conservative americansLike millions of conservative Americans, I spent last night with hope and fear, followed by sinking disappointment at what my fellow Americans had chosen to do with our country. That disappointment has not gone away. But it has been tempered, as all our disappointments should be tempered, by a realization of just how little we lost last night.

I do not regret that I voted against Barack Obama, a man determined to make my country into a cheap copy of a European social democracy. But that was what I did: I voted against Obama. I never really wanted to vote for a child of privilege, flush with Cayman Island bank accounts, mansions and all the usual accoutrements of a member of a European style ruling class, who never cared about the so-called “social issues,” speaking of them only when and to the extent absolutely necessary. I did not vote for a man whose vision of the free market in America rests on spread sheets and the maximization of “value” for passive investors who make nothing but paper profits. 

Such comments no doubt seem like mere carping, or even scape-goating. But how many people really thought, in their heart of hearts, that a man so divorced from American life would, or even should, be President of these United States? I am sure the Romneys are upset today, and I am sorry if they feel emotionally wounded. But the Presidency is not a prize for the most powerful to take as the capstone of a career; it is a sacred duty for one who seeks the common good of his country.

And now we have Obama. Four more years, now with “more flexibility” to pursue an agenda that already was “progressive” to the point of changing the fundamental character of our nation. Obamacare will now become entrenched as yet another “entitlement” making Americans wards of a state and its bureaucratic machinery as they pursue as much security as they can possibly manage, provided their free contraception, ready abortion, and government benefits guarantee that they will not be inconvenienced or pay any significant price for their actions.

And yet, I began by saying that we have lost little. And I believe this to be true. We already were well on our way to European style social democracy. After four more years of Obama, we simply will be in a position to accept the facts as they are: Americans no longer are a people committed to self-reliance, community values, and love of God above all else. And it is time for those of us who continue to cherish these permanent goods to come to grips with the fact that we cannot “take back” America by electing this or that politician. Since the Reagan years, an increasing number of conservative Americans have sought to recapture the moment when we seriously believed we could reverse decades of moral atrophy and fiscal irresponsibility by calling on the better angels of Americans’ nature.

It never happened, even under Reagan. And if one looks at the institutions our “leaders” have built, they come to very, very little beyond comfortable incomes for the mouthpieces of the Republican party.

And here is my point: none of this is a reason for despair. Indeed, knowledge of the dead-end that politics so obviously has become should be liberating for conservatives. It is far beyond time for conservative Americans—and Christians in particular—to put aside the distractions of mass politics for the tactile realities involved in building a decent life. We still need to vote and otherwise get involved, of course, but we need to remember what we are doing: hoping to prevent or mitigate the damage being done to us, not “taking back” a state apparatus that has long been used to reshape our society in unwholesome ways. We must come to recognize that the federal government, to its very core, has become hostile to our very way of life, not a violent oppressor, but nonetheless our adversary as we seek to raise our children, educating them in our faith, our morals, and our traditions. We must build neighborhoods, parishes and other religious and secular communities in which spiritual, intellectual and fundamentally moral lives are possible.

Perhaps, having taught in a university setting for many years, I am more comfortable than most with the realization that mine will be a voice that is little valued or noticed, save for occasional scolding. But there is little lost and much gained by giving up the empty hope of some “revolution” (from a new Reagan or otherwise) anywhere but in the hearts and minds of the people with whom we share our lives. We can and must hope that Americans will rediscover their traditions and the moral core of their character. We must work to make this possible. But we must stop thinking that the rather abstract act of voting for one of two sets of personalities and policies at the national level will make that happen. It is past time to concentrate on reinvigorating the culture that made this nation, and its people, great.

We have lost little save our illusions. And we should be thankful for that.

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36 replies to this post
  1. You are right in that the feddle gummint is antithetical to a Christian way of life. You are also correct in that we do have a savior, and it's not Mitt Romney.

    But and we do have reason to despair. The problem is that our God-given (and previously US-sanctioned) right to raise our children, educate them in our faith and morals, and even practice our traditions, is in peril. Because the political avenue failed, we may be prevented from exercising our most basic rights. And that's very scary. Will I be able to homeschool my children two years from now?

    Personal holiness is the answer, of course, but I fear that we won't be permitted to reinvigorate the culture irrespective of our own holiness. We have been chastened, relegated to second class, and they'll keep us there.

