Michael To­masky

The Van­ish­ing Amer­i­can Adult: Our Com­ing-of-Age Cri­sis and How to Re­build a Cul­ture of Self-Re­liance by Ben Sasse

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Michael To­masky

The Van­ish­ing Amer­i­can Adult: Our Com­ing-of-Age Cri­sis— and How to Re­build a Cul­ture of Self-Re­liance by Ben Sasse.

St. Martin’s, 306 pp., $27.99

It is of­ten asked around Wash­ing­ton, what will the Repub­li­can Party be­come once it stops be­ing the play­thing of Don­ald Trump? This day seems to be ar­riv­ing more quickly than we might have thought not long ago, es­pe­cially af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump’s wretched re­sponse to the Char­lottesville rally, which at long last led some Repub­li­cans to be­gin to won­der about his moral fit­ness to be pres­i­dent.

This fol­lowed less shock­ing but nev­er­the­less strik­ing re­ver­sals for Trump, no­tably the Se­nate Repub­li­cans’ fail­ure to re­peal Oba­macare. As a re­sult, the pres­i­dent’s ap­proval rat­ing among Repub­li­cans has slipped in some polls be­low 80 per­cent. That’s not quite the dan­ger zone yet, but it’s low for an in­cum­bent pres­i­dent. It’s the num­ber to watch for the sim­ple rea­son that it’s the only one con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans care about. Repub­li­cans in Congress have carved their dis­tricts in such a way that they needn’t worry much about Demo­cratic or even in­de­pen­dent vot­ers. In fact, many of them live in greater fear of los­ing a pri­mary to a pro-Trump chal­lenger from their right, should they wa­ver in their sup­port for his poli­cies, than they do about los­ing a gen­eral elec­tion. But if Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing among Repub­li­cans falls con­sid­er­ably—to the point that Repub­li­can House mem­bers feel they have to worry more about los­ing a gen­eral­elec­tion race to an anti-Trump Demo­crat than los­ing a pri­mary con­test to a Trump loy­al­ist—they’ll start de­sert­ing him.

Some event could pro­pel the de­ser­tion for­ward. Char­lottesville alone won’t quite do it, es­pe­cially af­ter Trump fired chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non, which to some de­gree con­trolled the dam­age among es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans. But many po­ten­tial flash points re­main. A large num­ber of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have cau­tioned, for ex­am­ple, that for Trump to or­der the fir­ing of spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert Mueller would “cer­tainly be an ex­traor­di­nar­ily un­wise move,” as Maine’s Su­san Collins put it in June.1 On Au­gust 3, two bills—with bi­par­ti­san sup­port—were in­tro­duced in the Se­nate, one to al­low Mueller to chal­lenge his fir­ing in court and one to de­mand that Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials in­volved in any such fir­ing be forced to tes­tify. So the ground has been shift­ing rather dra­mat­i­cally.

The pres­i­dent, of course, re­mains ob­du­rate and dan­ger­ously un­pre­dictable. There are nu­mer­ous even­tu­al­i­ties about which the chat­ter­ers of Wash­ing­ton chat. Need­less to say, in the re­al­ity that Trump has cre­ated, none is too out­landish to be taken se­ri­ously. I men­tioned re­cently to a jour­nal­ist

1See Austin Wright and Kyle Cheney, “Repub­li­cans to Trump: Hands Off Mueller,” Politico, June 12, 2017. friend that I could fore­see the House im­peach­ing the pres­i­dent and the Se­nate vot­ing to con­vict, but Trump sim­ply re­fus­ing to leave the White House. He coun­tered with a hy­po­thet­i­cal in which Trump does ac­cept his re­moval from of­fice but turns around and runs in the Repub­li­can pri­mary against Pres­i­dent Pence in 2020—and wins.


