November 12, 2020
The following is an unedited transcription of remarks delivered by AEI scholar and author Yuval Levin during a discussion with Sutherland President Rick Larsen on Nov. 10, 2020. Watch the full video here.
We appreciate you taking the time. As I mentioned, I want to establish a little bit of a baseline drawing from your book before we get into a more specific discussion about what we might learn from the election. So if that’s okay, I’d like to begin with a concept that intrigued me greatly. You talk about in your in your book, the concept of our institutions becoming more performative than formative, and I’m wondering if you would explain that concept to the audience so that we can refer to it as we go forward.
Yeah, thank you. The book really tries to start off from the premise, from the kind of cliche by now, that we’ve lost confidence in some of our core institutions in America, and trying to think about what that really means, what that confidence would be and what a loss of it would look like. Obviously some of the reasons we lose confidence in institutions are straightforward. Maybe they turn out to be incompetent, or corrupt. But that’s the problem that’s always with, it doesn’t really explain the kind of extraordinary decline in confidence we’ve seen in this century say. But there’s another kind of loss of confidence in institutions that has to do with the question of what institutions do for us, and I argue in the book that institutions are fundamentally formative, from the family and church to the school in the community, all the way up to our national politics, institutions work by shaping us, by shaping our character, by shaping our soul, by forming a certain kind of human type. Every institution does that, obviously the family does that, obviously the church does, but you can even think of a profession as shaping an individual. There’s such a thing in the world as an accountant, and you can say to yourself, “an accountant wouldn’t behave that way in this situation.” That’s because we have a sense of the idea of integrity that shapes people within that institution, and the same is true within any really functional institution.
But in recent years we’ve seen a kind of transformation in our expectations around this, where we’ve come to think of a lot of our core institutions, not as formative in that way, as shaping the people in them, but as performative. As providing those people with a platform. To build their own brand, to build their following, to build their prominence, to be seen and, especially, to stand on and participate in the endless culture war that our politics has become. So that, for example, you can look at politics, you can look at members of Congress who now are much less shaped by the institution to be legislators, to be dealmakers, and instead use Congress as a platform to get a better time slot on cable news or talk radio, to build their social media following and to channel the frustrations of their voters, rather than acting within the institution to address some concrete problem. In a lot of ways President Trump has treated the presidency that way, as a place to stand and speak more than as an institution you can work from within and actually govern.
I think we see the same thing in corporate America. In a lot of ways we see it in the university, which has become again a place to stand and yell, rather than an institution that shapes people in informative ways. And that makes our institutions much harder to trust. If it just looks to us like all the people with power and authority in our society are standing on top of institutions and yelling, rather than working within institutions and being constrained and shaped by them to serve some public good, then it becomes a lot harder for us to trust them, and we lose our trust in them. And unfortunately we see examples of that everywhere.
Perhaps is an additional layer and to add credence to this concept, in a recent op ed that you wrote that was published, I believe nationally, was picked up here locally. You write about what you call “relational responsibility and a need to speak less about them, and more about us.” If you would please explain in context. That as a manifestation of this performing.
Yeah, it relates directly really to that question, of being formed rather than performing. The idea is that in little moments of decision, when we’re confronted with a choice, we need to ask ourselves, “given my role here, given that I’m a parent or a neighbor given that I’m a teacher or a student worker or an employer, a member of Congress or citizen, given that what should I do here?” That’s a question you ask when you’re formed by some set of relationships, and particularly when you’re formed by an institution. The failure to ask that question, I think, is responsible for a huge amount of what has gone wrong in our society now. We are constantly confronted with people who make us wonder, “How could she not see that that’s not what she’s supposed to be doing in this situation? How could he believe that that’s what he should be doing here?” And the fact is, we, we can’t just wonder that about our leaders or about people in power. We have to ask that about ourselves. We have to make sure that we ourselves allow our relationships to other people to restrain and constrain us to function in ways that give us a specific role, and therefore define the part we’re playing in the larger life of our society, rather than just see all of us as engaged in one big open political war where there’s just too big sides and all that matters is which side you’re on. There are a lot of deformations of institutional life in America now that encourage us to think in that latter way, and to just express ourselves, wherever we are. But if we understand ourselves through our responsibilities to other people, we might begin to see how some restraint and some constraints on our behavior could actually be empowering and could actually help us solve problems. And so I think it’s crucially important for us to have a conscious awareness of the institutions we’re part of from family and community, to profession on up, and think about what those demand of us as well as what they enable us to do and empower us to do.
