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Another Sasse Treatise on What Ails Us

The cover of the new book by Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is a trompe l’oeil rendering of a piece of paper that’s been torn down the middle, and on either side of this fault line, the words don’t quite match up. The idea seems to be to illustrate visually the book’s title, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. And in case you didn’t get the message, the identical faux fissure symbolizing a cultural divide appears on the verso page facing every chapter heading, accompanied by a quotation from Aristotle, the Bible, Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, ancient Greek and African folk wisdom, and other sources that frequently make uplifting appearances in policy books.

Some readers will find this graphic trope cute, others will find it gimmicky and irritating; but it does drive home Sasse’s overarching theme: the “partisan tribalism” of America’s bitterly divided political Left and Right. “We’re all reduced to shrieking at each other,” he writes in the first chapter. “Good versus evil politics” is “the problem that’s ripping us apart.”

Three years into his time as the junior senator from the Cornhusker State (preceded by a stint in the George W. Bush administration and a successful four-year stretch as president of a small Nebraska college), the 46-year-old Sasse has developed a reputation for being ripped apart himself—mostly by his party’s nomination of the bumptious Donald J. Trump and by the subsequent decision of voters, including those of Sasse’s own state, to send Trump to the White House. Highlights of Sasse’s regularly expressed Trump-centric moral angst have included his Facebook manifesto in early 2016 announcing to his constituents that Trump’s focus on “tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation” wasn’t to his taste; his declaration, as the election neared, that he would be voting for some third candidate, not his party’s nominee; and his admission in September that nearly “every morning” when he wakes up, he thinks about leaving the Republican Party altogether.

Conscience of a Cornhusker

Some of Sasse’s hostility to Trump stems from policy differences—especially on trade, where the senator seems to be an open-markets absolutist, Chinese mercantilism and technology piracy be damned. But it is Trump himself who primes the needle on Sasse’s delicately calibrated sense of virtuous nuance. In a seemingly endless succession of media interviews he has denounced the President as “creepy,” a “megalomaniac strongman,” and lacking in “core principles.”

Sasse put his exquisitely agonized soul on its most vivid display this fall during the protracted hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh and Sasse are in fact near-clones, sharing boyish, blue-eyed good looks, fervent Christian faith (Catholicism for Kavanaugh, evangelical Protestantism for Sasse), youthful athletic prowess (basketball for Kavanaugh, football and wrestling for Sasse), Ivy League educations (Yale and Yale Law School for Kavanaugh, Harvard and a Yale Ph.D. in history for Sasse), Bush administration resumés, and a wholesome family life (Kavanaugh has two young daughters; Sasse, two daughters and a son). But Sasse, sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, couldn’t bring himself to utter any public statement of support for the embattled jurist whose hearings consisted largely of attacks by Democrats who, worried that Kavanaugh might vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, aired uncorroborated and even outlandish allegations of supposed sexual misconduct on his part as a teenager and college student.

Instead Sasse bemoaned the fact that Trump hadn’t chosen a woman for the Supreme Court, and wept during a floor speech in which he declared his support for the #MeToo movement. He castigated Trump for making fun of Christine Blasey Ford, the most prominent of the self-described Kavanaugh victims, who disappeared right back into the woodwork after an FBI investigation revealed that none of the witnesses she named to her alleged assault by Kavanaugh at a high school party could back her up. Then, at the very last minute, Sasse announced that he would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, after all—although not without some sententious words about the “broken and politicized” confirmation process and his belief that “most Americans are yearning for more than tribal blood feuds.”

Them was already at the presses by the time of the Kavanaugh hearings, and there is no mention of the jurist in this book. But its theme is of a piece with Sasse’s stance at the time that the problem wasn’t, say, the Democratic Party’s having moved way to the Left and its being hell-bent on, among other things, assassinating the character of a blameless man in the name of abortion rights. No, Sasse shook his finger at a bipartisan fanaticism of which conservatives (or at least conservatives who aren’t as devoted to “core conservative principles” as Sasse believes himself to be—see page 120) are just as guilty as liberals.

