During this season of Advent, the patriotic American citizen can find much for which to be hopeful. For the American Christian, we are reminded of our ultimate reason for hope.
Before we consider those reasons for hope, we should make a realistic assessment of our nation’s challenges.
America’s influence in the world seems to be waning. The economic and military edge the United States has enjoyed for decades since the Cold War is shrinking, and in some military technologies China and Russia have passed us. As the United States takes on two major nuclear powers, it needs the support of allies more than ever. But allies are rattled by the dramatic shifts in US approaches to global engagement—from “citizen of the world” Obama to populist “team USA” Trump, and then to a surprisingly (for some) ideologically rigid and feckless President Biden. The way Biden dishonorably withdrew the United States from Afghanistan jolted Americans and left allies angry and doubting. And now more than ever, the United States needs allies.
There are many dangers, from revanchist Russia, to Iran and North Korea. But Communist China has the greatest ability to pose an existential threat. The Chinese Communist Party is increasingly repressive at home and brazen in its malign activities abroad. The Xi Jinping-led CCP engages in the genocide of Muslims, persecutes Christians, jails doctors and scientists, and operates the world’s most technologically sophisticated surveillance state to score and control the Chinese people. Abroad, China engages in hostage and debt-trap diplomacy and operates a massive spy operation in the West, including in the United States where CCP operatives populate academies and laboratories. Rather than rallying to oppose and weaken the regime, American corporate elites lobby US officials to refrain from doing anything that could upset their Chinese business.
Domestically, the Republic feels like it is coming apart. The middle class has been weakened by bipartisan decisions to swap American manufacturing for cheap manufacturing in places like China and elsewhere. Working Americans are struggling, and economic elites benefit from the globalized economy. This economic calcification pushes Americans further from one another until they barely relate at all. Americans exchange the possibility of fraternal affection for outright acrimony.
An ideology cooked up in America’s universities makes the class divide worse. Public schools dish it out to children, and then big tech, big corporations, and media giants push it onto the population generally. The ideology is one of identity politics. Philosophically, this postmodern ideology rejects the long-held Western—and Christian—view that there is a moral framework that exists apart from us but is discoverable by us and should instruct us. The reigning ideology, according to Carl Trueman in The Rise of the Modern Self, is rooted in the postmodern triumph of “self-determination” and expression. This kind of thinking holds out the self as the ultimate authority for what is. It destroys the ability of individuals to hold out the possibility that they could be at least partially wrong or to converse with others while holding out the possibility that their conversant might be partially right. It snuffs out healthy debate, peaceful disagreement, and compromise.
But… there is great reason to hope. Here are a few:
One, more people can see clearly what Jean Bethke Elshtain saw so clearly decades ago. Consider this accurate diagnosis from her Democracy on Trial, published in 1995: “Identity absolutism lends itself to expressivist politics, the celebration of feelings or private authenticity as an alternative to public debate and political judgement.”
Two, voters are passionate about reform. And now, there is a perceptible change afoot. The election of Donald Trump was in part an attempt to shake up the ruling elite so that they respond to the will of normal working Americans. It remains to be seen if more honorable and effective leaders can earn the favor of the populist wing of Americans to build on reforms from the Trump administration, and in a way that leads to a more tranquil domestic life.
Three, parents are acting to better educate their children. The COVID-19 pandemic forced children out of their classrooms and into their homes, so parents could better see what schools were teaching. They did not like what they saw: identity politics that promoted race essentialism, the lie of gender fluidity, and a simmering anti-Americanism. Parents went to the school boards to oppose the curriculum; many withdrew their children from public school; waves showed up to vote to reassert parental authority in places like Virginia.
Four, other states like Texas and Florida are taking more muscular approaches to assert their policies against federal pressure, and there is a perceptible momentum for a resurgent federalism. (An overturning of Roe v. Wade, which the originalist justices on the Supreme Court seem to be on the cusp of doing, would return questions about the immense worth of human life to the states, further bolstering a badly needed return to federalism.)
Five, in Washington and across the country, both political parties are coming to grips with the threat that China poses to the American-led order. Elites had hoped that US trade with China would liberalize the CCP, but many now have a clear-eyed view that trade only enriched and emboldened the CCP and perhaps made too many elites more amenable to the China-way. Now bipartisan legislation aims to reshore critical supply chains. A bipartisan commitment also plans to bolster democratic alliances to counter Chinese aggression and strengthen US sovereignty. We should not overstate the bipartisan agreement on how to handle the external threats, but there has been a seismic shift in the right direction in just the last five years.
No matter our external and internal problems, the American constitutional system is as noble and brilliant as it ever was. Because of that there is yet still the possibility for renewal, revitalization, and course corrections.
For the American Christian, we share the same everlasting hope that our sisters and brothers in nations from China to Afghanistan cling to while they endure far worse injustice at the hands of their governments. The Advent season reminds us why we have this hope:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Humanity’s biggest problem has been solved: through faith in the one whose birth we anticipate this Advent, sinful man is reconciled to God. And so with joy, we persevere in the work before us, confident that the hand of Providence will prevail.