The empty, depressing excellence of Pete Buttigieg

For his part, Pete claims that his inability to gush with emotion is actually a virtue that he’s been cultivating for most of his adult life. “My way of coming at the world: the stronger the emotion is, the more private it is,” he says.

Perhaps for that reason, the other people in his life feel the need to rewrite Pete and present him to the world in a way that they themselves find more pleasing. Chasten casts him as an awkward but caring mate. Smith advertises him as a midwestern mentat. Mayor Pete unmasks both these fictions and reveals that the true Pete is one of those unfortunate people who want to do good but have no natural aptitude for it.

This isn’t really his fault. His conception of virtue is personal success that can be quantified, graphed, and outlined in a PowerPoint presentation. He learned it young, and because of his devotion to it, he never grew out of the anxiety that plagues so many formerly gifted children. Throughout his adult life, he has run with the best sort of people, first at Harvard and McKinsey, and now in the Biden administration. But Pete Buttigieg is unlike his peers. For them, virtue is often little more than a veneer. For him, it’s the real deal. By his own cold standards, he’s excellent. And as long as he remains so, he’ll be a depressing sight for the rest of us.