In an age when few people under the age of 40 can recall—either from personal memory or from some retelling in a book, a movie, or a classroom presentation—a single story about their country that moves them to unalloyed admiration, what can it even mean to exhort them to “Make America Great Again”?
Older generations probably remember a time when most Americans considered their country a genuinely great country. But the doubts and questions our inevitable imperfections once inspired have metastasized and now are weaponized by the Left in ways that few normal people in that older generation seem to grasp. They hear the stories of campus outrage and they witness the ever more shrill invective that seems to poison our politics. They forget that their own love of country, which steadies them in these storms, comes from something deeper than their experience of politics in our time—that it was inspired by something other than the ongoing back and forth debate over policy prescriptions.
Fortunately, Christopher Flannery of the Claremont Institute has not forgotten what inspired his own feeling for America and he isn’t shy about sharing his love letters to America inspired by this informed sentiment.
Flannery’s podcast, “The American Story,” offers short, well-produced, and cogent stories that hark back to an older way of talking about our country and to the people who made it great. Quite deliberately, it steps over rather than engages with what has become the authoritative, if blinkered, narrative of America. The assumption is that these stories can be understood by any reasonable person who has not already been anesthetized by progressive doctrines insisting America’s past is nothing but shameful and in need of hair-shirt repentance.
Flannery explains that the “identity politics behind this narrative [of the Left] is irrational. You can point out this irrationality and its bad consequences and show rational alternatives to it, as American Greatness, the Claremont Institute, and other good places do on a daily basis. But to tell America’s story in its true dimensions, you have to go around this irrational narrative.”
So these stories do not address the premises of the Left. They just present a way of thinking that is both true and reasonable. The hope is that they will also present something refreshing to souls left parched by the incessant drumbeat of America hating academia.
A theme central to Flannery’s work, inevitably, is love.
“There is an inevitable connection between love and our rational nature as human beings,” he explains, “If people understand America, it is inseparable from the idea that animated our Revolution as long as America is America. And that idea is intrinsically lovable because it contains in it a notion of human goodness that is inherently lovable.”
America, in other words, is a country that not only needs to be loved—as all countries do—but it deserves to be loved.
But this deserving is not to be taken for granted, either. These stories are designed to remind Americans that every generation needs to do what it can to keep the country worthy of that love. It has to be worthy of what Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion.”
America’s creed, Flannery says, recognizes that the human mind by nature is free and that this freedom, when cultivated and respected, makes men capable of recognizing things that are worthy of love. But if Americans are not asked to love their country, if they are not given reasons to do so, they are bound not only to be poor citizens but also to be unhappy. Being a good citizen through recognizing the virtue of one’s country and in keeping her worthy of affection is a big part of the “pursuit of happiness” and the fulfillment of human nature.
“The American Story” is an effort to provide those reasons for a new generation of Americans that, through no fault of its own, is deprived of them because of the poverty of our education and popular culture establishment. This is less about saving American education than it is about restoring an oral tradition and conversation between citizens about who they are.
To that end, there is a certain cadence to the stories Flannery recalls. As all good writing has a certain rhythm or poetry inherent in it, this is all the more vital in any oral presentation. The podcasts are certainly engaging on that level and draw the listener in, not only to a story but also into a mood.
When asked whether video might become a part of some future presentation of these stories, Flannery demurred. Possibly. But its absence, for now, is intentional.
“There is something about the spoken word on its own that grips the mind with more focus and satisfaction than when you add video to it,” he told me. “I love movies, but these stories, at least so far, are not meant to be like that—in the conviction that there is some kind of attention that the mind pays to the spoken word that is different from when it is accompanied by visual effects. This medium has a certain power of its own. A listener can enter the world of that story for five or six minutes and be fully engaged without distractions.”
This also explains the way the stories are set to music. “My sense is that when they work, the music somehow enhances the effect of the words,” Flannery explains. “There is a sense in which these essays are like country songs. The music is chosen in a way to evoke a fuller sense of the time and the point. The sound combination is meant to have an effect and appeal both to the mind and the heart of the listener. That is, in other words, the whole point of political speech.”
And that gets to the central point of “The American Story” in more ways than one. The stories are meant to be the highest kind of political speech rather than mere anecdotes or lofty, but difficult to translate, scholarship. They are the kind of speech that is meant to reach citizens both in the heart and in the mind but, more importantly, it is meant to produce an effect in them—one of love, gratitude, and of striving to be worthy in our politics today of the greatness that has preceded us.
You can listen and subscribe to “The American Story” at www.theamericanstorypodcast.org or with your favorite podcast application.
Listen to all of them, but here are some of my favorites:
And, of course: