The triumph of unwavering optimism; thoughts on The Presidents’ School: The New Way Forward by Andrew Caldwell

The Presidents' School: The New Way Forward by Andrew Caldwell

You don’t even have to suspend your disbelief: the relentless optimism of Andrew Caldwell’s political fantasy will steamroll it for you. Reading it provided me with a much-needed dose of upbeat energy, contrasting what many of us observe day in and day out: a lot of the news in today’s world is trying to push us towards hopelessness. Not here- The plethora of ideas are not just almost always greeted with enthusiasm by others in the book, but also acted upon them and implemented successfully. The can-do attitude, permeating the book’s main characters, is an interesting combination of American and Israeli spirit and culture. In the US, to be successful in business it is essentially required to have it. Coming from an Eastern European background, where work attitudes are considerably different I consider this level of enthusiasm the core of the American work culture. From what I observed and read about Israelis they are also hard to stop once they want something and get going. There, militarily and historically speaking, often their lives depend on it and they know it. As the plot develops Caldwell, recognizing, using and celebrating the similarities of these two cultures combines them into one.

I will not spoil the book and won’t share any of the political, environmental, economical, sociological, or organizational ideas the book was filled with (except one). I was impressed and excited by them, even if upon further reflection I found them unrealistic. My natural skepticism, oppositional researcher perspective, and different political stance than the author’s fought hard with the possibilities of “why not” could these ideas work. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading and arguing with the author’s observations. Take for example from the very first (numbered) page: 

[…] while the rest of the country was encouraged to retire at sixty to sixty-five years of age, Presidents and members f Congress could have their arthritic hands on the cash register and nuclear buttons late into their seventies, eighties, and even beyond […]

There is a lot in this short quote. A strong sense of anti-elitism shows up already here in the whole book. Later it proposes to reform the US and even the whole world’s political system. You could also look at this sentence as evidence of ageism, but I don’t think so. It doesn’t say that age per se is a reason one couldn’t do a job. Instead, it points out the inequality in how the political elite sees itself versus others as the age. It is all about power and the ways they design the system to keep it.

The Presidents’ School: The New Way Forward presents itself as a near-future science fiction book. Good books in this genre usually take a few observations in current society and technology, extrapolate them and create a future world where the changes brought out by these features are strengthened. Here instead we get a whole new set of political possibilities, instead of extensions of an existing one. Fantasy books, on the other hand, often have magical elements and are placed in a fictional universe. Caldwell’s book doesn’t fit this criterion either, but I would argue it is more fantasy in the word’s original sense: “activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.” The solutions for the problem he provides are fantastically unrealistic. They are novel and exciting, but I am afraid that the main one (and here is the promised spoiler) would have zero chance of success: moving the population of Israel to the desertish area of the US and making it a new state. It is a fun, and well-executed thought experiment, but so many people would have so many objections that this sword strike on the Gordion knot of the Middle East conflict stays in the realm of fantasy.

As you can see from what I wrote above the content of the book is thrilling in the domain of ideas. It touches on and critiques the two-party system of the US, higher education, military ethics, workplace romance, international trade, food and wine pairing … and dozens of other topics. It has a plot and characters and they make the book easier to read and follow, but their role is secondary compared to the ideas. This is one of the things that makes this book Jewish in my book: the strong focus on them.

The author’s value system differs from mine and it made the reading experience even better. As I was reading the novel, I kept arguing with him, or at least with his main characters. In other words, I was 100% engaged with the text, which is the best result a writer can hope for from his readers. So go ahead, read his book, see where you agree with this version of the future, and most importantly enjoy the journey. I know I did.

Disclaimer: I have received a copy of this book and a small amount from the author which did not affect my review in any way.

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Publisher’s description:

America’s first Jewish President Byron Weiss stuns the nation when he declines to run for a second term and instead promotes a new cadre of men and women to replace the old guard in Congress. The first candidates of the newly established ‘President’s School’ start churning out creative ideas for geopolitics and diplomacy, like offering the nation of Israel the chance to become the 51st state by relocating to southern New Mexico. As the West embraces the changes, longing for the possibility of an end to conflict in the Middle East, Iran, China and Russia plot to destroy any hope of peace and stability. When a U-boat marked with a swastika symbol is spotted followed by displays of aggression, the members of the President’s School are called to action before a dreadful time in history repeats itself. An action-packed thriller, The Presidents School exposes the failures of America’s current political system, experiments with the established formula, and presents some novel ideas for the future of American politics and international relations.

Year first published: 2022

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