I want to ask you about the steps to that to addressing that lack of self introspection and apparently that lack of examination of those we elect. We continue to elect the performer, even in the current election. So let me jump to a post-election question. Understanding this formative performance performative distinction, what is your view, how likely is a Biden presidency capable of overcoming both the opposition from the conservative side and the gravitational pull of the far left, given this individual performance mandate that many of our officials seem to have?
Yeah, I think it’s a very great question. It’s an important question this moment. There is some cause for hope, but let’s be frank, there’s also great cause for worry. I think that the performative sense of what the roles and jobs of our elected officials are has run very deep. It reaches very deep in Congress, and it’s come to shape a lot of our expectations of the presidency.
Frankly, one reason I’m a little hopeful, is that this election was not absolutely decisive. In a sense, both parties were reprimanded by the electorate here. The Republican Party put forward Donald Trump as its standard bearer and the public said no. The Democratic Party put forward a kind of activist base of frankly quite radical progressivism, and the country said no to that too, and seems to have elected if not quite a divided government, at least a narrowly and narrow majorities in each institution in such a way that I think it would be hard for President Biden to go all in one direction or another. And what we need is some balance.
I think part of what we need in our politics is a recovery of the sense that our institutions exist to advance compromise, especially Congress. Congress is there to compel accommodation between different views, different factions in our society. It’s not there to make one or another of them go away, but rather to deal with the fact that they’re not going away.
I think we’ve lost sight of that lately, and more divided government for at least for the time being could help us recover that sense. If nothing can happen without some cross-partisan agreement then obviously we stand a better chance of achieving that kind of agreement.
I’d also say, Joe Biden, for all that I disagree with him on many things, has certainly been formed by a very long time spent in our political institutions—really half a century more or less as an elected official—while Donald Trump spent no time in our institutions before becoming president. Had and never held any office or been involved in politics directly. And so I do think Biden probably has something of a better sense of what the institutions demand of him. As I say, I’m not a big fan of what he wants to do with the power he has, but I do think that coming in with the kind of constraints he’ll face, he’s the first president since 1992 who apparently won’t come in with both houses of Congress under the control of his own party. And I think the public offering that mixed message was a wise move.
I’m interested in your perspective, so that the pundits are working overtime to view this through the lens, pick your cable news channel. But you make an interesting comment. If you look at the closeness of this election you can’t competently state it’s a repudiation of Trumpism, nor a repudiation of socialism, one more than the other. Perhaps a repudiation of both. What should we learn about the mood of voters across the country from this narrow margin? Does it mean that we are as divided as we are told, or does it actually in a way mean we are less divided? How do you interpret this?
It’s an interesting question. You know this is I think a mixed bag election. And in a sense, it’s almost perfectly representative of our era of negative partisanship, where each party runs against the other. And in this particular election the, the Democrats ran against Donald Trump and warned the public about Donald Trump and the public took that to heart, and said, “Okay no Donald Trump.” Republicans ran against the core base of the Democratic Party, and warned the public against its extremism. And the public, in effect, said, “Okay, no extremism.” They said no to congressional Democrats; they said no to Donald Trump.
Now, an election doesn’t give us the luxury of just saying no to what we don’t like. And so the public has elected Joe Biden, and has elected at least a mixed Congress, it looks like, we don’t know for sure exactly where the Senate will land. I think that this was much more about what people were saying no to than what they were saying yes to. In part, frankly, because the parties were not offering much in the way of a positive message in this election. So I don’t think there was a lot of enthusiasm for Joe Biden, but there was certainly concerned about Trump. I don’t think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for congressional Republicans, but they gain seats in the House and they seem to have retained the Senate, or at least nearly so.
So I think the parties have got to take a lesson from this, that the country is not interested in their most aggressive and extreme face. The country is interested in what they can offer in terms of problem solving, and, at the moment, that is just not much. So I think both parties have a huge amount of work to do in the wake of this election to get to a place where they can begin to build a majority coalition.