Repub­li­cans, nat­u­rally, are pre­par­ing for Trump’s demise. Imag­ine the fol­low­ing sce­nario: in 2018, the Democrats re­cap­ture the House. (That’s far from an im­pos­si­bil­ity; they’d need to pick up twenty-four seats to gain con­trol, and the av­er­age loss for a pres­i­dent in the midterm elec­tion of his first term since Jimmy Carter’s time is twenty-eight.) Mueller, who some­how was not fired, is­sues a re­port that of­fers proof that the Trump cam­paign did co­or­di­nate cer­tain mat­ters with the Krem­lin and be­yond that paints an un­de­ni­ably lurid pic­ture of the pres­i­dent’s fi­nan­cial in­debt­ed­ness to cer­tain Rus­sians. (It is be­lieved that Mueller has, or will have, Trump’s tax re­turns.) In other words, the ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion with Rus­sia is enough to com­pel a third or more of Se­nate Repub­li­cans to agree to the grim duty of re­mov­ing him from of­fice. Mike Pence, ac­cord­ing to this se­quence of events, would be­come pres­i­dent in, say, the fall of 2019. As the in­cum­bent, he would surely seek the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in 2020. But he may have been too dam­aged by his as­so­ci­a­tion with Trump—dozens or hun­dreds of beam­ing af­fir­ma­tions by Pence of Trump’s great­ness and in­tegrity, all on video—that he won’t have time to get the stink off him. He will face chal­lengers. For an in­cum­bent pres­i­dent to be de­nied renom­i­na­tion by his party is un­usual in our his­tory; it’s hap­pened just five times. But as we’ve seen, al­most ev­ery­thing about the cur­rent mo­ment is un­usual.

Most of the best-known Repub­li­cans in Congress are ei­ther get­ting too old or are too com­pro­mised by their ac­com­mo­da­tions to Trump to be can­di­dates. John McCain is about to turn eighty-one and has, we now know, a se­vere form of can­cer. His dra­matic vote against the Repub­li­can “skinny re­peal” health care bill, just be­fore the Au­gust re­cess, was no doubt cast with his legacy in mind. Mitch McCon­nell, the ma­jor­ity leader of the Se­nate, has now bro­ken with Trump; in any case, he also is too old, and too much a crea­ture of the Se­nate, to be a pres­i­den­tial con­tender. Lind­sey Gra­ham, at six­tytwo, is younger than the other two, and he’s a Trump critic more of­ten than not. But he has been around Wash­ing­ton a long time as well. A gen­er­a­tional shift is un­der­way.

And so, if you lis­ten closely, you can hear the sound of some younger Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate po­si­tion­ing them­selves to be the hero who rides in and picks up the pieces. The Repub­li­can most crit­i­cal of Trump has prob­a­bly been Ari­zona’s ju­nior sen­a­tor, Jeff Flake, fifty-four, who called on Trump to quit the race last fall af­ter the no­to­ri­ous Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood tape emerged and who this year spoke dis­ap­prov­ingly of Trump’s fir­ing of for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James Comey. Re­cently, Politico re­ported that Trump has said pri­vately that he would com­mit $10 mil­lion of his own money to a cred­i­ble Repub­li­can will­ing to mount a pri­mary chal­lenge to Flake next year.2

That chal­lenger ap­pears to be an ar­dently pro-Trump for­mer state sen­a­tor named Kelli Ward. Af­ter Char­lottesville, Flake tweeted: “We can’t claim to be the party of Lin­coln if we equiv­o­cate in con­demn­ing white supremacy.” Ward tweeted: “I agree—stop the hate, vi­o­lence, & rhetoric on both sides.” A Trump kind of gal. Flake isn’t gen­er­ally put on in­sid­ers’ lists of po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, although he seems to be try­ing to change that. He just re­leased a book of his own, which he had the chutz­pah to call Con­science of a Con­ser­va­tive, echo­ing the fa­mous Barry Gold­wa­ter ti­tle. In it, he re­proves his party for cre­at­ing Trump and urges his col­leagues to stand up to the man. If Flake sur­vives his re­elec­tion bid, we’ll surely see him try­ing to look pres­i­den­tial.

In the group that is al­ready short­listed for 2020, which will likely in­clude Sen­a­tors Ted Cruz and Marco Ru­bio and House Speaker Paul Ryan, the fig­ure who has en­gaged in the most in­sis­tent anti-Trump po­si­tion­ing—and may be the least tainted by Wash­ing­ton pol­i­tics—is for­mer univer­sity pres­i­dent and first-term Ne­braska sen­a­tor Ben Sasse. He re­fused early on to en­dorse Trump and wrote a long, solemn open let­ter to Trump sup­port­ers on his Face­book page last year ex­plain­ing his op­po­si­tion. “Do you be­lieve,” he asked the then can­di­date’s back­ers, “the beat­ing heart of Mr. Trump’s can­di­dacy has been a de­fense of the Con­sti­tu­tion?” Some Repub­li­cans, in an ef­fort to thwart Trump, pressed him to jump into the race last year, but he de­murred.

