What You and I Can Do for the Future of America

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August 25, 2017
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American grunge flag. Grunge effect can be cleaned easily. Vector illustration.

By Dr. James Tonkowich, a Senior Contributor to The Stream, Aug. 25, 2017

Jim TonkowichTwo weeks ago I wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism in America. It was, relatively speaking, an easy piece to write. Convincing people that America is in deep trouble is child’s play. In light of the madness in Charlottesville, Virginia the week after I wrote, few even need convincing. Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, our foundation seems shaky at best.

As Kurt Andersen writes in “How America Lost Its Mind” in the September Atlantic, “After the ’60s, truth was relative, criticizing was equal to victimizing, individual liberty became absolute, and everyone was permitted to believe or disbelieve whatever they wished. The distinction between opinion and fact was crumbling on many fronts.” To say the least.

His failure to apply his critique to himself and people like him is sad. Still, he correctly notes that too many Americans conflate reality and fantasy. He also understands how this can be exploited politically even if his primary examples are Republicans. It’s as if he thinks those on the right hold a near monopoly on insanity and/or the desire to exploit the madness to gain power.

“What is to be done?” he asks near the end of the article. “I don’t have an actionable agenda, Seven Ways Sensible People Can Save America From the Craziness.” But what to do next is the big question. So here’s my best shot.

(1) Know What You Believe, and Why

Policymakers, writers and academics have a special calling to be “wiser than serpents and innocent as doves.” Since providentially you’re in a position to influence matters at the top, do so faithfully. Make saving the world your calling regardless of the career costs or the chances of success. Do and say the next right thing.

First, for everyone (not just everyone else), know what you believe and why. “You ask me how I know He lives,” says a hymn beloved by many, “He lives within my heart!” Yes, true enough, but we need to do better than that.

The relativism and subjectivity that permeates the culture permeates much of the Church as well. And while that influences everyone, we must, as theologian David Wells wrote in No Place for Truth, learn to be of one mind with the prophets and apostles.

Truth to them was not privatized. It was not synonymous with personal insight, with private intuition. It was not sought in the self at all, as a matter of fact, but in history — the history God wrote and interpreted — and it was therefore objective, public, and authoritative.

Without faith in, and a strong understanding of, Christian truth as “objective, public, and authoritative,” we’re sitting ducks to be manipulated by the next cultural fad or political campaign. Either we will be rooted in the “faith once delivered” or we will be vulnerable to manipulation.

(2) Engage the Culture

Second, rather than disengaging from the culture, engage the people around you. “Let your credo be this,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

As Solzhenitsyn knew first-hand, every repressive and totalitarian system is built on lies. And our culture and politics are awash with lies. Challenge them. Most of our secular friends are just spouting words they’ve heard without giving the slightest thought to the implications.

“Any two people who love each other should be able to marry.” Including your twelve-year-old son and his fifty-year-old soccer coach? If not, why not?

“All people should be treated exactly alike.” Then why do we have a hiring process for new employees rather than a lottery?

“Donald Trump is a fascist.” What exactly do you mean by “fascist”? George Orwell wrote less than a year after World War II ended, “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.” That pretty much sums it up.

“If you disagree with me, it’s because of hate.” How do you manage to stay married, hold down a job, raise your children, or even have a roommate?

As Mary Eberstadt writes in It’s Dangerous to Believe,

Today’s secular fanaticism needs calling out not only for the sake of the people it maligns, and not just because it demeans the persecutors themselves. It’s wrong because it makes the rest of society complicit in wrongdoing. It compromises progressivism itself.

(3) Get Involved, but Don’t be a Sucker

Third, be involved in politics, but don’t be a sucker. Chuck Colson was a great supporter of George W. Bush. Yet during the Bush administration he said repeatedly, “The Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One.” The psalmist put it this way: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:3-4).

Nothing positive can happen without Christian men and women whose lives are filled with the life of God.

That leads me to the most important idea. Remember that nothing positive can happen without Christian men and women whose lives are filled with the life of God.

Robert Cardinal Sarah was bishop in Guinea during the repressive Marxist regime of Sékou Touré. Out of that experience, he writes in The Power of Silence,

The silence of prayer is our only equipment for combat. The silence of invocation, the silence of adoration, the silence of waiting: these are the most effective weapons. Love alone is capable of putting out the flames of injustice, because God is love. Loving God is everything. All the rest has not the slightest value to the extent that it is not transformed and elevated by Christ’s love. The choice is simple: God or nothing…

And that’s true no matter what the next years bring.


Dr. James Tonkowich, a Senior Contributor to The Stream, is a freelance writer, speaker and commentator on spirituality, religion and public life who has contributed to a wide variety of opinion websites and publications.

He is the author of The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today from St. Benedict Press and Pears, Grapes, and Dates: A Good Life After Mid-Life. Jim also serves as Director of Distance Learning at Wyoming Catholic College and is host of the college’s weekly podcast, “The After Dinner Scholar.”

Jim and his wife Dottie have been married for nearly forty years and are enjoying life around the corner from their son, his delightful wife and three fantastic grandchildren. Jim’s articles and essays can be found at JimTonkowich.com.