Everybody’s doing it. “There’s something comforting,” he writes, “in joining people of a similar mind-set (‘we’) to denounce ‘them.’”

The Sasse Theory of Loneliness

In line with this studiously even-handed psychologizing of the current American political rift, Sasse assigns the root cause of the problem to a psychological factor: loneliness. His theory is that, what with the current technological disruption that is rendering many jobs obsolete, the breakdown of the family thanks to widespread divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing, and the loosening of traditional ties to churches and local civic organizations such as Rotary Clubs, Americans have lost their sense of rootedness and thus of a shared identity that might transcend their political differences.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Sasse, as he himself admits, draws heavily from other people’s books: in this case Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (2000), pointing to a decline of “social capital” owing to a decay in local civic participation, with some nods to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart (2012), describing the stratification of white Americans into a highly educated, high-IQ, high-achieving, and politically liberal elite, and a New Lower Class characterized by minimal cognitive skills, poor work ethic, and low levels of religiosity and family commitment that condemn them to seemingly permanent loser status.

Thus, Sasse opines, these two groups of Americans, each equally alienated from the genuine tribal affiliations generated by place and local culture that constitute “real belonging”—“healthy tribes,” in Sasse’s lingo—join up with “anti-tribes” facilitated by access to an artificial electronic world of television, talk radio, and Internet and characterized by political extremism on both sides.

He condemns the leftwing bias of the mainstream media, make no mistake. Yet he seems far more energized when excoriating the “balm of contempt” with which the “lonely souls” of the Right soothe themselves when they turn to their television screens and social media accounts. Although Trump and his caustic tweets come in for expected castigation, Sasse’s real target seems to be radio and television host Sean Hannity. The Fox News personality takes up at least 10 pages of this book (with a side lob at Rush Limbaugh), and is described as “tell[ing] a lot of angry, isolated people what they want to hear.” Hannity’s “core cause is to rage” rather than to “offer coherent arguments against liberalism,” says Sasse. (Hannity has responded in kind, ridiculing the senator as “Mr. Civility” and telling reporters that he had been “totally conned” into supporting Sasse, then a friend, in the latter’s 2014 senatorial campaign.)

Them moves on to a “to-do list” of Jordan Peterson-style rules for those of us who might wish to recover our lost sense of belonging. They range from the bromidic to the highly specific. For bromides, we get a chapter called “Become Americans Again” that includes a seven-line quotation from We Shall Overcome, a scolding for conservatives who aren’t wild about uncontrolled immigration, and the declaration that, “What binds us together as Americans is our unwavering conviction that in spite of all our differences . . . we share a belief in freedom for all.” The specifics are offered in the chapters entitled “Set Tech Limits” (turn off your smartphones, quit obsessing over politics, and make time over dinner for family conversations) and “Buy a Cemetery Plot” (shorthand for developing an attachment to a particular place so strong that you want to be buried there).

Guide for the Smarter Nomad

There follows a chapter entitled, “Be a Smarter Nomad.” Since Sasse is opposed on principle to Trump’s trade policy-linked efforts to return industrial jobs to America, he casts his lot with the gig economy, envisioning a future in which most Americans will be “freelancers” cobbling livings together out of whatever will pay them some dollars, undergoing periodic “retraining,” and moving incessantly to wherever the gigs might be. Here, Sasse’s Virgil is Michael C. Munger, a Duke University economist whose new book, Tomorrow 3.0, envisions a nation of Americans who will own practically nothing (probably because they can’t afford to) and live short-term in tiny-house dwellings equipped with security-coded “Internet of Things” pods that will enable the instant rental and delivery of whatever they need.

This wanderlust vision of the future doesn’t accord well with “Buy a Cemetery Plot”—or with “Set Tech Limits,” for that matter. But Sasse is confident that if we try hard enough, we will “be able to build new institutions of community that can bond increasingly mobile people together.” In the bipartisan name of so doing, he throws some nice words in the direction of former President Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and makes sure to mention that in the Senate he sits at the desk once used by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic moderate who, Sasse says, “grasped that legislating requires . . . a common understanding of what challenges we face.”