Back in Jan­uary, he was the first Repub­li­can sen­a­tor to crit­i­cize the new ad­min­is­tra­tion’s travel ban. He also does some­thing no other Repub­li­can sen­a­tor has been clever enough to do— he fights the pres­i­dent on his pre­ferred ter­rain, Twit­ter. When Trump sent out a now in­fa­mous tweet in June de­scrib­ing MSNBC morn­ing co-host Mika Brzezin­ski as “bleed­ing badly from a face-lift,” Sasse was quick to tweet back: “Please just stop. This isn’t nor­mal and it’s be­neath the dig­nity of your of­fice.”

Jour­nal­ists read Twit­ter avidly, and such are the stan­dards in Wash­ing­ton these days that a tweet like that from a Repub­li­can counts as courage. And so Sasse gets press cov­er­age, typ­i­fied by this Time head­line from May: “How Sen­a­tor Ben Sasse Be­came the An­tiTrump.” Even the lib­eral mag­a­zine Mother Jones has sung from this hym­nal, with a pro­file last fall un­der the head­line “If the Repub­li­can Party Can Be Saved From Its Trumpoca­lypse, This Sen­a­tor Could Be the Key.” That’s

2See Alex Isen­stadt, “Pres­i­dent Trump’s En­e­mies List,” Politico, July 10, 2017.

a quick as­cent for some­one who’s been a sen­a­tor for just two and a half years. What’s he got?

It turns out that Sasse is the kind of Repub­li­can whom Wash­ing­ton prog­nos­ti­ca­tors delight in. He’s from the heart­land, but he has a hefty ed­u­ca­tional pedi­gree—Har­vard un­der­grad and Yale doc­tor­ate in Amer­i­can his­tory. He even spent a year at Ox­ford, and he earned a master’s de­gree from St. John’s Col­lege in An­napo­lis, Mary­land, which may not be Har­vard or Yale but is known for a blue-chip cur­ricu­lum in the Great Books. He has spent time among lib­er­als in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

He has also worked as a bu­reau­crat, and not in the manly Pen­tagon but as an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary in the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices in Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. And he be­came a univer­sity pres­i­dent, at Mid­land Univer­sity, about a hun­dred miles from where he grew up in Plain­view, Ne­braska. He is forty-five years old. He is by all ac­counts per­son­able. He is hand­some, but in a cer­tain un­de­mand­ing way, like the lead­ing man’s best buddy in a 1930s screw­ball com­edy.

He is also ex­tremely right-wing. His Yale dis­ser­ta­tion was about the back­lash to the Supreme Court’s school prayer de­ci­sions of the early 1960s, which banned prayer in pub­lic school class­rooms. The con­ser­va­tive Weekly Stan­dard de­scribed it as “a so­phis­ti­cated and bril­liant dis­sec­tion of how a lot of the stan­dard lib­eral nar­ra­tives about Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal re­align­ment in the last fifty years are woe­fully in­com­plete at best and self-serv­ing fic­tions to at­tack re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives at worst.”3 Sasse’s time in Health and Hu­man Ser­vices helped him un­der­stand Oba­macare in ways that his col­leagues couldn’t, and this en­abled him to play a par­tic­u­larly ac­tive part in seek­ing its dis­mem­ber­ment. Dur­ing the 2014 race I e-mailed a prom­i­nent Tea Party ac­tivist to ask, roughly, which Se­nate races that year were most im­por­tant to him; who would he most like to see as a sen­a­tor? Sasse topped his list.

As his work on school prayer sug­gests, Sasse is a re­li­gious con­ser­va­tive. He op­poses same-sex mar­riage, and his cam­paign web­site said in 2014 that gov­ern­ment “can­not force cit­i­zens to vi­o­late their re­li­gious be­liefs un­der any cir­cum­stances.” He’s a free trader. He was one of the first sen­a­tors to sug­gest this sum­mer, when it be­came clear that re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare wasn’t go­ing to be so easy, that the Repub­li­cans should pro­ceed with re­peal only. His one re­cent depar­ture from party or­tho­doxy came when he ques­tioned the large tax cuts for the rich built into the Se­nate health care bill, but he’s not against lower taxes— they’re just not as high a pri­or­ity for him as so­cial is­sues and cut­ting fed­eral spend­ing.

