It feels like 1979 again

This political dynamic, perhaps, is the greatest difference between the 1970s and the 2020s. The Cold War was terrifying, and while I am glad it is over, the existence of the Soviet Union and the existential conflict between East and West required the United States to be a serious country capable of making serious decisions. We might have worn some silly clothes in 1979 (don’t ask me about the velour-trimmed tux I wore to a prom), but we were still, in the main, voting like sensible adults.

Depending on your tribal affiliations, you may not think much of Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, but their electoral contest in 1980 included a substantive discussion of national defense between two men who’d spent a long time thinking seriously about the subject. In fact, Reagan continued Carter nuclear-weapons programs such as the MX missile; in those days, the distance between a Republican and a Democrat on national defense was measured in inches and feet instead of miles…

Awareness of the Cold War kept American political discourse within some sensible boundaries. We had to be able to envision presidents not only as politicians but as the people who might have to open a briefcase in the middle of the night and issue codes that would open the gates of hell. This induced a certain amount of sobriety even in the most partisan voters.

All of that is gone.