I think it’s fair to say that what this election showed is that our politics consists of two minority parties. And the public is not divided in such a way that one party clearly is dominant in this period. And look in some ways you could say that that’s been the case now for 20 years or so, where power has shifted back and forth, but always narrowly, and neither party can really claim to be the great majority party of the moment. You know, in political science, we say there’s, there are periods in American history where there’s clearly a sun party and a moon party—a very dominant, say, Democratic Party in the wake of Franklin Roosevelt and Republicans occasionally went on the margins. Or Republican Party at the end of the 19th century and Democrats here and there might win a race. We’re not in that situation now, and both parties are in a place where they have work to do to build a majority coalition. I think voters are trying to tell them how to do that, but it’s not entirely clear that the parties are listening.
Interesting. I want to pursue that a little bit. Let me remind those already joining us and to those who just joined us, if you have questions for Yuval as you listen to this conversation, please email those to email@example.com, and we’ll get to as many of those questions as time permits.
Yuval, in been reading your book, I’ll admit to being hopeful in the clarity, and then concerned about the process of reclaiming respect for our institutions. And again, this all becomes more intense given the election we just gone through. How do we say to an electorate who’s perhaps growing weary of the options offered to them, and again a close election says, it may not be a total devotion to a candidate, as much as opposition to the other candidate. How do we begin to turn that respect for institutions back? How do you say to a voting public, “Be patient, but keep at it, because you deserve better candidates.”
Yeah, you know, one element of the answer is that in order to be hopeful about America, we need to look at our country, not from the top down, but from the bottom up. If you look at America from the top down, there’s not a whole lot to be hopeful about just now. Things do seem rather broken and divided. There’s very little public confidence, and rightfully so, in a lot of ways.
But if you look at our country from the bottom up, what you find is a lot of people trying to work together to address concrete problems. And that, I think, is how we begin to rebuild our confidence in ourselves as a society, and therefore our confidence in our institutions together.
You know, the term institution might conjure up these sorts of great national bodies like the Congress or the presidency, but we’re all parts of institutions. Again from our family and our community on up. We all have a role to play, and to recover our capacity to trust institutions, we have to work to make them trustworthy and to make those that we are part of trustworthy. And again I think that comes back to that question, “Given the role I have here, how should I behave?” is a way to build other people’s confidence in the institutions that were part of. If we can show that sense of responsibility, then we can begin to channel the energies that now are driving a kind of populist revolt against institutions in the direction of building something better. I think that energy, that populism which expresses itself as rejection, which expresses itself as frustration, also is a function of a hunger for integrity, for reliability, for trustworthiness, for authority that we can take seriously. And to meet that need to fill that that gap is up to us to begin with. Over time, that can also translate into a new set of expectations of our national leaders, of our political institutions. But I don’t think that this the solutions to this to a problem this deep begin in Congress or in the presidency. I don’t think they begin with the results of a presidential election. I think they begin with a different attitude about how to meet needs where we are. With an attitude that again looks at our society from the bottom up and says, “What can I do first?”
It’s interesting, Sutherland is deeply aligned with what you just said. Our belief is that these, as you broaden the definition of institutions, that the institutions of family and community and faith that the solutions lie therein. But let’s talk about that a little bit more.
I can speak with certainty because of our interactivity with people here in Utah. It’s hard for a parent to look at their sphere of influence in their in their family, and where their kids go to school and neighbors and friends, it’s a little difficult for them to look at those structures and think, “Here are the solutions.” Can you talk a little bit about the power of a family, of a neighborhood, of a community?
You know that power really is formative power, and it’s often formative by example. The way to think about how to deal with the absence of what it is we think is necessary, say for our children to flourish, is to look for ways to build it, to look for ways to build it together. Maybe that means a new school. Maybe that means some new arm of our local church or synagogue that can help to meet that need. Maybe it means asking ourselves, “What do people in our community need that they don’t have?” In this pandemic are they short of food? Do they need some way to be integrated into our society? I think this really speaks to a need to help people, not only others, but ourselves, approach our society in what I would describe as the first-person plural—to say “we” and “us” when we think about America.
