Whoever wins the election on Tuesday, conservatives will be in our customary unhappy position: explaining to people who are unhappy with the state of their lives that there is not really very much that we can do for them, because they are adult human beings with particular responsibilities of their own rather than livestock or pets to be cared for out of self-interest or sentimentality.
What should we tell these unhappy voters?
A few suggestions:
A great deal of what happens in your life is going to be determined by factors beyond your immediate control. You have certain natural gifts and talents, and those are not going to change very much no matter what you do. You can develop them, but there are real limits on that development. It isn’t true that anyone can become a concert pianist or a chess grandmaster or a Fortune 500 CEO if only he wants it enough and is willing to put in the work. You do have to want it, and you do have to put in the work, but those are necessary, not sufficient, conditions. If you were going to dance with the Bolshoi or play in the NFL, you’d probably know it by now.
Beyond your own endowments, a great deal of your happiness and advancement in life is going to be influenced in one way or another by the family in which you are raised. How much money your family has is a part of that, but it is not the only part, or even the most important part. Some of you have wonderful families that will encourage and advise you intelligently, helping you to make good decisions and to make the most of the gifts you have. Some of you have horrifying families marred by addiction, neglect, abuse, and worse. Government can step in and remove minors from the most extreme situations — putting them into foster homes or institutions that may or may not prove an improvement — but, for most people, the family you have is the family you have, a lifelong blessing or burden.
None of that is fair. But most of the unfairness — the vast majority of it — is working in your favor. Modern human beings have existed for about 200,000 years, and you, as a 21st-century American, are a member of a blessed minority, a true 1 percenter among all the human beings who ever have lived. You have ways of developing yourself and enjoying your life that were literally beyond the imaginations of most of the people who have lived, and indeed well beyond the dreams of most people 50 or 60 years ago.
A post-election humility is so necessary, regardless of the political party that wins and regardless of the ideology that wins. I read somewhere recently that Marxism truly triumphed in Western politics (despite the failure of Soviet Communism) in the sense that the Marxist push to politicize every aspect of everyday life has saturated Western culture. Every word is scrutinized, every expression judged and weighed on the scales of political/social/moral/ethical/cultural sensitivity. We’re the 1 percenters in terms of human history, and we’re spending our time bitching at each other about the way we think and speak.