Whom doesn’t he flatter? Well, one notices scant praise for—even some griping about—his own constituents back in Nebraska. He mentions the mail his Senate office received in 2016, in which religious Nebraskans asked why he planned to throw his vote effectively to Hillary Clinton, whose Supreme Court nominees would likely have permanently ensconced Roe vs. Wade in American jurisprudence. Given that their own votes went 58 percent in favor of Trump, it could be they won’t relish being characterized as ill-educated, low-IQ, “lonely,” and “angry” social isolates. (Why didn’t Sasse just go all the way and call them “deplorables”?)

The Culture War Is Real

But the worst flaw of Them is its author’s blithe insistence that the Left-Right chasm these days is simply a matter of free-floating anxiety generated by economic disruption and click-seeking media. He seems not to realize that the culture war is quite real—and also, although he tries to paper this over—quite one-sided. The “partisan tribalism” of which he accuses Trump-supporting voters is actually more like an effort to push back, or at least to hold the line, against a managerial and cultural elite with an aggressive agenda: to obliterate the very same locally and religiously grounded values that Sasse claims to champion.

The senator and his wife homeschool their children, so perhaps he is unaware of the helpless outrage that many parents felt when the Obama administration issued rules requiring their daughters to share public school bathrooms with biological males. (Trump rescinded those directives soon after taking office.) Sasse doesn’t seem to understand that today’s Democratic Party has little patience with Moynihan-style moderation, or that such once-radical positions as open borders, gun-confiscation, socialized medicine (“Medicare for all”), draconian limits on energy consumption, and forced support for abortion and same-sex marriage are now pretty much mainstream among Democrats. Does Sasse really think that today’s socialist-leaning millennials, half of whom favor restricting First Amendment rights in the name of curbing “hate speech,” share a “belief in freedom for all”? Does he think Chuck Schumer cares one whit about “a common understanding of the challenges we face”?

The unfortunate thing is that Them does pinpoint some things that have indeed gone fearfully wrong in recent years: the deterioration of family life and the devolution of American politics into trench warfare. But they’re problems that can’t be even adequately analyzed, let alone solved, by anodyne declarations that we need more of the “tight bonds that give our lives meaning,” uttered by someone who has decided he is too above the fray for the profession—politics—to which he was elected by desperate constituents.

Reader Discussion

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on December 17, 2018 at 06:54:30 am

Sasse's appeal is a lot like that of Beto O'Rourke. They both try to act like they are above politics and they want us to think they are far above the fray. They have greater wisdom than the masses. Sasse used some of his time during the Kavanaugh hearings to give us a lecture on the three branches of government--very professorial. It did nothing to address the issue of that moment.

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Paul Bohlig
on December 17, 2018 at 08:29:06 am

I had the fortune to grow up less than 1/2 a mile from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, NE and can tell you that his Harvard and Yale self-righteousness has very little in common with Nebraska or Fremont values.

This is a blue collar ag town that's seen it's share of stagnant growth over the years, in spite of highbrow academics changing the name of Midland Lutheran College into Midland University, with the same 800 students on a relatively small campus in the middle of a relatively small town in the corner of a relatively small state. Operative word being 'small' which is a good descriptor of Sasse's sass he's showing his fellow colleagues in the US Senate.

He gives zero thought to the fact that the 2009 ACA vote by Harry Reid that cast off 70 moderate Democrats has caused this huge chasm in our body politic. He can wax poetic about how we all ought to just get along as if we're living in a Unicameral, but that chasm created by Democrats with that fateful vote should be the lead paragraph of any speech Sasse makes about today's divisions; reminding his peers and the public that overreaching is the most dangerous thing in politics and Democrats need to atone for this original sin.

Unless and until that atonement happens, and as long as MSNBC, CNN, NYT and WaPo continue to insist their mission is one of conjecture and ridicule vs. objective journalism, we're all going to have to accept that the redistribution of political ideologies evenly across the political spectrum is going to take a full generation to occur.