A lot of the social problems we encounter now I think could be described as an inability to see our society that way. A sense that our institutions are there for other people, that our society functions to help somebody else and not me, and to talk about both both politics and culture in terms of “they” and “them,” not “we” and “us.” We can only begin to change that at the local level, at the interpersonal level, by really working as a we. And so, seeing those problems as exactly our problems and seeing that we do have some power to do something about them, certainly within our own family, surely, at some at some level within our own community, and ultimately by building up that way. You know, there’s a long tradition in American life of approaching our challenges that way, of starting institutions when we see a problem. Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s joked that if you get three Americans together they’ll elect a treasurer. There is something of that in our national character, but I think that we’ve lost a little bit of the energy for doing that now. We have a little bit more of an inclination to kind of fold our arms and say, “Well when’s somebody going to show up and solve this problem?” I think looking in the mirror when that happens, when we have the capacity to do that, or looking around for help near at hand rather than from far away, would be a better way to start to address these problems just given the nature of the challenges we have.
You prompt an interesting question. Let’s talk a little bit about civics and citizenship.
So there were actions within the Trump administration that many saw as hopeful when it came to do it became had to do with a restoration of a more accurate and robust study of civic citizenship and history. Have we harmed ourselves by diluting our own education, the education of our children, and I’m aware we’re decades into this now, how different might our response be if we were gaining a full and accurate view of history and civic engagement?
I think this is a crucial point. And if what we’re looking for is a way to say, “we” and “us” and “our” when we talk about America, then we have to have some connection to our common past. There’s just no substitute for a joint history and experience of living together for fusing a society into one large hole. And so when we deny ourselves that, when, whether it’s to avoid political controversy or even, you know, for good reasons to focus on math and reading, when we limit the exposure that our children have to civics and to history, let alone when we deform that exposure through politicization that tells them that their inheritance is garbage, is evil and unjust, I think we deny them and we deny ourselves the resources to solve the problems we have.
There’s certainly injustice in our history. There’s also a struggle against injustice in our history.
There’s also injustice in our present, and there needs to be a struggle against it. And how are we going to be able to mount that struggle unless we see how we as Americans have done that in the past, unless we grasp how our country is as reached toward its best self in times of challenge and difficulty before. I think a connection to our history, to the best of it and the worst of it, to the full picture, is absolutely essential if we’re going to be able, both to see problems in perspective, because after all in a lot of ways we’ve had bigger problems than this in the past. Our society has overcome enormous challenges and difficulties enormous divisions, profound and justices. We can do that now too, but we can only do that if we see that we’ve done it before. And if we ask how. And if we see how applying the principles that were there in our founding, even if the country didn’t live by them well enough, to contemporary challenges is the way forward. I think is absolutely essential that we and that the rising generation know ourselves fully as Americans, and so be connected both the civics and the history in a way that, right now, we’re just not offering our children, and we shouldn’t be surprised that that they don’t see it.
Yuval, I’m motivated by the empowerment that I hear in your message, and I’m going to combine two or three questions that I’m seeing coming in into maybe one single concept for you to address. There are certain things in society that our conversation enders. Those who subscribe to one media outlet over another have a hard time talking to one another after they consume those for enough time because there seems to be the accusations, that the other side’s lying. So if you’re going to engage, engage with anger because it’s a lie. There’s no middle ground. And then we see emerging theories that are finding their way into the public classroom like critical theory, where it’s hard to respond because certain parties are dismissed in that debate. Where’s the personal responsibility? It’s so easy to fall into the trap of blame where I don’t have a chance to speak truth. I don’t have a chance to engage. The media makes it too difficult. These current theories that are emerging in education make it too difficult. So we routinely see people either retreating in silence, or becoming disproportionately angry to make their point known. Where’s the middle on that? How do we navigate those chasms?
I think one part of the answer to that very difficult question, which is really in a lot of ways the defining challenge of our moment. One part of the answer is to try to do that at the interpersonal level, where some of these differences are less harsh, less strict, where you don’t have to resolve everything in theory before you can work together in practice to address a problem in your local community. And that’s part of why we find that, even in politics, local government tends to work better than state government, which tends to work better than national government. The reasons are really to do with the necessity to contend with practical problems.
