Politics is not total war

One of the problems with the rise of what we have come to call populism in America is that in many instances it has gone well beyond expressing legitimate grievances in the face of political failure; it has instead sown corrosive distrust of and cynicism about our governing institutions and politics in general. Donald Trump is a master at this, often behaving more like an observer than a participant, even as president of the United States, offering comment on politics rather than engaging in leadership. The result is to encourage simplistic expectations and assumptions of bad faith.

This leaves many Americans drenched in a distaste for the actual practice of politics and the craft of governing. They believe that all politicians are knaves and fools, and that the system is endemically corrupt and rigged, and so (figuratively speaking) the village needs to be burned to the ground. This is dangerous nihilism. But oddly enough, it is a function of expectations that are too high, not too low: It is rooted in an assumption that governing is easy, that if our leaders really wanted to solve all our problems, or if we elected people who did, they could.

A higher view of politics would have to begin with more realistic expectations, and with an appreciation of the difficulties inherent in the jobs we ask our leaders to perform.

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