Pete Buttigieg has written another book, his second political memoir in as many years, because of course he has. Trust: America's Best Chance is "not an election book," he writes, "but I believed it was important to share these thoughts ahead of the November 2020 elections."
Buttigieg, 38, remains determined as ever to become the next Barack Obama, the serial memoirist turned savior of the Democratic Party. And if there's one thing the two men have in common, it's a shared belief in the importance of their own thoughts. That, and a devoted following among wealthy whites in "boat shoe" strongholds like Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. (Alas, Buttigieg's support among black voters rarely rose to a level of statistical significance.)
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It's an unusual choice for the hyper-ambitious wunderkind, unlikely to improve Buttigieg's odds when he inevitably challenges Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) in the next Democratic primary, whenever that may be. Obama was conspicuously absent from the 2020 primary. Even his former vice president, Joe Biden, who won the nomination after Obama urged him not to run, seems ready to move on, vowing to improve Obamacare by rebranding it, "Bidencare."
The thoughts expressed in Trust—the ones the author believed just had to be shared before Election Day—are not particularly fresh or insightful. Most of his policy prescriptions are repackaged platitudes from the 2008 Democratic platform: Get money out of politics. Make "civilian service" a "national norm." Make sure rich people and corporations are taxed "fairly" so that government can "invest boldly." This "decisive moment" requires a "wartime" mobilization to address challenges that aren't just "daunting," but "ferociously daunting."
Buttigieg does have one somewhat-controversial idea that seems to be gaining steam on the left: a truth and reconciliation commission, which "might very well be the best way for America to fully confront its past" and could even "offer the basis for a kind of shared moral understanding." Bless his heart.
Buttigieg's central argument in the book—that America suffers from a deficit of trust—isn't wrong. His suggestions for fixing the problem, on the other hand, are as indecipherable as neoliberal Mad Libs. The author warns at the outset: This moment in American history is "so pivotal, so decisive, that it is nearly impossible to describe without falling into some kind of cliché." Apparently so.
The solution to our problems, Buttigieg argues, is to "develop a readiness to better trust one another while our country advances toward a broader and more inclusive definition of who can belong in the trusted community of Americans participating in a common project." Simple enough.
As for racism, the "most pernicious form of distrust," Buttigieg submits that "real change … requires the work of examining introspectively as well as collectively how every white person makes choices shaped by being white, in a society where whiteness is the default." Slap that on a bumper sticker.
No adjective is spared in the process of making his case. Trust is "a vital, unseen, powerful, and needed resource" that has been "squandered, sacrificed, abused, [and] stolen." Most troubling of all, he argues, is the American public's lack of faith in "the credibility of expertise itself," especially when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
Yet Buttigieg is unwilling to assign much blame to the experts themselves. For example, he laments the demise of Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose March 2020 assessment that "there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask" was in line with what other medical experts were saying. The "scientific consensus" on whether large protests were dangerous changed depending on what was being protested. Even Buttigieg's own claim that "other countries fared far better" in handling the COVID-19 crisis—because they trusted the experts—doesn't really hold up.
No matter. The media, whom we must also trust to reliably report on what the experts are saying, will continue to have a soft spot for Buttigieg—another thing he has in common with Obama. He cites all the right sources: James Baldwin, Ezra Klein, the "feminist writer Jessica Valenti." He devotes several paragraphs to nerd-splaining Ronald Reagan's Cold War quip—"Trust, but verify"—which "rhymes in the original Russian," by the way. He went to Harvard and Oxford, in case you didn't know.
"In April, while the average stir-crazy citizen was binge-watching ‘Tiger King,' Pete Buttigieg took a different tack: He started writing a book … [which became] a best seller." So reads the New York Times's take on Buttigieg's "kamikaze literary endeavor," which reportedly involved converting a guest room into a study and waking up early to write. Like they said, he's "different." Whereas the "average" citizen might have lacked the insight to hire two separate Los Angeles-based talent agencies, Buttigieg went the extra mile.
If you've been too busy dealing with the global pandemic to pick up a copy of Trust, don't worry. The third Buttigieg memoir will be here before you know it. White Obama is in this for the long haul. Trust the process.