Our national politics has become increasingly distanced from the practical problems the country faces. It’s a kind of abstract argument in which each party sees the other party is the country’s biggest problem. And politics is about how do we get rid of the other party. Well, that kind of politics is never going to succeed, and it keeps us from solving actual problems. I think that’s, first of all, one reason to begin at the bottom and try to reason our way up. Secondly, though, I think we have to make a forthright case for the preconditions and the infrastructure of democratic life. The room to argue. The necessity of accepting the legitimacy of other people in their point of view. That’s not exactly an argument for free speech. Sometimes we make that sort of argument as conservatives, but I think it’s more than free speech. It’s an argument for a certain way of life. It’s an argument for making room for difference, but also for having debates about the truth that begin from the assumption that there is a truth and that there’s something to argue about here. That’s especially important in educational settings. I think the university is, of all of our of our society’s institutions, is the one where this rot has gone furthest, and that’s extremely dangerous because the university is the institution that we look to to form an important portion at least of the rising generation. And precisely to form them as citizens, capable of helping our society govern itself.
Right now, the university deforms those students in far too many cases. It deforms them in a way that suggest to them that there is no legitimate dispute, there is no legitimate room for debate, about some absolutely foundational questions in our society. And that rejects the heritage and tradition of our society outright and simply says that, again, our inheritance is a bunch of garbage to be thrown out. That has got to be resisted mightily. And that’s an area where we can’t just simply say, well, we should hope for more civility. Civility doesn’t mean being nice to each other. Civility means accepting the premise that the people you disagree with are still going to be here tomorrow. That means that there’s a fundamental incivility in critical theory and in these other ways of trying to take control of the infrastructure of democratic life. And that’s just got to be fought against. It’s got to be fought back against. There is no substitute for standing up for the fundamental premises and principles of our politics, among which is the room to debate these basic questions. Those are under attack now. There’s no question about it. And I think we’ve we absolutely have to make a forthright case for the open society, and the free society.
It seems that society is a little off balance right now, that in our quest for answers and solutions, we find ourselves turning more to a government that we don’t trust, thereby placing more power in their hands to do things that we’re disappointed in.
Let’s oversimplify for a minute but let’s do it with purpose. Let’s talk about the power of families. Raising literate children, and I’m speaking about literacy in the terms of how freedom works, the principles, the history, how it’s all meant to be. It may be a long-term solution, but is part of the solution in that family infrastructure now sending students into the public education system with an awareness and an understanding that might, at times, surpass the curriculum they’re being taught, but that is that a ship worth turning is that a trend that will pay dividends in our lifetime?
Absolutely. I think that, you know, one way to think about this question is to try to visualize our society as a set of concentric rings that begins from the family, and works then out to the community. The school and church toward government, and ultimately toward the nation, too. And what happens is, each of those rings exists to protect the space in which the other can thrive, in which the next inward one can thrive. They’re all there to protect the family. They’re all there to protect this core foundational institution of our society. And as you work out, each is there to protect the next. The federal government is there to protect the space in which all of these function. Not to fill that space, not to take over what happens there, but to guard it and to make sure that it doesn’t collapse in on itself. And if we think that way, then the most essential formative work of any society is the work that’s done in the family. There is no substitute for it, and almost everything else exists to enable it to make it possible.
Now, not everybody has the luxury of a thriving family, and there are institutions that can try to fill the gap in some ways. They might be educational, they might be religious, they might be civic, but ultimately they are filling a gap, and their fundamental purpose is to enable people to get the kind of formation that a thriving functional family can provide. And I think we have to see within our own families that part of that work is the work of civic education, as well as moral education. And as you say the work of literacy broadly understood, making people literate members of their society with an understanding and a sense of what it is they inherit by being born into this civilization. I think that’s first and foremost the work of parents, but they do have to be supported by the rest of society’s institutions, and I think right now too many parents feel like they are opposed by those institutions. They’re resisted by them, and they worry about sending their children into a world that tries to undermine everything they do at home.
I want to ask you a question that your personal opinions carry a lot of weight because they’re so heavily researched so feel free to be as personal or as analytical about this as you choose. I think it’s safe to say that most American families are feeling a pressure, and it comes in subtle ways. It comes through media, it comes subtly through legislation, but there seems to be disincentives toward family structure, towards people of faith, towards the communities seeking solutions at that level rather than looking towards government. So here’s the question that I’ll understand if you skip, I’d be very interested in your view. Is the attack on those institutions is it ideological, or is it misunderstanding on the ground? Are we losing our own focus, and our own faith in those institutions, or are they indeed under attack?
