This column was originally published at Townhall.com on January 27, 2021.
In the last two months, I’ve spoken to many conservatives who no longer trust society’s institutions and who say they are giving up on civic participation. Their skepticism derives from election results that warrant investigation, inexplicable pandemic regulations and their uneven application, acceptance of violent crime in major cities, economic and cultural persecution of Trump-era public servants, and a hopelessly biased media.
Their fears are justified, their despair is understandable, but their actions are misguided. Some vow to never cast another ballot. Others say they’ve performed their last volunteer hours. Those who want to remain politically active will do so only in a new political party. They’re advising young Americans to avoid military service and careers in law enforcement. They believe the United States is on the road to ruin.
Their mood mirrors that of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Stripes who said after he lost his job, car, apartment, and girlfriend, “and then…depression set in.”
But St. Francis de Sales warned us “never…yield to the temptation of discouragement,” even though “God allows many difficulties to beset those who want to serve Him.” It’s true that history isn’t going to record recent events as the golden age of conservatism, but neither does this mark the end of our influence.
There’s a tempo to political and social movements that requires us to measure success not by a moment in time, but over the long arc of history. Barry Goldwater paved the way for Ronald Reagan. The character of Vietnam-era service members inspired a loving embrace of combat veterans decades later.
I was in the first wave of volunteers for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 primary challenge to President George H.W. Bush. The Never Trumpers were Never Buchanan before they were Never Trump and they’ll never change. They trashed the very themes of sovereignty, border protection, and family and culture that later inspired key elements of the Contract with America and animated the national debate for the next two decades. Thus, the Buchanan campaigns of ’92 and ’96 were the political catechism for electoral success in 2016.
America First is here to stay if we build on the foundation of the last four years. When President Trump took office, there wasn’t a strong America First farm team with high-level government experience. But now, Trump-friendly candidates have strengthened Republican ranks in the House, and they’ve been empowered in state governments. America First alumni are running for offices across the country. So what can the average person do to help the cause? Plenty.
Run for office. It’s true that governors and federal offices get the attention, but the most important elected positions in America right now are on boards of education and city councils.
Become a bureaucrat. Personnel is policy and federal and state agencies are going to be staffed by somebody, why not you? Conservatives should seek career positions and offer their expertise to advisory boards and commissions. Government will improve when conservatives are involved in the decision process.
Serve your country. Join the military, National Guard, Coast Guard, federal law enforcement, or intelligence agencies. Join the Peace Corps. These opportunities offer personal growth, maturity, valuable skills, and lasting friendships.
Serve your community. Law enforcement and firefighting are noble professions which offer fraternity and professional satisfaction. Election monitors and poll workers are always in need. Join a first aid squad, EMT unit, PTA or volunteer at your place of worship.
Contribute to charity. Time spent helping at a soup kitchen, veterans’ hospital, church, prison ministry, woman’s shelter, animal rescue or another cause important to you will renew your faith in your fellow Americans.
Vote. There is no excuse for not voting – none. I’ve heard them all and none are valid. Plenty of Americans have been denied the right to vote and the sacrifices they made to cast a ballot are too great stay home on Election Day.
Pray. Only God can truly unify and heal our nation. When we are one with Him, we will be one with each other.
“The American story has its share of missteps, errors, contradictions, and wrongs,” says President Trump’s 1776 Report, but they’ve been corrected through “self-sacrifice, courage, and nobility.”
I believe the best is yet to come because I believe in our Constitution, our founding documents, our history of progress, our ability to overcome adversity, the ingenuity of entrepreneurs, the generosity of average citizens, the courage of military and law enforcement, the character of the American people, and the saving grace of God.