A thought-provoking and penetrating account of the post-Cold war follies and delusions that culminated in the age of Donald Trump from the bestselling author of The Limits of Power.
When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Washington establishment felt it had prevailed in a world-historical struggle. Our side had won, a verdict that was both decisive and irreversible. For the world’s “indispensable nation,” its “sole superpower,” the future looked very bright. History, having brought the United States to the very summit of power and prestige, had validated American-style liberal democratic capitalism as universally applicable.
In the decades to come, Americans would put that claim to the test. They would embrace the promise of globalization as a source of unprecedented wealth while embarking on wide-ranging military campaigns to suppress disorder and enforce American values abroad, confident in the ability of U.S. forces to defeat any foe. Meanwhile, they placed all their bets on the White House to deliver on the promise of their Cold War triumph: unequaled prosperity, lasting peace, and absolute freedom.
In The Age of Illusions, bestselling author Andrew Bacevich takes us from that moment of seemingly ultimate victory to the age of Trump, telling an epic tale of folly and delusion. Writing with his usual eloquence and vast knowledge, he explains how, within a quarter of a century, the United States ended up with gaping inequality, permanent war, moral confusion, and an increasingly angry and alienated population, as well, of course, as the strangest president in American history.
America's post Cold War hubris bred economic discontent, military quagmires, moral chaos, and Donald Trump's presidency, according to this sharp but unconvincing polemic. Boston University history professor Bacevich (The Limits of Power) posits a cohesive American identity built around middle-class prosperity, traditional morality, and anticommunism that lasted from WWII until the fall of the Berlin Wall. But after the Soviet Union's collapse, he contends, America pursued a deluded agenda of economic globalization that yielded inequality and insecurity, world leadership ambitions that hatched indecisive "forever wars," an unrealistic politics of "presidential supremacy," and divisive cultural and moral upheavals that privileged individual autonomy over self-discipline and social obligation. Bacevich traces these developments in tart sketches of the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, and of the resulting MAGA backlash. (He evenhandedly calls Trump "a noxious, venal blowhard" while disparaging the "protracted psychic orgasm" of the media's obsession with him.) Bacevich's assertion of a Cold War consensus is too pat the era seethed with economic, military, and cultural conflict and while his observations on the antagonism of modern-day politics sometimes hit home, they don't break new ground or suggest a plausible way around America's impasses. As a result, this righteous harangue fails to land many of its punches.