It's a phrase I haven't read, and certainly haven't heard, for a long time. Yet it was a reminder of how radical the American idea was and is, and how uncertain its prospects were. Somewhere along the line we must have declared the experiment a success and started taking it for granted. It may have gone out of fashion before I was born and I only encountered it in reading older material, but I rather think it went away after WWII, as the European nations did finally fully imitate our expectation of individual rights, and half the newly-independent colonial nations immediately held elections and opened parliaments. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, this international preference for representative government and freer markets was one of the themes of The End Of History.
Thus, we take it for granted now, no longer as impressed with what a remarkable achievement it is, nor that it may in fact be fragile, dependent on public virtues that are waning. We expect that things will go on as before, simply because they "always" have. We wave our hands in easy dismissal of doomsayers who come and go - we have heard it all before. Nasim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan caught me up short in this, right out of the gate. This excerpt, about his clan's experience in Lebanon, is sobering.
My FB feed is awash with educated Christians who believe that Trump will usher in the Apocalypse. I find who puts these things out to be utterly predictable, and attribute a great deal of their upset to his arrogance offending against their culture, not to the arrogance itself. Had they objected even mildly to the arrogance on display eight years ago and for the last eight years, they would have more credibility with me now. It's too late. They don't really care about arrogance per se, only from certain quarters. So are we all, but we should be cautious about shouting, because the listeners remember. I do anyway.
I write this because Obama and Clinton are far more arrogant, and these people did not object eight years ago. the arrogance is different, certainly. Trump is the high school braggart, those particular Democrats fit more the collegiate or even graduate level contempt. Reading Screwtape (and The Great Divorce, The World's Last Night, The Abolition of Man, That Hideous Strength, "The Inner Ring" - not to mention Paradise Lost and Dante's Inferno) I have no question which is worse spiritually, and from that conclude it is likely to be worse for us in a practical sense. (Though perhaps not. That may simply be a Christian myth that humble rulers are better.) Let me add that I don't it's even close. The latter arrogance is deeply worse.
Trump is more of a buffoon. All politicians are, and we don't recognise that enough, but this crop is the stuff of legends. Conservatives tend to think of Obama and Clinton as too imperious and calculated to be buffoons, but that is exactly how they manifest it. Yet Trump greatly exceeds even them there. Intelligence? All have some cleverness, none is that impressive. Hillary's background suggests that she should or could be, but it never materialised. Even the private statements that leak out, when they are not merely coarse, are banal, hackneyed. I have learned on Quora that any estimation of Obama's intelligence that declares him less than genius opens one out to charges of racism, but he's no great shakes either. IQ 115-120. Respectable, not what he believes about himself or his followers claim on the basis of bad evidence. Trump is quick on his feet and his words are clever even when he is offensive and stupid. Above average.
There is a lot of ruin in a nation, as Adam Smith said and Churchill quoted, and we have survived one of these fools already. Perhaps we shall endure whatever comes next. Nations are becoming less important after all; corporations rise and fall insterad, ideologies, both for anger and for uplift, cross boundaries, technologies both liberate and enslave the individual in new ways. We say that the future will be mixed, because that is what we always say, and will continue saying, right to the gates of heaven or hell. It may be the end, and Hillary or Trump could hasten the world to chaos. Or they might turn out to be largely unimportant, revealing to us that the ground of power has indeed changed in the world and will change going forward.