  2. The first Christians were also prevented from exercising their most basic rights, yet they were able to ultimately transform the world by their patient witness under persecution. Even if our children are educated by the public system, we as parents still have the opportunity to teach them about God and His ways when they are home. The sooner in their lives that we start, and the more consistent we are in doing this, the better chance we have to transform the world like our forefathers in the faith did millenia ago. God bless, keep the faith, live for Christ.

  3. With the lack of conservative voters (including the massive amounts of aborted potential voters) and the rise of the number of people expecting big government largesse, and adding what will be a liberal Supreme Court for decades…..we will probably never have a conservative president, ever. We are left with faith in God and prayer, staying personally true to our values.

  4. This reflects great wisdom, Bruce, and a settled sense of who we are as conservatives. In terms of conserving what we have left of the American republic, we may be better off that the national election took the turn it did. I think the President will be less likely to get us into more wars, and he is blocked from doing major legislative damage by the Republican House. He's another lame duck. This means that conservatives, insofar as we should give a certain amount of our energy to politics, can labor at the community level for at least a couple of years, realizing that it is very important to get the right people as local judges, guys and gals fixing our streets, finding ways to do things without automatically "pigging together," as Robert Frost said. It's amazing how liberating it is to do something through self governance!

  5. How much have we lost in one night? As someone who voted against both Obama and Romney, I can tell you that indeed nothing of significance was lost. But how much have we lost in the last 6 or 7 years? An enormous amount. A terrible blow has been struck to humanity, and we shouldn't sugarcoat the global, universal fallout from all of this. A huge piece of God's design for Christian history has come to a close. America was once a special nation raised to meet God's providential plans for all mankind, but the America of today is no longer a Christian nation. Now it is merely a corrupted anti-Christian culture that boos mention of God at political and conventions, and which must eventually and rightfully be brought low by the moral laws of cause and effect.

    As Lech Walesa said in 2010, the world has "lost hope" in America's moral leadership. So just because life may go on as normal for you in your personal daily routines, the same is not true for your fellow man. The current and now irreversible trajectory for U.S. policy is painting a very dark picture for billions of souls in the near future. We shouldn't be glib about this, nor should we run away from stark reality with whimsical intellectual rationalizations and cheerful slogans about how we can feel "liberated" and work to help Americans rediscover their moral core. I've got news for you … it ain't gonna happen.

    Now you can call me a reluctant Jonah all you want, but until I hear a special voice of God calling me to preach to America, I'm just going to go about my business retreating from that foreign culture the best way I know how. As it is written in 2 Corinthians 6: "Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?" I might add, what business does an orthodox Christian have participating in the wider American culture as it stands today (beyond minimal legal compliance in order to live peaceably with civil authorities)?

  6. Thank you, sir, for articulating my thoughts better than I could myself.
    It is time to be truly counter-cultural. I am consoled and heartened by your post.

  7. The real solution to the problem is found not in the ballot box, but in the pulpit – not with topical "how-to-monologues, cherry picking select texts" – but with expositional preaching of the whole counsel of God and Christ-centered worship.

  8. Bruce,

    Good journalism is telling your audience something they didn't see. You, sir, have done just that. Thank you for shining a light on a different (and better) angle that I haven't considered.

    God Bless.

  9. To conservatives it seems inconceivable that Americans buy into the Democrat/Obama narrative, but is it really that much of a surprise? The power of the culture is the simple and obvious explanation. Think about it. Over 50 million children every day go to schools whose curriculum, most teachers and administrators are secularist modern liberals. Those who don’t have strong counter-culture (yep, we’re the counter-culture now) parents are indoctrinated to become little Democrat lemmings. Over 20 million young people attend American colleges and universities totally dominated by professors and administrators that are more or less hostile to traditional especially religious and America’s Founding values. We wonder why under 30s voted overwhelmingly for Obama? I don’t.

    A large majority of apolitical Americans get their news and information from the increasingly corrupt mainstream media. They never listen to talk radio, watch Fox news or visit conservative websites or blogs. As we all know, this media is dominated by left-wing, progressive, liberals, all the very same thing! And we wonder why these people buy into Obama’s class warfare welfare state obfuscations. We shouldn’t.