For all his crit­i­cism of Trump, Sasse has rarely voted against the pres­i­dent. The web­site FiveThir­tyEight gives him a “Trump score” of 93.6 per­cent, which

3See Mark Hem­ing­way, “A Vir­tu­oso Pol from Ne­braska?,” The Weekly Stan­dard, June 17, 2013. is 3.6 per­cent more than they might have pre­dicted based on Trump’s vic­tory mar­gin in Ne­braska (25 per­cent). Of fifty-one votes tracked by FiveThir­tyEight through Au­gust 1, Sasse op­posed Trump’s po­si­tion just three times, twice on sanc­tions on Rus­sia and other nations, and once on the nom­i­na­tion of Trump’s US trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Robert Lighthizer, who was con­firmed over­whelm­ingly and didn’t need Sasse’s vote. Sasse is a par­tic­u­larly ar­dent ad­mirer of Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos, who was oc­ca­sion­ally con­fused and clearly out of her depth at her con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. Sasse’s book is a sure sign that he is con­tem­plat­ing the pres­i­dency, but this is not a nor­mal sen­a­tor’s book. For starters, he is not pic­tured on the cover, star­ing mean­ing­fully off into a bet­ter fu­ture that he alone has the for­ti­tude to cre­ate. Sec­ond, it’s not a pol­icy book; it’s not built around chap­ters on jobs and taxes and val­ues, and it doesn’t even men­tion Trump. It’s a med­i­ta­tion on where Amer­ica took a wrong turn. While this is a com­mon-enough politi­cians’ sub­genre, the twist here is that the so­cial unit that Sasse calls upon to re­pair this torn fab­ric is not the gov­ern­ment but the fam­ily.

Thus he hits a smart ex­acta. A thought­ful ru­mi­na­tion that in­cludes men­tions of philoso­phers, the­olo­gians, and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, from Rousseau and Martin Luther to Richard Hof­s­tadter and Al­lan Bloom, ap­peals to the Wash­ing­ton swells; the lamen­ta­tion about our dis­si­pat­ing re­solve as a peo­ple, and his ar­gu­ment about the well­spring of our re­demp­tion, will warm the hearts of con­ser­va­tives. In

The Van­ish­ing Amer­i­can Adult, Sasse por­trays a na­tion that has hur­tled it­self in a grave di­rec­tion. He wor­ries that our tex­ting, sex­ting, video-game ob­sessed chil­dren will not be able to up­hold and ad­vance Amer­i­can great­ness when they come of age, and he places the blame on par­ents:

I be­lieve our en­tire na­tion is in the midst of a col­lec­tive com­ing-of-age cri­sis with­out par­al­lel in our his­tory. We are liv­ing in an Amer­ica of per­pet­ual ado­les­cence. Our kids sim­ply don’t know what an adult is any­more—or how to be­come one. Many don’t see a rea­son even to try. Per­haps more prob­lem­atic, the older gen­er­a­tions have for­got­ten that we need to plan to teach them. It’s our fault more than it is theirs.

He goes on to ex­plain that he was met with this epiphany dur­ing his ten­ure at Mid­land Univer­sity, when a group of stu­dents was asked to set up a twen­ty­foot Christ­mas tree in the bas­ket­ball arena. They put the tree up, but they dec­o­rated only the bot­tom seven or eight feet. A school of­fi­cial ap­peared and asked them why they hadn’t se­cured a lad­der to dress the rest of the tree. They replied that this thought hadn’t oc­curred to them:

This star­tled me. It wor­ried me for the kids. Was this a prob­lem unique to Mid­land’s cul­ture? . . . I sim­ply couldn’t rec­on­cile the de­ci­sion to leave while the work was still in­com­plete with how my par­ents had taught me to think about as­sign­ments. I couldn’t

con­cep­tu­al­ize grow­ing up with­out the com­pul­sion—first ex­ter­nal com­pul­sion, but over time, the more im­por­tant in­ter­nal and self­di­rected kind of com­pul­sion—to at­tempt and to fin­ish hard things, even when I didn’t want to.

