Friday, September 29, 2023

The Country Will Be Saved By Those Who Love It

Earlier this month I attended 9/11 remembrance and memorial ceremonies, as well as carried on my annual tradition of walking down to ground zero, now the 9/11 Memorial. This year it was after a long work day that included a couple of different public ceremonies and in a downpour. Not unlike the downpour we had today and the lighter rain yesterday while attending the NYC opening of the Vietnam Healing Wall. Both of those ceremonies amongst so many kind-hearted and patriotic Americans and the contemplation while walking the memorials become increasingly rejuvenating for me. No matter how hard things get, or how bleak things seem for American life, culture, and society right now, the long-term, long-game optimist in me slowly comes back into view. 

It was my default setting in life originally, born perhaps from a combination of a Norman Rockwell-esque painting of a home town and a necessary coping mechanism to upbringing ravaged by mental health issues for my entire memory. While I am a tough love critic and very much a hardened realist in matters of politics and public policy, military service and a deployment, neither familial nor country-dysfunction has beat out of me the nostalgic romantic at heart. It is of course an aestheticism, that almost requires a certain amount of worldview steeped in traditions and intact and strong families, especially as I get older. The often quoted "Never Forget" heightens the importance to tell stories and common narratives the older we get. More and more Americans are born every year that will never have a memory of 9/11, which means they'll also never have memory of how truly united the country was in the days, weeks, and months after it, and how much that opportunity was botched by our government, culture, and society every year ever since. 

"People were kind to each other." 

I'm no stranger to kindness. If you're born and raised in the upper Midwest its basically an article of faith, albeit a passive aggressive one. But the italicized quote above comes from a born and raised, lifelong New York friend of mine and its relevant because the reputation for direct and "mean tweet" talk that New Yorkers have. The longer I am a New Yorker myself the more I gravitate to such directness. It's a refreshing shortcut, totally at odds with the labyrinth of city government and the subway if you will, or the gears and levers that make up the city itself. That spirit of kindness, love, and unity in those days becomes increasingly bittersweet nostalgia with each passing year because we're also more and more divided over the last twenty years. 

Consider how we've grown apart in the two charts from a recent Gallup poll on attitudes below. 

On many of these issues the country has grown further and further apart along partisan lines. Yet I suspect, at least a good portion of this isn't people becoming more extreme, but the American societal establishment and elites mismanaging the country a bit more, decade after decade -- eroding trust along the way. And indeed a fair portion of the erosion is prior to 2003, to 2001. What I think is happening in this era more and more is people are realigning and resorting to where they actually want to be. This is exactly what happens at the 11th hour of history's great fights. If you're going down, you want to go down fighting for what you actually love and believe in. More than anything, that is what is happening. 

So what's going on? Well increasingly, Republicans think the federal government has too much power and that immigration should be decreased. And Americans overall (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents/unaffiliated) are increasingly gravitating to those two positions too. Other issues where we've grown apart are smaller in makeup. Republicans now have increasingly have far more confidence in police, but anyone who has followed the news cycle the last half-decade could've guessed that. The striking differences the other way. The gap on humans as the cause of global warming or climate change has grown, as well as K-12 satisfaction, and abortion being legal under any circumstance. Again, all of these positions the public is gravitating more toward the Republican position in general, especially if the Republican position on abortion is more nuanced and not absolutist and without exceptions the other way. The other emerging difference that sticks out, like immigration, was stressed by then-candidate and citizen Trump in 2016 -- foreign trade. Increasingly, Democrats, becoming a knee-jerk anti-Trump party, embrace free trade, unrestricted mass immigration of whatever legality, and are increasingly doubling-down on globalization. The problem is that almost no one else is coming with them. 

"What's happened to you?" 

As a former Democrat, albeit a more blue dog or old school Kennedy-type of Democrat, I no doubt have angered a lot of friends who think I've betrayed them. The above italicized quote was tagged with an article I wrote with Gavin Wax earlier this year where we argued that re-electing President Trump offers the best chance at peace. Read the article for yourselves and be the judge. Have I changed? Or has everything else changed and I've perhaps expanded my media and research diet and had a lot more life experiences... 

