A New Political Culture of Self Understanding


When Margaret Thatcher was first elected in Great Britain, one of the things she said was she wanted to “change the way the British people think about themselves.” I always thought of that quote in the context of something Jeane Kirkpatrick said about the meaning of Ronald Reagan’s election: “America took the ‘kick me’ sign off its back.”

I’m beginning to think there might be some of this at very serious play in this presidential election. A new NYT poll shows Donald Trump more trusted on job creation and the economy than Hillary Clinton. We are told again and again, most elections are about just that issue at the end of the day. But in rare circumstances they can also be about the economy and national security. 1980 was such an election. Perhaps 2004 was a bit of that. I think this one may be, too.

And I think it may be about something more, as well: In his introductory essay to the new Heritage Foundation’s Annual Index of Culture and Opportunity, Michael Novak wrote: “We have hardly begun to address the rapid decline in the social ecology of our time. Many evils and self-destructive behaviors run rampant. Moral ecology is the new frontier of political economy: the culture in which the free society thrives — or destroys itself.”

Who, looking at the past month’s headlines, or today’s, doesn’t see that as just about exactly where we are. And thus, the reason, so many conservatives wanting candidates and leaders to talk about “American Greatness.” We can rebuild, we can “thrive,” or we can “destroy” ourselves.  This all goes to our economy, our national security, law and order, and the way we Americans think about ourselves–or should.  This, at least to me, is an election shaping up very much to be about something far greater than just our scientific ecology.

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