Can Americans get past the past?

Trump isn’t the only one who says things used to be better.

In this worrisome and wearisome election year, Yuval Levin offers a gracefully written, big-picture analysis of American society and politics. Levin, editor of National Affairs and a conservative of the David Brooks type, challenges both Democrats and Re­publicans, whom he views as snared in nostalgia for bygone (and not to be recovered) eras.

Progressives long for the post–World War II era of relative income equality, powerful national institutions, and a highly regulated economy. Conservatives yearn for the cultural conformity of the immediate postwar years and look to the 1980s as the political and economic model. “Our polarized parties are now exceptionally backward-looking,” writes Levin. “They are offering the public a choice of competing nostalgias, neither of which is well-suited to contending with contemporary American challenges.”

Levin’s essay is a work of political philosophy, but there is an implicit theological and moral critique in his analysis. Nostalgia-driven parties and the nation they would lead face the future with more fear than hope, more despair than faith. Levin implicates the Boomer generation, whose “self-image casts a giant shadow over our politics, and . . . means we are inclined to look backward to find our prime.” (Both presidential candidates, one might note, are Boomers.)