Self-reliance — the all-American virtue

Self reliance quotationThis post may seem a bit random, because it’s made up of two personal anecdotes, one depressing story about black decline in American, one video, and one political statement. In fact, though, all of these have a single underlying theme that is best played out in a single post — they all have to do with the virtues of self-reliance and a recognition that, in a free country, people can go high but sometimes choose to go low.

Let me start with the two personal anecdotes. because they brought the issue into focus for me. I had dinner with three of my friends, all from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Despite these differing backgrounds, all three women have a few things in common: They’re ferociously hard workers, they’re well-credentialed, they’re extremely bright, they’re warm and funny, they’re deeply kind, and they are hardcore Hillary/Bernie Democrats. (I say Hillary/Bernie because they like things about both candidates.) They therefore buy into all the Progressive shibboleths: Hillary’s victim feminism, the Black Lives Matters’ victim view of African-Americans, climate change’s insistence that the world is the victim of humans, etc.

The problem for all three is that their children keep forcing reality on them. They’re starting to experience a cognitive dissonance that’s going to become even worse if the Progressive Left maintains its hold over education and media.

Take their sons.   All three have lovely sons whom they adore.  They know that their sons are not rapists in the making. They also know that the same girls whom the culture encourages to be sexual predators in high school or college will wake up one morning deeply disgusted with themselves and cry “rape” at the last man with whom they slept — who just might be, God forbid, one of their sons.  Feminism is looking scary, not empowering, to women who have sons.

These same women also see that their children’s different personalities determine how they do in school. The child who’s a busy bee and a hard worker is going to get better grades and have better opportunities than his sibling, who is a grasshopper, just playing around all the time, without regard to grades and future prospects. The correlation between effort and outcome is so obvious that it’s very hard for them to believe that the sole problem with blacks in America is systemic discrimination or poverty. Likewise, they’ve figured out that boys may need more attention in school, not because teachers are sexists who ignore girl students, but because boys mature more slowly and struggle more in class.

Understanding these differences, they’re slowly starting to figure out that poverty doesn’t just mean that affluent Americans have too much, leaving too little for others. They realize that life choices make a difference — and that at all stages in our lives we can make decisions that will effect changes on our situation. The older one gets, the fewer options one has, but one has to be pretty old before all the doors are shut.

It was in this context that I told them, based upon my rather unique insights into the world of the uber poor, that we make a bad mistake at public policy levels when we assume that the poor have the same goals as we do (i.e., a college degree and a house in the suburbs). For many of the poor, their needs are fully met with food, marijuana and alcohol, a warm place to sleep, things to trade with each other in a low level barter economy, and friends to hang with. Free access to the ER, without the burden of paying even minimal amounts to insurance companies, is good too.  What we in the middle class don’t appreciate is that many poor people don’t aspire to more than that — and as we’ve seen with our own children, not all are college material, not because of a lack of brains, but because of a lack of interest.

For people whose goals and interests don’t include the middle class American dream, the monthly government check that enables them to satisfy their basic requirements is more than enough for them. It’s not a bridge to tide them over, so that they can start the hard work of rising up economically.  Instead, it’s the end of the line, and they’re good with that.

What I thought (perhaps too optimistically) that I saw at the inner was that my friends were beginning to put theory aside and realize that people don’t fit into neat little Progressive boxes of victim-hood. Instead, as much as anything, our lives in America are determined by values and effort within a still fairly open economic system.

Here’s the second personal anecdote. I spent a lot of time today in the doctor’s waiting room with my mother. I tend to do a lot of talking during these waits. It’s not just that I’m a normally garrulous person with an ill-functioning off switch. It’s that, if I leave the conversational choices to my mother, they invariably revolve around the ills done to her, the toilet habits of people in her life, and the way life failed her at every level. Whether her perception is true or not, it’s not good for either her or me to listen to that. So, I talk…. I try to talk softly, but between Mom’s hearing difficulties and my carrying voice (the byproduct of being raised with a hearing impaired father), my conversation carries a bit.

The conversation got around to raising children in affluence. A comfortable childhood is, of course, what every parent wants to give a child.  I know that after my financially perilous childhood (we had Mr. Micawber’s extra shilling, but that was all), I dreamed of raising children without having to count every penny.

As is, having achieved this goal, I’m not sure it’s not necessarily such a good thing. There are so many children I know who have never grown up. Mom and Dad are always there with money and aid. I was gossiping gently with my mother about some of these children and how I feel bad for them. They are, without exception, lovely people — sweet, well-mannered, kind, etc. Too many of them, though, have a peculiar form of developmental disability — once they hit adulthood, they never had to stand on their own two feet. They are unfinished products.

Since I was focused very closely on speaking into my Mom’s good ear, I didn’t really pay attention to those around us. Suddenly, though, the man on the other side of my mom stood up. “I’ve been listening to you,” he said, “and I just have to say something.” I braced myself for a Marin lambasting about being unfeeling.

“I really admire your values.”


“Thank you so much,” I said and, thinking of this post (because I process most life experiences through my writing), I asked “What specifically?”

“They’re old-fashioned, 1950s values. They’re about self-reliance. You’re responsible for yourself, and you take care of your family.”

There’s that self-reliance again. In America, you can take care of yourself and have enough left over for others. But you have to make the right choices, and the choices have to start with the belief that you are responsible for yourself. Your Mommy won’t take care of you forever and the government shouldn’t take care of you forever. Whether Mommy or government, a lifetime of dependency is bad for the human mind and spirit.

American blacks have been sold a bill of goods, one that says that, because their ancestors were treated horribly (I do not contest that), they deserve to be dependents of the government for the rest of their lives. The results of this dependence — which quashes the human need to strive and achieve — are appalling:

1. Half of Black Americans Born Poor Stay Poor

Upward mobility from the bottom of the income distribution is much less likely for black than white Americans: 51% of the black Americans born into the lowest fifth of the earnings distribution remain there at age 40:


2. Most Black Middle Class Kids Are Downwardly Mobile

Downward intergenerational social mobility from the middle to the bottom is much more common among Black Americans. Seven out of ten black Americans born into the middle quintile fall into one of the two quintiles below as adults. In some ways, this is an even more depressing fact than the poor rates of upward mobility. Even black Americans who make it to the middle class are likely to see their kids fall down the ladder:


3. Black Wealth Barely Exists

Race gaps in wealth – already wide – widened further during the Great Recession. The median wealth of white households is now 13 times greater than for black households – the largest gap in a quarter century, according to analysis by the Pew Research Center. Black median wealth almost halved during the recession, falling from $19,200 in 2007 to $11,000 in 2013:


4. Most Black Families Headed by Single Parent

Black children are much more likely to be raised in a single-parent household, and as our own research suggests, family structure can play a large role in a child’s chance of success in all stages of life:


5. Black Students Attend Worse Schools

The school system remains highly segregated by race and economic status: black students make up 16 percent of the public school population, but the average black student attends a school that’s 50 percent black. Our colleague Jonathan Rothwell shows that the average black student also attends a school at the 37th percentile for test score results whereas the average white student attends a school in the 60th percentile:

To see the devastating charts behind those conclusions, you’re going to have to do with I did and actually link to Huffington Post.

Given that the above data comes from the Leftist Brookings Institute via the Huffington Post, you know that their proposed solution will be more government intervention and more dependency.  That’s like curing lung cancer with cigarette smoke.  What blacks need is less government and less intervention.  They need to do what all races in America have done when they were locked out of mainstream systems:  They made their own systems and they made them so good that the mainstream was eventually banging on the door to be let in.  That’s how the marketplace works.

Of course, now, the situation for blacks is that they don’t need to bang on the doors at Harvard or Stanford or any other crazed educational institution.  All they need to do is say “hey,” and they get in — but once in, they can’t keep up and they conclude that it’s obviously racism, because the entire concept of “academic mismatch” is racist.  They’re like dogs chasing their own tails until they die of exhaustion.  Frederick Douglas was a wise man when he said the best thing whites could do for blacks was just to get out of the way:

Frederick Douglas Do Nothing With Us

Which leads me to a video that is, again, about the virtue of self-reliance over government dependency.  Adam Carolla’s initial point is that we should never vote for the politician who promises that he’ll “do things for you.”  We, Carolla says, should be doing things for ourselves.  The government’s sole job to make this possible by doing things only government can do to enable us us to put our heads down and get to work.  I especially enjoy Carolla’s point about daytime TV commercials, because he’s so very right:

