Americans are growing in their distrust of the U.S. government and its leaders, with polls typically showing approval of Congress somewhere around 11%. As Senator Ben Sasse put it in his first remarks to the U.S. Senate, “The people despise us all.”
“No one in this body thinks the Senate is laser-focused on the most pressing issues facing the nation,” he said, “No one. Some of us lament this; some are angered by it; many are resigned to it; some try to dispassionately explain how they think it came to be. But no one disputes it.”
In a recent interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge, Sasse expounds on this further, noting that the problems in Congress have less to do with nefariousness (though that surely exists) than with efficacy. “There is a gigantic deficit of vision,” he says. “We have generational challenges, just at the level of federal policy.”
Sasse traces the decline of American government from Teddy Roosevelt onward, highlighting the 1960s as the eventual tipping point away from constrained constitutional governance. The federal government has now expanded into far too many areas, he argues, and the culture has responded in turn.
As a result, we’ve forgotten both the role of government and the value of the “mediating middle” of society — the space between the individual and state. “There are much bigger problems in America that government can never tackle,” he says, “which Washington will never be able to be sufficiently in front of, to lead the nation from. We have really big challenges in American life and culture.”
It is because of these challenges, Sasse says, that he ran for Senate: not to create more rules and expand power, but to help conserve and preserve the conditions for a free and virtuous society at the local level, to constrain government so that the human spirit might be unleashed and civil society could flourish:
It’ll sound too romantic, but I believe we’re incredibly blessed. We live in the most exceptional nation in the history of the world and it’s based on an anthropological claim about the dignity of people. I really believe that people are created with dignity. The world is fallen. We need the government to restrain certain kinds of evil and create and maintain a framework for ordered liberty.
But life is lived in neighborhoods in our cities and in small towns across cattle country. The center of the world is the rotary club in my town. The center of the world is your listeners’ churches and synagogues and the small businesses that they’re founding and the little league and the PTA and the fire department. That is where life is lived. The textured, meaningful, life is places where you actually have relationality in common and embodiment…
I want my kids’ friends and I want yours and my grandkids to grow up in a nation that believes in limited government because we believe in the nearly limitless potential of humans who have dignity.
Watch the whole thing here.