David Brook’s essay explores how we have lost our common national narrative. America was imbued with conquest through a faith in Providence, a desire for betterment, gritty community and personal sacrifice, the exploitation of labor and the conquest of lands. Our founding embodied an empowering wisdom which proved to be a solid foundation for American endeavor.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. (Man = Man or Woman) Theodore Roosevelt, Excerpt from “Citizenship In A Republic, April 23, 1910
What is it to be a citizen of the Republic? Does Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 guidance help? I must admit these are vexing and challenging times. The politics is moving in a very strange direction, and there is not much to explain it or even to understand it regarding our common political history.
Modern Trumpian Republic
The Trumpian Republic seems dedicated to making rich people richer, though they tell us it is support for the working and middle classes. Starting many years ago wealth has just continued to concentrate to the few and away from the breadth of our Republic. (For the record, wealth inequity is a trend since the mid-1970s, see The Economist, “The Rich, The Poor and The Growing Gap between Them,” June 15, 2006).
For those believing in the Trumpian Republic, it depends on the market and modern social Darwinism and, of course, a friendly administration in DC.
The expressed hope is that if you work harder, are smarter, manage your money wisely, you will accumulate a comfortable nest egg. If you or your family become ill or luck-is-against-you, then you must “suck-it-up,” and maybe things will be better next time.
Modern Liberal Republic
Democratic themes always seem to be taxing and regulating more, and seeking retribution against those called out as racist, misogynist, homophobic, and Islamophobic, etc. There is this thing of “identity” which for a country boy is very difficult to understand. “We” seems to have become an inappropriate term because it melds identities. We cannot just shake hands and drink a beer together and find common interests. Now it is so much more serious and metaphysical.
Mark Lilla’s Dispensations
Fortunately, Mark Lilla has stepped up to address this from a politically liberal perspective. He has also provided much insight about President Reagan’s policy paradigm in his book The Once and Future Liberal After Identity Politics copyrighted in 2017.
This short book discusses the characteristics of modern American political history. He has divided this history into two “dispensations” (i.e., systems of order, government, or organization of a nation, community, etc., especially as existing at a specific time). (p7)
The first is the Roosevelt Dispensation and the second is the Reagan Dispensation beginning in 1980. Each of the Dispensations “brought with it an inspiring image of America’s destiny and a distinctive catechism of doctrines that set the terms of political debate.” (p 8)