Finally, I want to talk about Ben Sasse’s amazing declaration of political independence.  I’ll reprint it verbatim in a minute.  What I want to say first, though, is that he is saying that true conservativism isn’t just the different kind of “me too-ism” that both the GOP and Donald Trump, in their own unique ways represent.  Both the GOP as a whole and Donald Trump copy Progressives by promising “Give me a role in government and I will use that new power to make the government do things for you.”  The GOP does it by slightly tamping down on Progressive spending; Trump promises to spend wildly on the usual Progressive slate, but to add in a wall and some immigration enforcement — as well as both delightful un-PC speech and genuinely nasty playground insults.

A true conservative is different.  He’ll say “What I promise you is that I will get the government out of your way.  I will remove the endless regulations that make starting a business impossible.  I will lift the punishing taxes that make working hard unreasonable.  I will stop putting government’s thumb on the marketplace scale to favor this industry or that industry in service of the latest political fad.  I will stop regulating matters that should be decided at the community level, for better or worse.

“Let one state experiment with $15 minimum wages before we wreck the entire US economy.  Let’s see what happens when marijuana is legalized in Colorado before jettisoning US drug policy.  Let the laboratories of democracy work, and let Americans be self-reliant, which is how they mature, innovate, enrich, and generally make the world a happier, more stable, less racially riven place.”

With that in mind, here is the entire Ben Sasse open letter.  I print it not just because it advises against voting for Trump (something I support because, having listened to Trump for a while now, I’ve concluded he’s simply a xenophobic Leftist), but because it clearly delineates between the Republican Party, which has become “Democrat Lite,” and true conservativism, which is the only path to a sane, healthy, prosperous American future.  I therefore agree that, should Trump win the Republican nomination, it’s time for conservatives (who are not necessarily Republicans) to go full throttle third party:


To my friends supporting Donald Trump:

The Trump coalition is broad and complicated, but I believe many Trump fans are well-meaning. I have spoken at length with many of you, both inside and outside Nebraska. You are rightly worried about our national direction. You ache about a crony-capitalist leadership class that is not urgent about tackling our crises. You are right to be angry.

I’m as frustrated and saddened as you are about what’s happening to our country. But I cannot support Donald Trump.

Please understand: I’m not an establishment Republican, and I will never support Hillary Clinton. I’m a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the GOP establishment. My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option.

Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation. Much like President Obama, he displays essentially no understanding of the fact that, in the American system, we have a constitutional system of checks and balances, with three separate but co-equal branches of government. And the task of public officials is to be public “servants.” The law is king, and the people are boss. But have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word “Reign” – like he thinks he’s running for King? It’s creepy, actually. Nebraskans are not looking for a king. We yearn instead for the recovery of a Constitutional Republic.

At this point in Nebraska discussions, many of you have immediately gotten practical: “Okay, fine, you think there are better choices than Trump. But you would certainly still vote for Trump over Clinton in a general election, right?”

Before I explain why my answer is “Neither of them,” let me correct some nonsense you might have heard on the internet of late.


***No, I’m not a career politician. (I had never run for anything until being elected to the U.S. Senate fifteen months ago, and I ran precisely because I actually want to make America great again.)
***No, I’m not a lawyer who has never created a job. (I was a business guy before becoming a college president in my hometown.)
***No, I’m not part of the Establishment. (Sheesh, I had attack ads by the lobbyist class run against me while I was on a bus tour doing 16 months of townhalls across Nebraska. Why? Precisely because I was not the preferred candidate of Washington.)
***No, I’m not concerned about political job security. (The very first thing I did upon being sworn in in January 2015 was to introduce a constitutional amendment for term limits – this didn’t exactly endear me to my new colleagues.)
***No, I’m not for open borders. (The very first official trip I took in the Senate was to observe and condemn how laughably porous the Texas/Mexican border is. See 70 tweets from @bensasse in February 2015.)
***No, I’m not a “squishy,” feel-good, grow-government moderate. (I have the 4th most-conservative voting record in the Senate:…/member/S001197 )

In my very first speech to the Senate, I told my colleagues that “The people despise us all.” This institution needs to get to work, not on the lobbyists’ priorities, but on the people’s:

Now, to the question at hand: Will I pledge to vote for just any “Republican” nominee over Hillary Clinton?