There isn't a speech in the world that Ben Sasse can give, nor a book in the world that Ben Sasse can author that will close this divide until Democrats acknowledge their complicity in having created this chasm and accept the results of the 2016 election.

The fact the Clinton and DNC machine knew they were rigging the 2016 election (with the killing of MidYear Exam and the propagation of Operation Crossfire) with their contracting outside hitmen (Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele; brokered by Perkins Coie) and then screaming at Trump that for him to not accept the result of the 2016 election was UnAmerican, UnPatriotic, and Sinful.....is in itself, sinful.

An apology is owed the American people for putting this nation through this horrendous 2 year stretch, as well as for nominating the most corrupt woman ever to seek office in the United States.

Trump isn't the problem. The intransigent Democrat Party is the problem. Republicans have taken hostile fire and we're firing back. Stop blaming the victim.

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Greg Roman
on December 17, 2018 at 09:43:55 am

Charlotte Allen is spot on. Bravo!

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Mark Pulliam
on December 17, 2018 at 10:39:40 am

"Original sin" "atonement" are emotive terms and certainly can be era/epoch/situational specific. Still, your reply engenders reflection - though I would caution that the Republican Party you implicitly contrast is not your father's party. Equally, if apologies are owed, then they are owed by the many of us who take politics seriously but understand it (and practice it) inadequately. No, Trump, specifically, is not the problem and collateral "victims" now inherently tend to both self- identify and multiply.

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Anthony
on December 17, 2018 at 10:49:12 am

Sasse is following a clinical trial to place himself squarely In the middle of the road he thinks runs directly to the White House.; much like Presidents Rubio, Jeb & many others have done. Too bad for him/them two other Bush’s have pulled the curtain away from the myth of effective Republican moderation.

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Robert
on December 17, 2018 at 11:05:01 am

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed in this article. Like Hannity, I, too was suckered into supporting Sasse when he ran in 2014 and before his pompous self-righteousness became so apparent. He is now one of the critical handful of "Republican" votes we can't count on when the chips are down and who therefore make the existential push back Trump is leading, like it or not, against a unified Democratic party that is hell bent on forcing the unwanted transformation Barack Obama announced in his first inaugural address on a dwindling majority who oppose it, that much more difficult.

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robert holland
on December 17, 2018 at 11:06:20 am

According to Ben Sasse, the people who believe in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the people who believe in the Communist Manifesto, are equally to blame.

He should deliver this message at an Antifa gathering, then report back.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 17, 2018 at 11:09:11 am

Frankly, I find Sasse's suggestions to be anything BUT anodyne. The obtuseness of his analysis, his refusal to recognize from whence the hostility and partisanship came, his posturing as the moral superior of others, to include his own constituents, is not in the least bit "soothing". In fact, it pisses me off.

Newsflash Sen. Sasse:
Civility is not assessed based upon the number of cheeks you have, and are willing to turn.

Apparently, our Esteemed Senator from the Great State of Nebraska seeks acclamation for his *growth* while in office.
Senator, kindly restrict such requests for applause to the Wash Post, NYT and MSNBC and not to the deplorables you disdain.

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gabe
on December 17, 2018 at 11:45:40 am

Ben Sasse is a dolt, sorry. For all his credentials, he is just unwilling or incapable (or both) to understand (as Ms. Allen points out so poignantly) that the culture war is for real. Ben Sasse does not understand what it is to be subject to a Title IX investigation based on a lie, he does not care about the direction of the Supreme Court, he lives in La-La Land, as if he were above the fray of everything.
No Ben, the culture war is real. The "Left-Right" divide is much more than trade policies - it is about moral values, human dignity, respect for Christian beliefs. There are very deep issues that divide us, and you Ben, are completely aloof.
You are a disappointment Ben. With your credentials and supposed intelligence, you should know better.
One more thing Ben: you know why Trump was elected (at least in part)? Because he fights, he fights hard, and he fights back. Not like you Ben, you sit on your high chair and pontificate to the rest of us.

