In a speech receiving the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Britain, had some wise words on the state of politics in the West, and specifically in the United States. He warned that we’ve come to “indulge in magical thinking. So you get the far right dreaming of a golden past that never was and the far left yearning for a utopian future that never will be. And then comes populism, the belief that a strong leader can solve all our problems for us. And that is the first step down the road to tyranny, whether of the right or of the left.” He continued, later observing, “We need people willing to stand up and say, rich and poor alike, we all have collective responsibility for the common good. And we need a culture of responsibility, not one of victimhood, because if you define yourself as a victim, you can never be free.”
There is a lot to unpack there. Sacks certainly has figured out the populists’ routine.
The “golden past” that the Trumpian populists long for today takes many forms. They sanitize, romanticize and elevate the “Lost Cause” of the antebellum South. They dream of a pre-Great Society, even pre-New Deal government. They pine for America’s industrial world domination of the 1950s and 1960s. They seem enamored of a pre-Brown v. Board of Education and pre-Warren Court legal system. This nostalgia allows them to treat everything since then — from globalism to minority activists to gay marriage to justice reform — as a deviation, an intrusion into “real America.”