For anyone with more than two or three decades of adult life on the clock, the past 20 years may have left little more than a smudge. Try to find anything like the cultural and political signifiers of the 1960s, the guts and gore of the 1970s and 1980s — even the grungy din of the 1990s — and you’ll be left short.

Combing through the matted debris of a financial crisis, an embattled Barack Obama, feeble Toryism and the septic sore left by Jacob Zuma, we baby boomers may think the most potent symbol of the millennium has been Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s reign celebrates a dim anti-intellectualism shared by Donald Trump, Julius Malema and all the others too grim to mention.

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