Levin, the editor of National Affairs, argues in his brilliant new book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, that both parties are besotted with nostalgia for the mid-20th century. Conservatives tend to stress the social cohesion of 1950s America (or its seeming renaissance under Ronald Reagan), while liberals yearn for the economic security of the 1960s. Although they have different goals, leading Republicans and Democrats alike want to go back to the way things were — and they think they can take us there from Washington. Trump says he’ll cut deals in the Oval Office that will make America great again; Clinton promises “universal” everything (education, retirement, health care) to restore the American Dream.
Levin argues that this is folly. The institutions that work best in 21st-century America are those that give us choices. No one simply lives in the United States of America. We live in Peoria, Harlem, and Seattle. The virtues built close to home, Levin argues, are those that make us good citizens and ultimately draw us together.
What would be so terrible about letting diverse communities decide how they want to live and spend their tax dollars? The culture wars would still rage, but at least the winners would have to look the losers in the eye. As it stands now, the federal government, mostly through unelected judges and bureaucrats, thinks it can best determine how more than 300 million people should live.
The cure for powerlessness is power, not ceding even more of it to Washington. This is the only way to cut the Gordian knot choking our politics, and the best path forward for opponents of statism — in all parties.