Rick Perlstein is quitting X/Twitter and I don’t care. People on the left leave X/Twitter every day, and the good reasons are difficult to count. In Rick’s case, it has something to do with his own disappointment in himself, so at least it’s more interesting than just one more iteration of lefties realizing that Elon Musk has gamed the platform against them. Specifically, he’s frustrated that he resorted to histrionics to defend the choice of Joe Biden over Donald Trump with respect to their comparative handling of the crisis in the Gaza Strip. Perlstein said that Trump would encourage the use of nuclear weapons and Netanyahu might take him up on it, leading to potential armageddon and human extinction. He says he didn’t actually believe this argument and is shame-faced about making it.

Of course, he ends the article by quoting Garrett Graff, the author of a new book on the possibility of life on other planets, and it’s clear Perlstein is still thinking in apocalyptic terms.

The scientists who work on SETI—the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence—have this thing called the “Drake Equation.” It’s an equation that is supposed to predict the number of intelligent civilizations out there, and how many there are at any given time. The main variable scientists call “L,” which stands for the length of time an advanced civilization lasts. To me, the challenge is, L could turn out to be, based on where humanity is heading, a pretty short number. And when you look around our world right now … there’s no guarantee that human civilization is around for that much longer … So to me, when I look at Donald Trump’s possible return to power, what I’m thinking about right now is what it does to the L of American democracy and human civilization and how it could, and almost certainly would, accelerate the unwinding of modern American life.

It doesn’t look like we have more than a century more as an advanced civilization and even the near-term habitability of the planet should be in question, and that’s true whether or not Trump wins, although I agree that he presents a massive risk of a quick negative resolution of those questions. This isn’t hyperbole, it’s just an honest look at how humans are currently behaving. We’re destroying ourselves and our environment, and we appear headed in the absolute wrong direction to head off the worst outcomes. As for nuclear war, it’s as likely to begin in Ukraine, the subcontinent, the Korean Peninsula or the Taiwan Straits as it is in the Middle East or Iran.

We need international cooperation and collaborative conflict resolution and climate action, and the ascendant global right is hellbent on reviving colonial era nationalism and 20th Century fossil fuel usage. So it goes.

The left is the intended audience for Perlstein’s piece because he senses that a divided left will doom us to a second term of Trump. He’s not wrong about that, and he’s despondent that Biden’s complicity in the evisceration of Gaza is causing many of the left to lose the script of what is at stake in the upcoming election. I think he does a great job of describing the true choice by developing his theory of the “authoritarian ratchet,” which is apparently a major theme in Perlstein’s next book.

The basic formulation is valuable. The conservative movement operates with an impossible mandate of returning to the past. Since this is unachievable by definition, the movement can never be satisfied even when it wins. These failures are rationalized as the result of insufficient conservatism, and blamed on an ever-changing list of political enemies: women suffragists, the labor movement, New Deal safety nets, communists, terrorists, the Woke Mob, etc. Things get more desperate, intolerant and authoritarian with every turn of the ratchet, and the cycle actually advances towards Doomsday.

With a second term of Trump looming, we’ve reached a critical stage, at least for America’s political system and stability. Seen in this light, even a myopic inability to distinguish between Trump and Biden on Gaza actually strengthens the case for Biden. If Trump won’t be an improvement, then the choice is easy: preserve our way of life, our rule of law, our representative system.

Perlstein’s despondent that he’s not more convincing on this point, and it makes him question what he’s done with his life. I feel the same way. He’s written an important piece that should be widely shared, but he shouldn’t be so hard on himself. When all is said and done, he spent his life trying to prevent the worst. That’s what I tell myself, and it’s adequate consolation for any disappointment or despair I might feel.

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