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The short story arc of Generation X.

Generation Xers were never the lazy people we were mistaken for in bad films and by vicious cultural commentators. My generation came of age shortly before the attacks on New York City and Washington. We have been instilled with a sunny enthusiasm to reshape the world. Finally, in the fall of my senior year at university, my roommates and I watched in stunned silence as the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern and Central Europeans demanded their freedom. Not long after we graduated, it took US forces just three days of ground combat to defeat the Iraqi army after invading Kuwait. Less than a year later, the hammer and sickle came down from the Kremlin. The Soviet Union was just gone.

While I was traveling to Jerusalem to find out about the conflict between Israelis and Arabs, some of my friends made their way to Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava and East Berlin to teach English, train journalists, and build political parties and to shape the world in the best image of the USA. We went out into the world to make amends for the historical mistakes of communism. The end of the story couldn't have been more exciting.

Generation Xers were never the lazy people we were mistaken for in bad films and by vicious cultural commentators. My generation came of age shortly before the attacks on New York City and Washington. We have been instilled with a sunny enthusiasm to reshape the world. Finally, in the fall of my senior year at university, my roommates and I watched in stunned silence as the Berlin Wall fell and Eastern and Central Europeans demanded their freedom. Not long after we graduated, it took US forces just three days of ground combat to defeat the Iraqi army after invading Kuwait. Less than a year later, the hammer and sickle came down from the Kremlin. The Soviet Union was just gone.

While I was traveling to Jerusalem to find out about the conflict between Israelis and Arabs, some of my friends made their way to Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava and East Berlin to teach English, train journalists, and build political parties and to shape the world in the best image of the USA. We went out into the world to make amends for the historical mistakes of communism. The end of the story couldn't have been more exciting.

After the fall: being an American in the world we drove crazye, Ben Rhodes, Random House, 384 pages, $ 20, June 2021

Three decades later, I was standing in the blazing sun on 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue with an old friend wondering what was going on. US President Donald Trump had just announced his child separation policy. It was – for us – a shocking development. "How could that be?" we asked each other. This was after the Muslim ban and a host of other early attacks by the Trump administration on the American system of government. We never thought that our democracy was one to fight for. But there we were, wondering if everything we believed was ever true. It was a confusing moment.

I mention this because I recently read Ben Rhodes’ new volume After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made. It is his endeavor to give the world a meaning that for him – as for me – no longer made sense around 2016. For better or for worse, the generational experience of the late Cold War and American triumph that shaped my world characterizes the analysis of Rhodes – a Gen Xer colleague – runs through his book.

For anyone who has lived in isolation for most of the past decade, Rhodes served as speechwriter, deputy national security adviser, and Robin from Batman to US President Barack Obama for eight years. There are few in Washington who are neutral towards Rhodes. Violent criticism of him appears to be based on political and ideological differences, professional jealousy, or a combination of the three. Those who like him do so for obvious reasons. He served a president they supported and / or they are Washington fighters who want jobs in democratic governments and not want to offend anyone as influential as Rhodes.

There is a lot to praise in "After the Fall". Rhodes writes very well, which shouldn't come as a surprise. It would be hard to be a speechwriter for a man who is a master of the written and spoken word if you were lazy at the keyboard. I'm jealous of Rhodes & # 39; Ability to bring Hong Kong, the Venice Beach Boardwalk, and the Upper East Side of Manhattan to life on the site. And while I'm nearly a decade older than Rhodes and grew up 35 miles east of it, we share many of the same cultural references. Anyone who can drop Ivan Drago of Rocky IV, rock bands Def Leppard and Soundgarden, and the 1980 US ice hockey team into meditation on the state of the United States and its place in the world will get a smile of appreciation from me.

More importantly, Rhodes effectively articulates the analytical problem: the yawning gap between the promise of the United States he grew up with and the reality of early 21st century America – a country leaning towards authoritarianism. Rhodes wants to understand how we got here: if it's not us – as the president he served so often once said – then who are we?

Despite his elegant prose and superior storytelling skills, Rhodes leaves his readers frustrated as he takes them on a long, meandering journey to find out what has become of the United States through encounters with opposition figures and activists in Hungary, Russia, and China . His general point of view is simple: instead of the world becoming more like the United States, as so many of us expected after the Cold War, the United States has become more like the rest of the world – especially its authoritarian one. In a strange twist on the modernization paradigm that once dominated US social sciences, there was "convergence" – just not as one would have expected.