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Alex
on December 17, 2018 at 14:11:26 pm

Sasse is nothing like the Nebraskans I know, his midwestern ideals having been compromised by too much time spent in the cesspools of elite academia.

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Dave Hunter
on December 17, 2018 at 14:17:56 pm

Good observation from Gabe... Sasse' pretense at neutrality and moral posturing drips with contempt for those of us who defend liberty.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 17, 2018 at 15:58:34 pm

[…] My latest for Law and Liberty: […]

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Image of Me for Law & Liberty: Ben Sasse’s big book of shopworn platitudes | Stupid Girl
Me for Law & Liberty: Ben Sasse’s big book of shopworn platitudes | Stupid Girl
on December 17, 2018 at 16:18:44 pm

Not impressed by Ben Sasse. Easy for him to say. However, Trump isn't the problem. The problem is politicians who have failed to see the struggles of every day Americans. Free trade with China. What free trade?

Trump aggressiveness toward the media is a reflection of how bias they are and will go to any lengths to destroy him or any Republican they disagree with.

Tribalism. Boloney! Its ideology. Democrats care little of the Constitution or the average American. It's about power and control.

Be damn, if I was going to cast a vote for HRC, because Trump is abrasive or unorthodox.

I was interest in fundamental policies to help America. I saw none with HRC.

Sasse it is about self-interest and where I saw the direction of America. My self-interests are not served by ANY Democrat.

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George T
on December 17, 2018 at 16:36:06 pm

That is an interesting point remembering Sasse at the Kavanaugh hearings. Ultimately it was Lindsey Graham who did the right thing in that committee room- when he read the Democrats the riot act

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CJ Wolfe
on December 17, 2018 at 17:06:02 pm

Sasse is yet another superior intellect who thinks he is the exception to the reality where the press hates all Republicans. He thinks they will assist him as he strolls down the middle of the road to the doors of the White House.

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Crazy Robert
on December 17, 2018 at 17:18:22 pm

He closely resembles in political attitude if not in financial acumen one Nebraskan we all know, Warren Buffet.

Reading the comments, I'd say the nays have it on Gentle Ben.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on December 17, 2018 at 17:28:57 pm

I think Sasse is correct about PART of the problem- our loneliness. It's a permanent aspect of the human condition to feel lonely, and I think philosophers such as Pascal and Tocqueville and Peter Lawler are correct that modern life accentuates that anxiety.

The other part of the problem , which I think he should talk about more than loneliness, is INDIVIDUALISM. Individualism in our morality is what makes loneliness so much worse. Here's the politically important thing: individualism isn't truly a disease of conservatives- it's a problem for the the cultural left. Yes, the libertarians espouse their own form of individualism; but that's why we say they are "liberal" on social issues.

Perhaps the reason Sasse's political prudence is coming up short, as Charlotte Allen claims, is that he's confusing the effect (loneliness) for the cause (moral individualism). Being forthright against the cause (i.e. the moral craziness of the left) may seem to add to our current unhappiness, but it's the right thing to do.

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CJ Wolfe
on December 17, 2018 at 17:33:15 pm

Sasse misses the fraying of middle-class life over the past twenty years, and the consequent Rural vs Urban ruling class class conflict (so ably analyzed by Angello Codevilla from 2010 on), that's dominated politics ever since the rise of the Tea Party agenda whose programme was vividly summed up in Elizabeth Price-Foley's "Tea Party: Three Principles.f"

Sasse' bitter obtuseness ensures that only a cleansing Civil War can save any semblance of the Great Republic, because fractures on the Right guarantee failure of Trump to drain the Swamp and make any lasting progress on restoring border sovereignty or the Rule of Law and Constitutional government.

It's enormously sad when serious intellect cannot see and support the necessity for Great and muscular Leadership during perilous times like the one we find ourselves in. Instead, Sasse fights the last war with Bill Clinton's 1990s like a Man Out Of Time.