One agrees that it is kind of hard to imag­ine why stu­dents would set­tle for dec­o­rat­ing one third of a Christ­mas tree. One is not, how­ever, hard-pressed to con­jure ex­pla­na­tions that fall well short of an alarm­ing lack of na­tional re­solve. They might not have cared very much. They might have been anx­ious to get back to more plea­sur­able pur­suits. And why weren’t they pro­vided with all the needed sup­plies in the first place?

“Our kids,” Sasse writes, “no longer know how to pro­duce.” And there is a sense in which he may be on to some­thing. One reads fre­quently that to­day’s young peo­ple—born while Ken Starr was pur­su­ing Bill Clin­ton, tod­dlers on Septem­ber 11, grade-school­ers at the time of the great melt­down of 2008—don’t work as much as pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Or that they keep their noses pressed to their smart phones (they were also grade-school­ers when the iPhone was un­veiled), or that new tech­nol­ogy has cre­ated a gen­er­a­tion that will never, say, bal­ance a check­book or have to visit li­brary stacks to gather in­for­ma­tion. We also read that work­ing-class kids in ru­ral Amer­ica aren’t show­ing as much ini­tia­tive as in the old days, since at­trac­tive jobs and op­por­tu­ni­ties have left many of the places where they live.

This sweep­ing as­ser­tion, how­ever, doesn’t re­ally square with ev­i­dence that the op­po­site prob­lem is also per­va­sive. We hear end­less sto­ries of Tiger Moms who start plan­ning their chil­dren’s as­saults on Prince­ton and Wes­leyan from the time they are twelve years old. In some coun­ties—coun­ties Hil­lary Clin­ton is likely to have car­ried last fall, by the way, which in­cluded just two of Ne­braska’s ninety-three—a more preva­lent con­cern is not that chil­dren are un­der­achiev­ing but that they are over­achiev­ing to the point of need­ing med­i­ca­tion to man­age their anx­i­eties. Sasse de­votes a page or two to all this, but for the most part this over­stressed Amer­ica isn’t on his radar screen. What does get un­der his skin is the way the Amer­i­can school—un­der the guid­ance of John Dewey, who is the book’s dark em­i­nence—“ceased to be an in­stru­ment sup­port­ing par­ents and be­came in­stead a sub­sti­tute for par­ents.” One can see in these pas­sages why Sasse is such a fan of DeVos. The vi­sion of DeVos and her al­lies—a more au­thor­i­tar­ian ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion, more home-schooling, stricter dis­ci­pline in char­ter schools—pro­vides the so­lu­tion for the prob­lem Sasse ap­pre­hends and de­scribes of an undis­ci­plined, aim­less teenage pop­u­la­tion. Clin­ton-vot­ing par­ents of kids des­per­ate to get a 98 in­stead of a 97 on that AP cal­cu­lus exam see a very dif­fer­ent set of prob­lems—and so­lu­tions.

At the same time Sasse laments the rise of “softer par­ent­ing,” which is trace­able to the in­flu­ence of Ben­jamin Spock. He and his wife have home­schooled two of their three chil­dren and strive to teach them lessons like the “moral sense that air con­di­tion­ing is a ‘nice-to-have’ lux­ury, not a ‘needto-have’ re­quire­ment.” This ar­gu­ment may seem hec­tor­ing, but the book has the op­po­site ef­fect on the reader. Sasse’s tone is sin­cere and af­fa­ble, and here and there he even pauses to cross-ex­am­ine his own con­vic­tions. He comes across as in­tel­li­gent and widely read, but he’s not a show-off. He la­dles praise on sev­eral left-of-cen­ter thinkers, such as Paula Fass, the im­por­tant his­to­rian of child­hood in Amer­ica, and the critic Neil Post­man, whom Sasse adores. He may be a man who ab­hors more or less ev­ery so­cial de­vel­op­ment in this coun­try since Elvis Pres­ley, but he does it in the nicest pos­si­ble way.