    These same Americans are entertained and informed by industries (Hollywood, publishing, Madison Ave., etc.) that is as hostile as academia is to traditional American values. We are surprised these people give a failing president four more years? We shouldn’t be.

    If we don’t fight for the culture within these professions in some way, politics alone will always come up against the secular welfare state worldview that underlies the cultural air we all breathe; and that eventually determines the direction and health of our society.

  10. Wow, I came here for Mr. Frohnen's article and have jusst discovered that Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism seem to be alive and well, at least in the comments box. I understand the historical fascinantion it has to many people, but maybe that's part of the problem.

    Sorry to say, I really mean no offense, but the USA is not God`s chosen nation. You are a great country, full of possibilities, and have the power to influence the world in some positive ways, as indeed have done in some occasions (though less numerous than some may think). But that`s it. You can`t even imagine how ludicrous this discourse sounds to everyone else in the world, even Christian faithful? As every nation, the USA has to change in due time, to adapt, to develop new solutions to new problems (and some old ones, too). Now the country is very polarized, and this "cultural war theme" probably does more harm than good.

    Most people are not "conservatives" or "liberals", they have more or less the same interests, but pursue them in different ways. Maybe the so-called conservatives have to learn something: you can enrich your culture even in out of a position of supreme power. But you don`t have to adhere to apocalyptical rhetoric to do that, and there are precious lessons in defeat. And the first one, I think, is this: stop looking like a resentful and belligerant group of reactionaries who alienate entire segments of people because they don`t fit an obsolete model of society (yes, I mean the very ones who defeated the GOP now: latinos, gays, women, nontradicional families, city-dwellers). You've had decades of cultural wars; what about more dialogue now? Of course there are moral battles to be fought — but fight them mainly out of the state sphere. And look abroad for some inspiration: American conservatives often look outlandish for foreigners, and that`s not because they are too good and "special" to be understood by us (I'm Brazilian, for instance).

    To sum it up, conservatism has to change sometimes, otherwish there will be nothing to conserve anymore. But, in order to do that, you'll do have to do some soul-searching — for yourselves, for your country and, given the power America still has in global terms, for the world.

    Good luck. I, for one, root for you.

    Best regards,

  11. The first Christians did not face the modern surveillence State. The situation is completely different. Rome was authoritarian, it was not totalitarian.

  12. Rodrigo, Manifest Destiny? Excuse me, but where in the world, i.e. the conservative world, let alone these comments, do you see any evidence for a 19th century phenomenon? American Exceptionalism on the other hand is indeed alive and well, but of course you completely misunderstand the term, as most if not all modern liberals do. It has nothing to do with being "God's chosen nation," although America's Founders often spoke of Providence guiding the founding of the United States of America.

    American Exceptionalism has nothing to do with America being perfect or "better" than other nations. What it has to do with America being founded on an idea, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator, not the government, with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Eventually these ideals were extended to women, and at great cost to African Americans, and of course rightly so.

    The American experiment was unique in the history of the world, and become the most prosperous and powerful nation as well. Read Alexis de Tocqueville if you want to find out what made, and still makes, America exceptional. Any nation that can survive Barack Obama and the evil of progressivism has to be!

  13. Rodrigo: Thanks for your contribution. I agree, as an American, that America certainly isn't God's chosen country and I'm often troubled by the national idolatry of many of my fellow citizens, conservatives in particular.

    However, you lose me a bit when you get to, "look abroad for some inspiration: American conservatives often look outlandish for foreigners." I see no particular reason to care who thinks I look outlandish, least of all people in far-away countries, many of whom obviously have very different cultures. Cultural contempt can work both ways, but it's never very productive. Rather than copying others, I'd rather focus internally on eliminating my own flaws first, and I would expand that philosophy to entire societies.

  14. Great commentary, Bruce. From the look on some folks' faces, you'd think we should be all wearing sack cloth and ashes because of what happened last night. I keep waiting for the moon to turn to blood.

