As I approach 75, I’m having a commonplace experience for my age. I live with a brain that’s beginning to dump previously secure memories — names, the contents of books I read long ago (or all too recently), events, whatever. If you’re of a certain age yourself, you know the story.
Recently, however, I realized that this experience of loss, like so much else in our world, is more complex than I imagined. What I mean is that such loss also involves gain. It’s turned my mind to, and made me something of an instant expert on, one aspect of twenty-first-century America: the memory hole that’s swallowed up parts of our all-too-recent history. In fact, I’ve been wondering whether aging imperial powers, like old men and women, have a tendency to discard what once had been oh-so-familiar. There’s a difference, though, when it comes to the elites of the aging empire I live in at least. They don’t just dump things relatively randomly as I seem to be doing. Instead, they conveniently obliterate all memory of their country’s — that is, their own — follies and misdeeds.
Let me give you an example. I’m thinking of President Donald Trump, or rather of a particular moment in his chaotic recent mental life. As the New Year dawned, he chaired what now passes for a “cabinet meeting.” That mainly means an event in which those present grovel before, fawn over, and outrageously praise him in front of the cameras. Otherwise, Trump, a man who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of advice or of a meeting, held a 95-minute presidential ramble through the brambles in front of a Game of Thrones-style “[Iran] Sanctions Are Coming” poster of… well, him. The media typically ate it up, even while critiquing the president’s understanding of that HBO TV series. And so it goes in the Washington of 2019.
Excuse me if I seem to be wandering off subject (another attribute of the aging mind), but…