There are a few problems with the notion that Trump is to blame for our collective political monomania. The most basic is that the pathology long predates Trump’s election. The problem may be worse than ever, but it has been trending in one direction for roughly a generation. Each of the past four presidential elections has been widely viewed as the most important ever. Our already interminable campaign seasons have gotten even longer, and they occupy far more of our attention while they are going on. Meanwhile the proliferation of polling aggregators and the rise of data-driven journalism mean that the horse race never really has to end. No matter how far we are from Election Day, there is always a new scrap of information to be assimilated into our long-term forecasts…

This brings me to the second problem with blaming our dilemma on the current president. Even if Trump were the cause, his eventual departure from the stage would not automatically restore us to a proper balance, in which politics is just one of many subjects to which we give our sustained attention. This is one of the great lessons from Jacobs’s book: certain systems, once in place, tend to persist by a logic of their own. The thinkers he studies did lose the peace, in the end; the mobilization never stopped. Within fifteen years, even the former supreme commander of the Allied forces was warning against the military-industrial complex.

Whatever forces have built up politics as an ever-present collective obsession, whatever forces have taught us that quiet contemplation is not just useless but actually irresponsible, there are now too many people profiting from the idea for it to fade away in the natural course of things. The political-­entertainment machine is never going to give us our lives back. It will never announce an end to hostilities, tell us it is safe to return to our homes. To quote Lewis: “Life has never been normal.” If we are going to restore the balance, we are going to have to do it during “war-time.” If the goal of turning some of our attention away from politics is worth working for on January 20, 2021, it is worth working for now.