  15. Mike, first paragraph OK. Second paragraph pure neocon. If we're founded on an idea, I don't like the idea. I was telling a football player today that I loved the fact that a dago was wearing #13 and proud to do it. His name is Cangelosi, and he said, "I don't want to have a problem with you, doc." I told him that I grew up in a little western New York town and during WWII my dad was away and the Sicilian immigrants who lived there to work on the New York Central RR, took care of me, and all the other anglo kids whose dads were getting chopped up in various places. My mom told me that I spoke decent sicilian at the age of five. My grandfather taught the Italian men English and their citizenship lessons. I love those people, and they had no sense whatsoever of abstractions like "all men are created equal." They brought their culture to us, and we learned from it. I have no patience whatsoever with people who try to make mush out of proud and good and tough and decent people. That's also one of the many reasons I think that the Repubicans in their stupid prejudice and blindness have no chance of understanding why the Hispanics will only make us stronger. Sorry for my passion on this, but the only way our country is exceptional is that, like the Iroquois, we get over our racial stupidities as soon as we can. The rest of the triumphalism is nonsense.

  16. Here, here!

    And great job Bruce! Well-said, and thank you. It is a nice reminder to us that the things we're fighting for shouldn't be caught up in or decided by politics anyways, which is why it is so hard to play that game.

  17. When you fall out of a boat in the river of life, don't be a conservative and swim straight upstream because you think you have to stay in the same place, and don't be a liberal and swim straight downstream, with the worldly current, and exclaim, "Look how much 'progress' I make." Both will eventually drown. Obey Church teachings and swim at an angle to the stream, maybe slightly into the current and look for a safe place to land, that would be in the arms of Jesus. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor, from conception to natural death, especially that neighbor in great need of love, as yourself. Do not offend God, obey the teachings of the Church, and keep Jesus ever in your heart. After this election, we find ourselves still in the water, where we were before the election, where we would have been even if Romney had won. There are a few of us that because of this election still face losing our jobs or health insurance because of the HHS Mandate, and some of us are watching our children stray from God because of worldly teachings in public schools and universities, and some of our elders might in the near future be pressured into assisted suicide, which is coming, and maybe Catholic Schools and Hospitals and Social Services will have to close, and we might lose the right to worship openly but instead will have to meet secretly in our homes. Don't give up. Keep worshiping and keep praying. Keep your eye on the Lord and keep swimming. God bless.

  18. I think everyone is painfully aware that America is not God's chosen nation now, but you have to be hard-hearted in the extreme not to realize that it once was. This site seems to attract many people filled with hatred of neoconservatives, American's foreign policy during the Cold War, Israel, the "greed" of capitalism, etc., etc., etc. I think that only goes to show how quaint and outdated the Tory-esque traditionalism of Russell Kirk really was.

    Many on here seem to take solace in living a life devoted to God rather than politics. Well, sure, but that's a very trivial thing to say. You could always do that. But being the best Christian you can be does not mean being apolitical. All human communities are political. The hard part for American Christians now, is discerning what political communities are worth participating in, and which ones are not. I would hope that most Christians could see the writing on the wall by now and realize that America has become a wicked nation deserving of ruin. Perhaps we should be looking to emigrate to a new country.

  19. GEF, If it once was, it still is; if it never was, it isn't. Do you think that God changes His mind? I would commend to you a very important book, Richard Gamble's "In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth." The silly triumphalism that took over the democratic egalitarians in the 19th century and the progressives in the 20th has brought a relatively promising republic to the edge of destruction. To call conservatives "trivial," or to think that the permanent things that our best conservatives have wanted to preserve are outdated is just not helpful. The neocons are not just political, they are exclusively political. Conservatives like Bruce Frohnen (and, humbly, me) know that there are many things that lie behind and before politics.

  20. Thanks for a thoughtful piece. Although I was heartsick at the results, I do still believe that God is in control. We have sinned and strayed from Him. May He have mercy on us, and may we repent of our worldliness and turn back to Him. While I don't believe salvation comes from politics, I am convinced we should do what we can to help elect moral candidates, along with living with integrity and praying for our leaders. We should not abdicate our responsibility to influence the culture by being salt and light. May we train our children in the truth and keep working. It would be easy to give up and withdraw from dirty politics, but we must continue fighting the good fight. In VA, we have elections for governor next year, and our family will work hard to get a good conservative. I have no illusions that we will save the world through him, but we would be derelict in our duty if we stayed on the sidelines. We must pray as though everything depends on God ( which it does) and work as though it depends on us, because we will give account of the talents He's given us.

  21. With the election we lost Mitt Romney dropping the HHS Mandate. Not Grateful for that.

    And the Federal government certainly is a violent oppressor of God's people, it funds abortion which murders millions of people every year.

