forgetting history

I heard a Michigan politician on the radio this weekend saying that an upcoming election was a “war” and that there was no room for civility in the discussion.

Ay yi yi. This makes me crazy. People who stop treating each other with respect and dignity are not behaving well.

Besides reductive metaphors of public discourse to the awful reality of war, we also hear public policies and everything else reduced to the numbers (as they say on NPR…. ). I am sure there is more to life and government than economics. But this no longer seems to be the way we think and talk about it.

“[It] … is striking … how far we have lost the capacity even to conceive of public policy beyond a narrowly construed economism.  We have forgotten how to think politically.Tony Judt [emphasis added], “The World We Have Lost” in his collection, Reappraisals

However, Judt does continues this way:

“In an unpolitical age, there is much to be said for politicians thinking and talking economically: This is, after all, how most people today conceive of their own life chances and interests, and any project of public policy that ignored this truth would not get very far… Democracies in which there are no significant political choices to be made, [SJ note: He very much includes the USA in this group] where economic policy is all that really matters—and where economic policy is now largely determined by nonpolitical actors (central banks, international agencies, or transnational corporations)—must either cease to be functioning democracies or accommodate once again the politics of frustration, of populist resentment.”

I think this is part of what we are witnessing right now in the USA: politics of frustration and resentment. Judt’s essays warn that too many of us either do not know the history of where this leads or think that history in general is no longer important.

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