“We need a better leadership class to set the tone for the discussion,” Vance tells TAC. “The most depressing part of the 2016 election is that the candidates often failed to show any cultural leadership: any recognition that the world of public policy was important but hardly the only good and necessary part of our shared society. They don’t talk about the church, about local community organizations, about businesses as anything more than providers of jobs.
“We’re very good at talking about the individual in American politics, and excellent at talking about the government,” he continues. “But we have little ability to even acknowledge everything that exists in the middle, and given how influential politics is on every other part of our life, I think that failure of discourse is pretty corrosive to our overall culture.”
The stakes are very high now. Vance expects the Rust Belt working-class vote to be up for grabs for the next few political cycles, with struggling blue-collar voters siding with whichever candidate, Republican or Democrat, promises the greatest change. This is a prescription for instability.
JFK is cited way too often as an example of a president appealing to the “common good” ethic of Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” rather than what it’s government can do for you. But he’s cited for a reason: he captured the spirit of that essential attitude of communal life and service pitch perfectly.
We don’t need more Americans who make a god of personal autonomy unshackled from any related ideas of relationship to their neighbors, responsibility to their communities, or reverence toward their nation. We need Americans with a sense of the “common good” again, and that starts by stopping to consider others.