I think Ben misses the point of Charlie Sykes’s piece on exhaustion, and especially Jeff’s thought that exhaustion ought to be studied alongside other political phenomena. The Sykes essay recognizes Ben’s point that in many ways there’s been “too much politics.” As Sykes notes: “The world is too much with us, of course, but the real problem it is that it so dumb, so infused with mind-numbing bad faith, and a grinding sense of futility that anything will matter or change.”
We’re exhausted by the persistent assaults on the public mind by the likes of the Big Lie. We’re exhausted by Republicans gaslighting January 6. These issues are not about symbolic politics, but about the preconditions of constitutional democracy. Turning to local politics is unlikely to restore our hope, especially as local politics have become infused by many of these same qualities. It’s surprising that Ben points to curricular debates about local schools as a point of hope. While there is much that is worthwhile to debate about curriculum at local schools, much of this debate, especially around issues of race, has been pervaded by the very sort of bad faith that depletes the spirit (see Laura Field’s essay on this blog).
The crucial question, which I believe is what Jeff was getting at, is how exhaustion can eat away at constitutional democracy and enable the rise of authoritarian politics. Tocquevillian platitudes about local politics are of little help in our present circumstances.