you ready?
- mrfreeze6, Seattle, WA, 12/29/19, Comment on Ross Douthat, The Decade of Disillusionment, NYT, Dec. 28, 2019


We've withstood social unrest, wars, inept politicians, economic crashes and every other kind of disruption imaginable throughout our nation's history, and somehow we've survived.

But what we've never had to face was the empowerment of spite and ignorance that has gained power due to the presence of social media.

The president isn't the disease. He's merely the rash our country broke out in when millions of the resentful and uninformed voted to install an inept, vulgar, unread and classless pretender as the one who best represented the aspirations of ordinary Americans.

Most of our candidates for president have been educated people who earned respect and demonstrated knowledge of our political heritage and history. But only in the age of social media could the big lie and pandering to the basest paranoid suspicions of the uninformed garner enough votes to forever change the nature of our country.
- gemli, Boston, 12/29/19, Comment on Ross Douthat, The Decade of Disillusionment, NYT, Dec. 28, 2019


@gemli I agree with much of what you say. But I think you have left out the role of crony capitalism and wealthy oligarchs. The Tea Party did not just arise out of thin air in 2010. It arose, grew and flourished with the financial support of the Koch Bros. and media support of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and David Smith's Sinclair Broadcasting.

The political muscle of the Republicans at the federal level grew out of Republican control of state government in 2010 and reapportionment after the 2010 census.

The culture wars raged during 2010s and the role of the oligarchs in defining public policy reached a new high during the decade.
- OldBoatMan, Rochester, MN, 12/29/19, Comment on Ross Douthat, The Decade of Disillusionment, NYT, Dec. 28, 2019


“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Mr. Obama said in the afternoon address streamed online. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.” ...
“Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy — that’s how little kids think,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way — which is why things are so screwed up.
- NYT Briefing, U.S. Lacks Leadership on Virus, Obama Tells Graduates, NYT, 5/16/20



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