The future of the republic depends on humility, empathy, and respect for pluralism.
Sasse (The Vanishing American Adult, 2017, etc.), Nebraska’s junior senator, lives in the same small town in which he grew up, which still evokes the “hometown-gym-on-a-Friday-night” feeling that gives him a strong sense of rootedness and community. In his impassioned critique of contemporary America, he acknowledges that the world of his childhood has changed for most people. Today’s culture has become mobile, where people move from place to place and job to job: We “just don’t have community cohesion like we used to.” Although the author denies that he is nostalgic for the world in which he grew up, he extols the 1950s, when “work, faith, recreation, and family were bound up together”; I Love Lucy was a shared touchstone; and a close-knit community of families helped raise one another’s children. Americans today, he argues, are in a dismal state: lonely, fractious, and adrift. “We are in a period of unprecedented upheaval,” he writes. “Community is collapsing, anxiety is building, and we’re distracting ourselves with artificial hatreds.” Those hatreds are fomented by what he calls “polititainment,” niche media outlets, social media, and websites—on the right and the left—that confirm biases rather than allow people to become well-informed. Sasse singles out Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who hammers the message, “liberals are evil, you are a victim, and you should be furious,” and he also criticizes the quashing of free speech on college campuses by those who object to “dissenters from campus majoritarian orthodoxy.” Drawing on the ideas of the Founding Fathers, the author maintains that foremost among American values is the affirmation of “the dignity of our fellows.” The “terrible 2016 election,” he asserts, “was just a painful symptom of the bigger disease—which is our growing disinterest in the meaning of America.” Sasse offers a generalized, overriding recommendation for healing: identifying and nurturing common bonds.
A sensible and thoughtful yet hardly groundbreaking political analysis.