  22. There is great hostility to the Church today, and towards all Christians.
    Look to history. How did the Church work, grow, survive in America in the 19th century, when it was common to call Catholics "Papists" and "Romanists"? There were places where Catholics could not get jobs or rent a house. How did Catholics deal with that hostility?

  23. It's called "immigration," Anonymous. Starting in the 1840s with the Irish diaspora, the US absorbed nearly 50,000,000 immigrants by the time we shut it down somewhat in 1924. It's one thing for bigots to keep Catholics marginalized when they were about 5% of the population, it's another thing when they are 25%. A priest friend of mine likes to say that the Church is never so strong as when it is poor and under siege. He's probably right, but it doesn't hurt to have numbers. In today's situation it is not so much that the ruling elite is anti-Catholic, which it is, but that it is anti-Christian, anti-religion (except for strange minorities), and pro-secular state.

  24. Well, Mr. Wilson, I must be a Neocon! And a pure one at that! I had no idea. I always thought of myself as just a plain vanilla conservative, and more so in the last few years as more of a classical liberal.

    I must confess I have no idea what your comment means, other than you clearly don’t like Neocons! Or that for some reason, countries founded on ideas are a bad thing. Or that immigration is a good thing. As you might imply from my last name with all the gobbledygook between the D and the V (my grandfather should never have changed the i to an apostrophe in the ‘40s!), all my ancestors came through Ellis Island, so I’m kind of partial to the profound nature of the American Dream, something that might, dare I say it, make America exceptional!

    In fact I will go out on a limb here and say that there is no country in the history of the world that ever had something comparable to Lady Liberty, Ellis Island and the draw that America had, and continues to have to immigrants from all over the world. It makes me proud that huddle masses have risked everything to come to America, in fact all the way back to the Pilgrims and the long years before there even was an US of A. Say what you want, God is the sovereign king of the universe, and America is no accident; America has been uniquely blessed even amid its great sins. And just because some turned the very valid idea of American exceptionalism into triumphalism, doesn’t mean it isn’t valid or isn’t true. And because liberals hate it, it must be true!

    So if America wasn’t founded on the idea of all men being created equal, what exactly was America founded on? And what in the assertion that our rights come from God and not government is such a horrible thing? This is a curious thing to me, that ideas are bad things. Maybe I misread you, but I know a little about the history of the conservative “movement” and traditionalist conservatives have always had something against what they claimed is ideology, or rationalism, or maybe ideas, as part of the foundation for a self-governing people. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, so I don’t have any problem with ideas or reason, so maybe you can help me understand what I find so strange. Thanks.

  25. I don't think you're a neocon; but you are correct in inferring that I don't like what they have done to this country since about 1985. And it isn't that I don't like "ideas;" I don't like ideologues. The absolute heart of the Straussian/neocon worldview is that "natural rights" are universal to mankind and that equality is what drives decent regimes, and that the US somehow divined all this and put it into practice. Without trying to go over too well-ploughed ground, this conviction leads necessarily to a nationalist triumphalism and to the curious thought that politics sits at the center of existence. Our "founders" (I'm beginning to dislike that term almost as much as I dislike the label "student athlete") were men of both ideas and action, what I like to call "philosopher-statesmen of the republic," but to think that any of them used words like "equality" or "virtue" or "democracy" the way abolitionists and progressives later would is sheer nonsense. We were "founded" on a curious blend of classical/biblical/germanic cultures, a dynamic that gave us an opportunity for liberty, and that we foolishly began to turn into equality/democracy almost immediately. Well, this is turning into a lecture and I don't mean to do that. The point is, nations are never ideas–if they are, they are totalitarian, and determined to duplicate themselves endlessly. My wife's folks (Dutch to the core) all came through Ellis Island also, and not one of them has ever expressed the slightest interest in an "American Dream." We need a history written of the number of people who came through Ellis Island and later went back. It's about a quarter of the whole, I think, and their story would be at least as interesting as the one we are more familiar with. In good will, and maybe with more to discuss later…….

  26. There is the real answer that scares me and makes me dread isn't too strong of a word, is that my beliefs and way of life is now forfeit in exchange for everybody else can determine my life and actions!

  27. Excellent article, Professor! Thank you for encouraging us who are depressed by the outcome of the election, and reminding us that our best work is at the very most local level: our homes, families, and communities.

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