Let’s begin by rejecting naïve purists: Politics has no angels. Politics is not about creating heaven on earth. Politics is simply about preserving a framework for ordered liberty – so that free people can find meaning and happiness not in politics but in their families, their neighborhoods, their work.


Now, let’s talk about political parties: parties are just tools to enact the things that we believe. Political parties are not families; they are not religions; they are not nations – they are often not even on the level of sports loyalties. They are just tools. I was not born Republican. I chose this party, for as long as it is useful.

If our Party is no longer working for the things we believe in – like defending the sanctity of life, stopping ObamaCare, protecting the Second Amendment, etc. – then people of good conscience should stop supporting that party until it is reformed.


Now, let’s talk about voting: Voting is usually just about choosing the lesser evil of the most viable candidates.

“Usually…” But not always. Certain moments are larger. They cause us to explicitly ask: Who are we as a people? What does the way we vote here say about our shared identity? What is actually the president’s job?


The president’s job is not about just mindlessly shouting the word “strong” – as if Vladimir Putin, who has been strongly bombing civilian populations in Syria the last month, is somehow a model for the American presidency. No, the president’s core calling is to “Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution.”

Before we ever get into any technical policy fights – about pipelines, or marginal tax rates, or term limits, or Medicare reimbursement codes – America is first and fundamentally about a shared Constitutional creed. America is exceptional, because she is at her heart a big, bold truth claim about human dignity, natural rights, and self-control – and therefore necessarily about limited rather than limitless government.


America is the most exceptional nation in the history of the world because our Constitution is the best political document that’s ever been written. It said something different than almost any other government had said before: Most governments before said that might makes right, that government decides what our rights are and that the people are just dependent subjects. Our Founders said that God gives us rights by nature, and that government is not the author or source of our rights. Government is just our shared project to secure those rights.

Government exists only because the world is fallen, and some people want to take your property, your liberty, and your life. Government is tasked with securing a framework for ordered liberty where “we the people” can in our communities voluntarily build something great together for our kids and grandkids. That’s America. Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of speech – the First Amendment is the heartbeat of the American Constitution, of the American idea itself.


So let me ask you: Do you believe the beating heart of Mr. Trump’s candidacy has been a defense of the Constitution? Do you believe it’s been an impassioned defense of the First Amendment – or an attack on it?

Which of the following quotes give you great comfort that he’s in love with the First Amendment, that he is committed to defending the Constitution, that he believes in executive restraint, that he understands servant leadership?

Statements from Trump:
***“We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”
***“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. They were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak…”
***Putin, who has killed journalists and is pillaging Ukraine, is a great leader.
***The editor of National Review “should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him.”
***On whether he will use executive orders to end-run Congress, as President Obama has illegally done: “I won’t refuse it. I’m going to do a lot of things.” “I mean, he’s led the way, to be honest with you.”
***“Sixty-eight percent would not leave under any circumstance. I think that means murder. It think it means anything.”
***On the internet: “I would certainly be open to closing areas” of it.
***His lawyers to people selling anti-Trump t-shirts: “Mr. Trump considers this to be a very serious matter and has authorized our legal team to take all necessary and appropriate actions to bring an immediate halt…”
***Similar threatening legal letters to competing campaigns running ads about his record.

And on it goes…


Given what we know about him today, here’s where I’m at: If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate – a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.

I do not claim to speak for a movement, but I suspect I am far from alone. After listening to Nebraskans in recent weeks, and talking to a great many people who take oaths seriously, I think many are in the same place. I believe a sizable share of Christians – who regard threats against religious liberty as arguably the greatest crisis of our time – are unwilling to support any candidate who does not make a full-throated defense of the First Amendment a first commitment of their candidacy.

Conservatives understand that all men are created equal and made in the image of God, but also that government must be limited so that fallen men do not wield too much power. A presidential candidate who boasts about what he’ll do during his “reign” and refuses to condemn the KKK cannot lead a conservative movement in America.


Thank you for listening. While I recognize that we disagree about how to make America great again, we agree that this should be our goal. We need more people engaged in the civic life of our country—not fewer. I genuinely appreciate how much many of you care about this country, and that you are demanding something different from Washington. I’m going to keep doing the same thing.

But I can’t support Donald Trump.


Ben Sasse