THEM: WHY WE HATE EACH OTHER — AND HOW TO HEAL
By Ben Sasse
St. Martin’s Press, $28.99, 262 pages
Ben Sasse identifies himself as “a husband, a dad, a Christian, an American, a conservative, a Republican, a Nebraskan, a Cornhusker football addict, a historian. For a time, I’m also a public servant,” serving as Nebraska’s junior senator since 2015.
Among the unusually talented and highly qualified members of that incoming Republican class, which restored a Republican majority to the Senate, Mr. Sasse may lay claim to the fullest academic resume.
Graduating from high school in Fremont, Nebraska, where his father was a teacher and football coach, he was recruited as a wrestler by Harvard (and who knew Harvard wrestles?), where he earned a bachelor’s degree. Then it was a master’s from St. John’s College in Annapolis, the Great Books college; two more masters and a Ph.D from Yale; and a stint at Oxford, where he was quarterback for the football team (and again, who knew they played football, American football at that, at Oxford?).
There’s no doubt athletics are important in the Sasse resume, perhaps accounting for the observation by Donald Trump, for whom Mr. Sasse tells us he did not vote, that he looked more like “a gym rat” than a senator (something of which no one would ever accuse the president).
Although he served in both Justice and Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration, his work in the private sector, most notably for McKinsey and Co. and the Boston Consulting Group, helping to guide organizations through periods of crisis, stood him in good stead when he became president of the troubled Midland College in his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska, and put it in the black. He was president of Midland, a Lutheran college, when he ran for the Senate and won in a landslide.
There’s also a strong religious component running through his resume. He met his wife, Melissa, on a Christian mission, and would later serve as executive director of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, co-authoring a book, “Here We Stand! A Call From Confessing Evangelicals For A Modern Reformation.” Mr. Sasse, who might perhaps be called a Christian communitarian, expresses a strong concern with the ability of our nation to survive in a post-Christian era.
In his next book, “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-Of-Age Crisis — And How To Rebuild A Culture Of Self-Reliance,” he writes of his objective to give his children (three of them, homeschooled by the senator and his wife) “a fighting chance to become productive adults” by inculcating the values and beliefs “at the heart of the American experience since our founding.”
In “Them,” he sets out to pull it all together, with our country itself the organization in crisis. “We’re living through a revolution that is going to utterly transform the ways we live and work an upheaval that will arguably dwarf the upheaval our nation experienced a century and a half ago when we morphed from an agricultural society into an industrial one.”
As a result, he writes, community cohesion no longer holds daily life together. Work and the nature of work — not long ago the center of community stability — is being totally redefined. People are losing faith in the institutions that once helped define the values we live by, as witness the situation today on college campuses, “once the cornerstone of free expression and open debate, now among the most intellectually intolerant spaces in America.”
“We are in a period of unprecedented upheaval,” he concludes. “Community is collapsing, anxiety is building, and we’re distracting ourselves with artificial political hatreds. That can’t endure — and if it does, America won’t.”
What to do about it? “The alternative is restoring community for our new moment, recognizing that we need to figure out a way to realize a sense of home in a world that looks very different than anything we’ve seen before ultimately, it will require habits of heart and mind that introduce neighborliness into a new, more rootless age.”
“There’s no formula for how to do that,” he writes. “The only thing we can do is start, wherever we are.”
In all, Mr. Sasse’s strongly written analysis of our current existential unease should hit a national nerve.
• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).