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Orson
on December 17, 2018 at 17:37:30 pm

Well said, Greg Roman.

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Orson
on December 17, 2018 at 17:40:23 pm

Well said, CJ!

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gabe
on December 17, 2018 at 19:33:47 pm

So Senator Sasse thinks he will stand around being fabulous while the other guys fight over policy?

Got it.

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joe
on December 17, 2018 at 19:49:18 pm

Another way to put it, the way Tocqueville would put it I think, is to say Sasse is focusing on the ‘habit of the heart’ but is ignoring the the false ‘habits of the mind’ out there. That’s probably the technical way to make the cause/effect point I was trying to express

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Cj wolfe
on December 17, 2018 at 19:50:40 pm

Great review/commentary on a book I'll not be reading

The author has it right when she says that Sasse seems unaware of the culture war taking place. HRC had it right when she said "We cant be civil with those who want to destroy us", though she has the aggressor and victim reversed, as though looking in a mirror

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Geoff
on December 17, 2018 at 20:26:04 pm

CJ, it's quite confused to blame individualism. First, the left is collectivist and explicitly anti-individualist. It subjugates the rights of the individual to the alleged interests of classes, peoples, communities, etc. Marxism, Progressivism, Nazism and Fascism, the post-modernist New Left all do this. Second, libertarians who believe moral issues are none of the state's business aren't doing so because of some sort of "moral individualism," it's rather because they understand the proper limits of force and state power. Sin is not crime. Both are bad behavior, but only one deserves to be met with force. I presume you agree, CJ, since you don't appear to be someone who believes in religious conversions at the point of a sword.

For an example of how anti-individual today's post-modern left is, consider the "Buen Vivir" philosophy. It's a dreadful amalgam of postmodernist philosophy and (alleged) Ecuadoran tribal values. The latest IPCC climate report touts as an example we should consider adopting for the transformation of society called for in the report. Bizarre but true...look up both "Buen Vivir" and Chapter 5 of SR15.

It's a red herring to equate individualism with isolation from others. I'd be happy to give anyone interested cites for that as well, if they contact me.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 17, 2018 at 23:14:50 pm

So glad to read this! Now I know I am not alone. Gee, one elects a “Senator” and the next thing they know they elected a lecturing school marm out of touch with the bullies in the school yard, it’s ridiculous. Before I quit twitter, which was only to to replace my RSS feed, I followed Sasse along with other pols to get a feel for their dealing with Trump. Sasse was insufferable! The man is a Puritanesque twit. And he did nothing but virtue signal and hawk his book!

Do Senators not have enough to actually do? I am wondering if it is normal for the “little people” like me to look to Senators and Presidents for advice on living out their personal lives. Did I not get that memo? I thought they were public servants. Not role models or psychologists. Sheesh!

Please Nebraska, spare us this man!

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Lydia
on December 17, 2018 at 23:26:24 pm

Individualism is just about dead thanks to collectivism taught k-college. . I think you are conflating it with selfishness and immorality which is a non sequiter. Individualism is self rule, self governing. That is not selfish but imperative to our success as a nation. Our Constitution was written with self governing in mind.

You have it backwards. The left is not individualistic. It is more mob/political identity group thinking/acting. Individualism means taking responsibility for ourselves, making our way and caring for those we are “ directly” responsible for. Groups don’t do that without controlling you.

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Lydia
on December 17, 2018 at 23:30:05 pm

TRUE, Charles, true.

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Orson
on December 17, 2018 at 23:30:25 pm

Thank you. Pontificate is the word I was looking for! Fits Sasse to a T!

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Lydia
on December 17, 2018 at 23:32:51 pm

...And, Lydia - it's said for all of us that you need to point these Sass-ey mis-postures out. Thanks for doing so.

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Orson
on December 17, 2018 at 23:47:12 pm

I do not see any reference to the polarizing issue of race as a motivating element to our country's problems. The "Left-Right" is no more important to understand our country's divisions today than is the "Black- White" divide, a divide that unlike political issues is impossible to resolve.