I think it’s a mix, and it’s a mix in a particular way. So I would say, in a way, the hardest thing to accept when you’re engaged in politics is that everybody means well. And that’s basically true. No one’s really out to destroy our society. Nobody wakes up in the morning to do harm to other people. Almost no one. But that means that when we try to understand how it could be that we face this conflict, we have to think about how could the people we disagree with understand themselves to be doing good.
And I would put it this way. I think there’s a difference of opinion about what it takes to enable a person to live a flourishing life. First of all, there’s an argument that begins from an anthropology that says the human person is fallen, imperfect, in need of correction, prone device or sin, and therefore requires formation, requires formation to be ready to be free. And that formation is the work of our society’s institutions from the family and church and community on up. That’s my view. I think we start out needing to be formed before we can be free, and therefore we should treasure the institutions that form us well.
There’s another view that says the human person starts out ready, but is everywhere oppressed by various kinds of institutions. And in order to be free and to flourish the person needs to be liberated from these oppressive institutions. So that the purpose of our politics should be the liberation of the individual from oppressive institutions. This is how a lot of people on the left think about politics and therefore approach political questions in terms of oppressor and oppressed and ask themselves, “Who here is powerful and stepping on the weak?” I would say that I and others on the right approach the same questions from the point of view of order and chaos, or deformation and formation. We ask ourselves, “What’s required here to achieve social order?” That means we approach the same set of questions from very, very different premises. In that sense, the difference is ideological and it is exactly the format of institutions that are most under attack. So we can count them like the family, the church, an ideal of liberal education, a notion of the university as existing to provide that formation in the Western tradition. And so it is, it’s about religious liberty, and it’s about family forms and it’s about tradition. But the reason the fight happens there is that those are the places where that difference of opinion really hits the ground really becomes real. And the question is, “Is this institution oppressing the weak, or is this institution forming those in need of formation?” The left and right disagree about the answer to that question, and that makes for both a practical set of disagreements and an ideological set of disagreements. I think that struggle is real, is really happening, there is a real threat to the family, to the school to the church, it’s real. But it’s not that there are people who want to sustain those and people who want to destroy those. I think we really disagree about what they’re doing.
Interesting perspective. Thank you. Thank you, and I would have expected no less than an answer that developed.
So it leaves some questions. Having just been through what we’ve all been through with an election, and to some extent, we’re not through it yet. There are there plenty of accusations being thrown. Is there anything that you can cite about this election process that we Americans can view as good news? The turnout, split government, the call for change? What do you see in here that you would sit back and say no, that’s good, focus on that build on that.
Well first of all, this was a very high turnout election, and generally speaking, that’s good. Now look, it’s driven in part by the intensity of our differences, and so it’s not all good. But I think people turning out to vote is a good thing. And this looks to have been the highest turnout election in maybe our history at least since we’ve started measuring it in terms of turnout about 120 years ago. That’s significant. I also think that this was an extremely complicated election logistically because of the pandemic, and seems to have been run pretty well. And look, I don’t think that there was massive fraud in this election, so about this there are some differences. But it seems to me that this could easily have been disastrously maladministered and poorly run given the enormous challenge a lot of places that are new to mail-in voting experience, and that didn’t happen. We didn’t have any disasters like that, where it’s just simply impossible to count the vote.
Now, today, a week after the election. And I think that frankly I think it’s a little surprising, and it’s impressive. It means that the preparation that happened paid off. I also think that the country—through the genius of our system, not necessarily through the will of individual voters—has actually delivered a verdict here that could accrue to the good. Again, a verdict that says that neither party gets to simply run off and do its own thing. The parties now are forced to confront each other and compromise. There’s a fairly weak Democratic president, who won by not by a landslide by any means. There’s a divided Congress that can’t pretend that it has a huge mandate to do what it chooses to do, and that forces us as Americans to look at one another and think, “How do we get through this together?” I think that’s a good thing too.