In his conversations with interlocutors, Rhodes finds parallels between the consolidation of authoritarianism in other places and in the USA. He's not saying the United States is Hungary or Russia or China. That would be absurd; however, it highlights the political dynamic that has made Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Hungary a nationalist, revanchist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and authoritarian place in the United States.

However, the links Rhodes makes between authoritarian systems and what is happening in the United States appear to be commonplace by mid-2021. To be a Turkey analyst, Egypt observer, or Eastern Europe politician during the Trump years was fascinating and unsettling. Often times, my first reaction to the daily barrage of news warnings covering some ancient or hideous new policy of the president was to mumble, "That's so Erdogan." Rhodes & # 39; Argument that the United States has become a case study for democratic relapse is old news.

A bigger problem with After the Fall is Rhodes ’historical narrative, which begins with the attacks on New York and Washington and ends with the Trump presidency. Undoubtedly, these were two particularly grim two decades in US politics and foreign policy – including the USA Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq, the financial crisis, the election of Trump, a right-wing media ecosystem, and the Republican Party's growing detachment from reality. In between, Americans have struggled with rising income inequality, an opioid epidemic, the resurgence of white nationalism, government-sponsored brutality mostly inflicted on immigrants of color, and an increasingly deadly society, whether through gun games, pandemic, drug addiction, or suicide. As a result, it has become the standard among left-wing commentators and activists to cling to the post-9/11 era as the source of the tribulation in the United States.

There is truth in this, but there is also a lack of depth and perspective. Rhodes is not blind to the vicious aftermath of slavery, genocide, internment camps, Jim Crow, redlining and other troubling aspects of US history, but he remains – despite his tired tone – a supporter of US exceptionalism and therefore clearly looks at the past 20 Years on the wrong track. It would be hard not to be after serving the first black president – though Obama would likely be the first to tell Rhodes that the history of current United States pathologies goes deeper than an era of a clear, clear Tuesday morning in September around the time was completed the turn of the century and a riot in the US Capitol.

After all, there is no analytical advantage in After the Fall. I appreciated Rhodes & # 39; Describing his family's background and the somber New York of the 1980s that came towards the end of the book. The anecdotes took me back to the years of sneaking into Manhattan's bars with my college mates who preceded Rhodes at Collegiate School and other New York private schools, but it seemed strangely out of place. Rhodes & # 39; Texas-New York, half Jewish, half Democrat, half Republican family history is interesting but not necessary. He has earned the right to ask, "How did we get here?" And "Why did this happen?" due to his own exceptional professional experience. That's why I picked up the book.

Rhodes' proximity to the highest office in the country certainly gave him a unique insight into the current situation of the Americans. Unfortunately, Rhodes offers little more than traditional claims and observations: 9/11 led to Trump, "progress is not straightforward," foreign policy begins at home, and Americans have an opportunity to "recover." yourself. In particular, what does this last point mean? Recover what? The legend of the United States based on the exceptional story or the actual United States? Rhodes is caught between the passionate truths of his youth about US advancement and the disorienting reality of adulthood that history is non-linear. He seems to want a normal country that is "no longer a hegemon" without throwing overboard the exceptionalism-imprinted mythology that appears to be the basis of Rhodes ’worldview.

Perhaps I am not the audience for "After The Fall," which certainly provides useful insights to readers, especially those who have not yet embarked on comparative political analysis. I also admire Rhodes from afar. He achieved a lot at a (painful) young age. By the time he left the White House in 2016, he could have opened the Rhodes Group and done the Washington thing, redeemed his experience and acted. Instead, he decided to write books and try to answer difficult questions.

That brings me to the topic of the day (plus 20 years), Afghanistan. Rhodes believes it is time to back off, but recognizes the risks associated with the policies of the Biden government. (I agree.) He knows better than most people in Washington that foreign policy often makes the best possible choice out of a number of bad options. Still, it is difficult to see the end of the United States' long campaign in Afghanistan with Rhodes & # 39; Call for more enlightened politics and foreign policy to reconcile. The US failed in Afghanistan. What it did there is a patch of land. America's departure is hardly a fresh start. It must be done, but it is another indicator of the precarious state of its politics and foreign policy.

Rhodes believes the United States can fix these things, which is strange because, as he has expertly highlighted in his book, what many of us believed to be the natural order of things was possibly just a moment in time History. It's unsettling to say the least, but it may not be possible to put things back together after the fall.

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