Signs of Hope in a Distressing Age
“I can’t believe we blew this.” Marco Rubio had just spoken to a group of pastors and other faith leaders. In his speech, he seemed to perfectly diagnose the problems of our times — including the lack of prioritization of the family, hostility toward religion and an appreciation of the dignity of work. But the pining in the room for an alternative to Donald Trump may have missed one thing: This fracture in our politics won’t be saved by any one man or woman.
Yuval Levin begins his new book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, with a quote from a Frenchman, Alexis De Tocqueville, in his Democracy in America. De Tocqueville saw the best of America, but also saw problems. “Placed in the middle of a rapid river, we obstinately fix our eyes on some debris we still perceive on the bank, while the current carries us away and takes us backward toward the abyss.”
If you’re seeing the abyss on the horizon, Yuval starts with a bit of a pep talk. He writes: “Life in America is always getting better and worse at the same time. Progress comes at a cost, even if it is often worth that cost. Misery beckons relief, so that our virtues often turn up where our vices have been. Decay and decadence almost always trail behind success, while renewal chases ruin. And in a vast society like ours, all of this is always happening at once. That means there are no simple stories to tell about the state of our country, and that upbeat and downcast social analyses are often just partial descriptions of one complex whole.”
So the politics of “elect me and everything will be different” is so simplistic and unrealistic as to be comic. Levin writes: “Each (political party) wants desperately to recover its lost ideal, believes the bulk of the country does, too, and is endlessly frustrated by the political resistance that holds it back. The broader public, meanwhile, finds in the resulting political debates little evidence of real engagement with contemporary problems and few attractive solutions. In the absence of relief from their own resulting frustration, a growing number of voters opt for leaders who simply embody or articulate that frustration.”
Levin points to the “promise” of our time consisting of “diversity and choice,” while the related danger is of “polarization and division.”
“Most of our political leaders, on the left and the right alike … find themselves hard pressed to understand the polarization of our politics, even as they must play by the rules it has created. And they find it very difficult to grasp the diffusion transforming other facets of our society,” Levin writes.
Rubio, while keeping people guessing about his political future, points out that his most important role in life is as husband and father. No government bureaucracy will ever provide love like a neighbor or parent. Our country’s renewal lies not in a president who gets things right, but in people who serve and lead in the most fundamental of ways, in their homes and in their communities.
As De Tocqueville put it: “To instruct democracy, if possible to reanimate its beliefs, to purify its mores, to moderate its movements, to substitute little by little an understanding of affairs for its inexperience, and knowledge of its true interests for its blind instincts; to adapt its government to time and place; to modify it according to circumstances and men — such is the first duty imposed on those who would guide society in our day.”
There are common values many of us share. If we start looking around and asking people what they want and need, we may just find that America has great leaders and stewards, and that it is in supporting them that we will find our renewal.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at [email protected].
COPYRIGHT 2016 United Feature Syndicate