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Martin Kessler
on December 18, 2018 at 08:19:34 am

I'm late to Gentle Ben's campfire, but I'll offer an opinion about Sasse's two Sunday School Lessons/Civics Lectures- cum- books that the Senator would, no doubt, find harshly partisan and incited by tribalism: that his two books tell us what we already know when they stress the value of hard work in building character and the social, political and psychological importance of community. We are, after all, social beings built to use our minds and bodies in purposeful labor that is both personally rewarding and socially constructive. The importance of hard work early and often, especially in our formative years, and the innate longing of man for community and the myriad ways of suffering when our community is lost are mere truisms.

I already know all that Sasse would condescend to tell me. Tell me something, Ben, that I don't already know and don't lecture me. Everybody already knows all that stuff you said as you scolded them for not knowing what they knew. Who does not know those things? Who really needs to be lectured by a mere politician about such things? Why would anybody pay to publish or pay to read such lackadaisical statements of the obvious?

It would seem that Senator Sasse , leveraging the marketability of Dr. Sasse, is merely doing what so many others do among the preternatural lecturers who predominate in Washington's ruling class; he's doing what political elites love to do, what they take undeserved pride in doing and what, surely, they do best; he's doing what those who abjure day jobs and choose not to work for a living do for a living, which is to become politicians, fancy themselves leaders and then tell the rest of us what we're doing wrong and what we must do to fix what we're doing wrong. All the while they who would be kings bask in the praise and privilege and rake in the profits of their political power and open access to commercial power that accompany their un-jobs, their Ivy League degrees and their membership in the world's most exclusive club. Part of their profit comes from their privilege of selling tens of thousands of books which advertise their power and which defraud hapless purchasers who shell out a steep price for what is without substance and of no real value but which allows the leaders' followers (and those who read such books are born to follow) to wallow in the anodyne, the trite, the bland and the clichés of faux literature.

And, I suggest that is who "Them" really is. Senator Sasse's "Them" are those who write such silly, self-inflated, shallow, unfortunate books as Sasse has written, as John McCain and Jeff Flake wrote, as Hillary and Bill and Barack and Michelle have written myriad times using the same formulae (man, the money's really good, the work's really easy and it's all done by staff,) as all the Bushes wrote, as Colin Powell and John Kerry wrote, as Elizabeth Warren has written ad nauseam, as Joe Biden wrote and as Bernie Sanders wrote repeatedly, indeed, as most of America's ruling political class eventually write (and often speak, for fat fees,) because, for half a century, America's clueless ruling class, like France's clueless Bourbons for three centuries, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing yet lives totally, breathes deeply and thrives vigorously in the anodyne, the trite and the trivial and has done so for so long that their lives have become the very clichés they write and speak.

"Them" the book is about as valuable to the United States and to its people as a strory about the invasion of the US by a colony of gigantic, destructive, irradiated ants and far less entertaining than "Them" the movie.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on December 18, 2018 at 08:34:11 am

Well stated, but at the end of the day it is “We The People” who are their enablers.

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Robert
on December 18, 2018 at 11:29:36 am

Very well said, Lydia.

One reason these issues become confused is that the New Left promotes subjective feeling over objective reason as its epistemological standard. While this might look like individualism at first glance, it's not -- it's about group identity -- one's group defines one. The individual is just an element of and expression of the group. This idea goes back to Marx, who invented "class consciousness" as an epistemological standard in order to sidestep critiques of Marxism from "bourgeois" economists. After Marxism failed to inspire the workers on economic grounds, Marxists like Gramsci and the Frankfurt School scrambled to find other grounds for the Revolution and the critique of capitalism; they found it in identity politics. Identity politics must not be confused with individualism.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 18, 2018 at 11:42:01 am

Ah- but you see Charles and Lydia, I was using the word "INDIVIDUALISM" in a very odd and eccentric way. I was not talking about individualism as the contrary of "collectivism" when it comes to economics, nor was I talking about it as the contrary of "group rights." On both of those definitions, I would argue for more individualism every day.