I’d like it is your personal question. How do you or how will you communicate in the coming days, I want you to think about your family sphere those people you care about those people you love, so if they’re looking at this election saying, “Well change a party might mean a further shift in in curriculum standards, it might be more gridlock, it might…” Wow do you save those you care about from a feeling of hopelessness? What will you tell those people in your life you care about? What can they do in their homes and their families and their communities, so that they don’t view this election as you had an other stepping growing paralysis in government overreach and sitting there waiting for answers from the government? What do we do?
Well first of all, I would say that we don’t, as a country, live on the edge of an abyss, where we’re one election away from everything we care about ending. It’s not the case. And so, in that sense at least, we can afford to turn the temperature down a little bit and understand that, while politics is very important, it’s not the most important thing.
And that should lead us to ask about what is the most important thing. And the answers to that question for most of us will be much closer to home than the national government. And this election leaves us quite a lot of room to advance what we care about. Among other things, if what you care about is like what I care about, this election increased the number of Republican state legislators across the country. It was in that sense a big win for conservatives. And I think that’s great and we should look for ways to make the most of that when it comes to education, when it comes to welfare, when it comes to religious liberty and other things we care about. There are a lot of opportunities coming out of this election. I also think, again, that because there is now a weak president and a weak Congress, more or less, most likely, the potential for damage is limited, it’s not nonexistent. I think that a democratic administration is going to take some executive actions that I’m going to think are very bad idea and very damaging and dangerous. But I don’t think they have the power to close off the potential of my community to thrive, or if your community to thrive. And it’s important to see that you know the stakes are high but not absolute, and that means there’s more to life than politics.
I’m getting close to the end. I know this format of presentation has a has a natural time limit to it.
So just one last question. We saw a very young segment of the voting public become very animated in this election, and as you said, maybe good news, maybe not, maybe they’re animated by the wrong things. But now they’re engaged in the process.
Would you just speak to parents listening, because we tend to have a very family-oriented audience, so to the parent, to the grandparent – how important is it that they continue to teach in their own home the principles of freedom? And the conservative principles of freedom? And the empowerment of those principles. Because in our children and our grandchildren are not far from the voting booth, and we have now a very animated, some would say militant, young voting bloc. I don’t know how to turn down that anger, but I think there’s an opportunity to talk to those to the next generation up who will be entering the voting booth, maybe by the next election by midterms certainly by the next election cycle. What should we be saying to them about what they’re seeing on the news and what they’re seeing, and maybe older siblings or those just old enough older than them that they look up to them in the community?
I think it’s a crucial question and it is absolutely essential that, you know one way to think about it is we need to help a rising generation recognize what an extraordinary privilege it has in being Americans. What an extraordinary inheritance they’re receiving and what it enables them to do to address the kinds of problems our society faces.
They’re being told by a lot of the organs of our culture that their inheritance is nothing, and is worthless, and that their job is to overthrow it, and burn it down and tear it apart. But it should be easy enough for them to see that actually what they’re being given here is the capacity to be a free people. And, you know, children do need to be helped to see why that matters. It’s easy to take it for granted. It’s easy to ignore the kinds of horrors that this allows us to avoid. And so, I absolutely think children need to be educated in our history, in the character and and the strengths of our constitutional system, and helped to see that there’s a lot here that is worth preserving and building on and that the way forward is not to tear down but to build up. And in fact at this particular moment is not a time to be tearing down, but a time to be building for the future. Our society is lacking in confidence in its own capacity to thrive in that future, but the future belongs to those children and grandchildren. And they need to be helped to see that they have got a lot to work with in order to make in order to enable themselves to thrive.
That kind of education, you know, some of it is up to the schools, some of it is up to the larger culture, but most of it is up to us as parents. There’s just no alternative to that. And the best answer we can offer to the things that worry us in the larger society is to help our own children understand a better way.
Thank you, Yuval. Your calm informed and scholarship is greatly appreciated and needed and thank you for taking this time. I want to say to everyone listening and watching, I highly recommend that you find Yuval’s book A Time to Build. You will find it compelling, you will find it valuable. We have we’ve passed out dozens and dozens of copies through Sutherland because the principles are so clear and so well articulated.
Thank you again Yuval, thank you to AEI and to this audience. I want to remind everyone, this program will be available for replay on our Facebook page and on SutherlandInstitute.org. So I would encourage you to revisit these concepts, to share it with those who may not have been available in this hour.
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