Van­ish­ing Amer­i­can Adult is not per se a po­lit­i­cal book, but its au­thor is a politi­cian, so of course it is a po­lit­i­cal book. Its core as­ser­tion about “per­pet­ual ado­les­cence” is con­tra­dicted by moun­tains of ac­tual data, which tell us that the United States is the most over­worked na­tion in the world, with more house­holds per capita in which two par­ents work than al­most any other coun­try, with longer hours worked, with shorter va­ca­tions (and no man­dated paid va­ca­tion time, un­like ev­ery other advanced coun­try in the world), with no paid parental leave, and more.

It’s an an­noy­ing at­tribute not just of Sasse’s book but of all such books by con­ser­va­tives that struc­tural eco­nomic ef­fects are never to blame for any­thing. It’s al­ways val­ues-re­lated; some­thing “we” are guilty of hav­ing come to ac­cept, usu­ally foisted on us by lib­er­als. But it might also be the case that the hard­work­ing chil­dren Sasse re­mem­bers were hard­work­ing be­cause they had some­thing to work hard for: they were grow­ing up in an ex­pand­ing econ­omy with a real chance for up­ward mo­bil­ity. Re­cre­at­ing those con­di­tions may re­quire a val­ues shift; but it also cer­tainly re­quires con­sid­er­able pub­lic in­vest­ment. To ac­knowl­edge eco­nomic causes, how­ever, would be to ad­mit that eco­nomic so­lu­tions ex­ist, yet im­pos­ing those would mean gov­ern­ment and taxes, and of course that can­not be con­sid­ered un­der any cir­cum­stances. Putting all that ev­i­dence aside, how­ever, as Repub­li­cans so fre­quently and skill­fully do, the mes­sage will touch con­ser­va­tive read­ers deeply, es­pe­cially those most af­fronted by the per­pet­ual ado­les­cent cur­rently liv­ing at 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue. Which brings us back to con­sid­er­a­tion of what a post-Trump Repub­li­can Party might look like. Some mat­ters are im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict, de­pend­ing on events. Still, I think this much is clear: There will be much talk of a re­turn to nor­malcy. The press will help ad­vance the nar­ra­tive that the Grand Old Party has re­versed course af­ter a calamity, or—so we hope—a near calamity.

But what, for this party, is “nor­mal”? It’s a party of in­creas­ingly hardright po­si­tions across the board. Sasse gets 100 per­cent rat­ings from the Club for Growth, the Koch brothers’ Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union, the Fed­er­a­tion for Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form, and other vote-rat­ing groups on the right, and those that don’t give him a per­fect score come close. His top two donors, by far, are the Club for Growth and the Se­nate Con­ser­va­tives Fund, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics. The lat­ter group does not, as the name might sug­gest, give its im­pri­matur to pretty much any con­ser­va­tive out there do­ing bat­tle against a lib­eral. It en­dorses only the right­est of the right. In 2014, for ex­am­ple, it sup­ported only seven Repub­li­can can­di­dates, four of them Tea Party chal­lengers to Repub­li­can in­cum­bents, all far to the right. Sasse was one of the seven.

And yet he does not present him­self as an ide­o­logue. In mid-Au­gust, he posted a longish mes­sage on his Face­book page in re­sponse to Char­lottesville. It raised six­teen points of con­cern about the rup­tured civic fab­ric, ex­press­ing fear of more vi­o­lence and urg­ing “each of us” to “pause and teach our kids again about uni­ver­sal hu­man dig­nity and about love of neigh­bor.” This is pablum. And it’s stun­ningly pas­sive. You’d never know this was writ­ten by a United States sen­a­tor who has some power to guide his con­stituents away from the re­sent­ments that he de­scribes them nurs­ing.

But he likes Neil Post­man and can quote Au­gus­tine—and tem­per­a­men­tally he will be about as op­po­site from Don­ald Trump as a per­son can be. Plus he’s not on his third wife, and he seems a whole­some and ex­tremely pi­ous fam­ily man who will be able to talk about how he made his daugh­ter spend a sum­mer cas­trat­ing bulls so she’d know what hard work was. Af­ter Trump, a kind face to sell, or con­ceal, that party’s poli­cies may be what the Repub­li­can Party will de­cide it needs.

—Au­gust 29, 2017

Ben Sasse

Sen­a­tors Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse dur­ing the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee’s vote on the nom­i­na­tion of Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court, April 2017

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