On economic and family matters, on war and peace -- I'm not a Democrat anymore and haven't been for years because they have nothing to offer me. I'm a Republican because they're increasingly gravitating to the positions I already held. I've changed my mind on a few issues here and there, but it's not the big issues that realign people. In 2003 I thought the Iraq war was a bad idea, and in 2023 I think U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine is dangerous and downright suicidal for civilization. The stakes are high and I have no patience, tolerance, or time anymore to pander to those who want to be socially accepted by a LinkedIn page. If anything, my only regret is that I did not realign earlier. I had been frustrated with the direction of the Democrats for a lot longer and stayed far too long in an official capacity. Two decades ago my political beliefs broadly speaking were pro-middle and working class and patriotic. Today, they are pro-middle and working class and patriotic. They were also anti-authoritarian and anti-war. Today, they are anti-authoritarian and anti-war. Twenty years ago, the word "progressive" was barely in the Democrat zeitgeist. Today, it's everywhere and those progressives are too authoritarian and busybody for my liking. They also tend to dislike all tradition and the received wisdom from the past, and my biggest deal-breaker, they tend to be very unpatriotic. I don't need you to be super patriotic. But this rampant anti-American and anti-Western sentiment is completely self-defeating. 

This is a good country. Most people like this country. And they want their kids, if they have them, to grow up in a better country, with more opportunities than they had, just like all prior generations of Americans wanted. Which brings me to another deal-breaker, which has more and more evidence for it by the day, family demographics

Increasingly, Republicans are becoming not merely the "family values" party like the 1980s and 1990s, but simply the party of parents, the party of families. In the 2022 midterms, underwhelming in many respects for Republicans, married men broke for Republicans by 20 points, married women did by 14 points (very little gender gap there), and unmarried men did by 7 points. Only unmarried women broke for Democrats by 37 points. It is my contention that no matter how hard things get, you can rebuild and save a country with the former coalition and have no chance at all with the latter. The family, tradition, and patriotism nexus grows stronger by the year. It is from the younger, the single, the supposedly righteous, but often self-righteous and sanctimonious cohort that increasingly wants to drive the bus in this country. But let's consider the long-term math here. Below are the states that are having more kids since the end of Roe and the ones having fewer. The states in green are seeing population growth on top of the more children they already did have for the most part, the states in red in graph terms are having fewer kids, and if they are blue or purple states will run the risk of becoming red. 

A party that thinks it's going to "win the future" does not try to lawlessly import with great speed and little care for common sense an entirely new voting population. It doesn't try to cheat through using public health as an excuse to unconstitutionally change laws, and it doesn't try to lock everyone into failing public schools and call parents domestic terrorists if they disagree with the state regime curriculum or want to run for school board. 

This is why I've often said on Twitter: "you can lose now, or lose later -- but you will lose." (The rhetorical negative that I'll turn positive in a moment). 

But this is why it is the Democrats who are in trouble. Yet even if you are a Democrat -- if you are patriotic and love this country, if you're raising a family, and if you don't want to criminalize your opposition -- you're fine in my book. 

The positive side is quite simply: the country will be saved by those who love it. And that is a better story. That is a story people never forget. It is why veterans and service members of all political stripes and demographic backgrounds can get along so well, even if they have little to nothing in common. One team, one fight, all gave some, some gave all. 

If America is a bus, and the people, the children on the bus are the future. Don't you want someone driving that bus who loves the bus, the people, and the children? A patriotism of tough love is always fine, and should be encouraged. But a lack of patriotism, or those who actively dislike America and the American people, and put nearly every other interest first -- that's a dealbreaker. What parent would want to have someone driving the bus who dislikes the bus and the people in it? 

And the problem is those who most want to drive the bus today dislike the bus. And so we've been given no choice. 

It'll be families, patriots, veterans, first responders, homemakers and caretakers, family and household economics, a national and protectionist industrial policy, and a more civic-oriented, communication society and culture like the one advocated for here at The Frank Forum that'll bring back, build, and renew this country. 

Another first this September -- after all of these years, I finally went into the 9/11 Memorial Museum as well (tickets below). It was consistently and accurately described as "sacred and hallowed" space. Language that reminds me of how Gettysburg National Battlefield has been described, as sacred and hallowed ground. 

This phrasing, this story, was referenced by President Lincoln during the Gettysburg Address: "we can not hallow this" ground, before adding that "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract." But indeed the country remembered and benefited too, from those words. Because the country needs stories. Needs a common story. Common principles and values. A common understanding, and some common sense again. 

And that is the new inevitability

Yes, the country will be saved by those who love it. And that's a beautiful thing. 

Troy M. Olson is an Army Veteran, a lawyer by training, and the co-author of the forthcoming book ‘The Emerging Populist Majority.’ He lives in New York City with his wife and son. You can follow him on Twitter and Substack at @TroyMOlson


Post a Comment