What I meant by "individualism" was a habit of mind people have that is characterized by a rejection of authority of any kind, a striving after "autonomy." It's the way Tocqueville used the word, he said this about it in Democracy in America:
"Individualism is a reflective and peaceable sentiment that disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of those like him and to withdraw to one side with his family and friends, so that after having thus created a little society for his own use, he willingly abandons society at large to itself... individualism proceeds from an erroneous judgment rather than a depraved sentiment. It has its source in the defects of the mind as much as in the vices of the heart."

I realize in discussions like these it might be confusing to use a word like "individualism" in such an eccentric Tocquevillian way, but I believe that's actually where you'd have to go in order to dialogue with someone like Sasse. The books and ideas he makes use of in this new book (Putnam, Murray) have "Tocqueville-influence" written all over them.

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CJ Wolfe
on December 18, 2018 at 12:50:05 pm

CJ:

I share your take on "individualism. In fact, had you not responded, I was going to do so.
In short, the individualism here at issue is the atomized individualism that REFUSES to recognize that "rights" are simply the other side of the coin of *obligations.*

I think also that Sasse without realizing it is implicating precisely this loss of a sense of obligation with his lectures on "loneliness."
If you fail to recognize your obligations, you are likely to experience a certain existential disconnectedness, i.e., loneliness. An epistemological state that no amount of "civility" will enable escape.

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gabe
on December 18, 2018 at 13:11:09 pm

Very well written take down of this most recent moral narcissist. He's as irritating and his ideas are as poorly thought through as John Kasich.

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Slaw
on December 18, 2018 at 15:32:30 pm

Good point as usual about obligations/duties, gabe

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CJ Wolfe
on December 18, 2018 at 15:41:54 pm

As bad as John Kasich??? That's a low blow! (heh heh)

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Charles N. Steele
on December 18, 2018 at 15:51:39 pm

Well, no. The term "individualism" has a meaning, and it isn't "to be cut off or isolated from others." And you proceeded to lump libertarians in with leftist collectivists.

Re Gabe's reference to "atomized individualism;" that's an individualism that is largely a strawman used to attack individualism. Individualism as a political principle goes back at least to men such as Benjamin Constant, John Locke, & Adam Smith, none of whom could sensibly be accused of opposing society and community in favor of atomism.

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Charles N. Steele
on December 19, 2018 at 20:46:29 pm

“Good versus evil politics”, this much we know is true, any policy that serves to demean the inherent Dignity of the human person as a beloved son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, father or mother, can never serve for The Common Good.

“With Love, comes responsibility.”

Slavery, racism, abortion, and identifying human persons according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, all serve as a means of objectifying human persons and denying our inherent Dignity as beloved sons and daughters.

The end goal of Marxism, atheistic materialsm, is the objectification of the human person; whereas the end goal of a Nation that professes to be One Nation , Under God, with Liberty and Justice for all, is to secure and protect our
unalienable Right to Life, to Liberty, and To The Pursuit of Happiness, for our sake, and the sake of our posterity and our prosperity, in the hope of creating a more virtuous world.

A culture that denies the Sanctity of human life from the moment of creation, and the Sanctity of marriage and the family, as God intended, can no longer remain One Nation Under God, With Liberty And Justice For All.
“When God Is denied, human Dignity, disappears”, as our unalienable Rights are no longer unalienable.

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Nancy
on December 19, 2018 at 21:02:56 pm

Just an example of one of the battles going on:

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2018/12/senators-take-aim-at-the-knights-of-columbus.html

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Nancy
on December 19, 2018 at 21:13:17 pm

Just an example of some of the battles going on:

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2018/12/senators-take-aim-at-the-knights-of-columbus.html

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2018/12/a-bad-misstep-by-the-ninth-circuit-in-a-ministerial-exception-case.html

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2018/12/the-end-of-a-walking-dead-doctrine.html

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Nancy
on December 23, 2018 at 08:40:35 am

You got that right!

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James J Cisar

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