Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse has a new book out called "The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis — and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance."
I'll pause for a second so you can catch your breath after that title ...
Yes, that was a childish thing to say. My apologies.
But seriously, Time is pretty certain the book marks a first step toward the Republican senator — whom the magazine dubs "the Anti-Trump" — making a White House run:
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is not yet running for President, and his new book, The Vanishing American Adult, is not about politics, policy or his own life story, all of which someone like him would normally write about if he were thinking about running for President.
"I'm pretty certain the President is never mentioned at any point in this book," Sasse, a Republican, told me when I asked him about Donald Trump as we recently sat outside a café a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. "I want to move upstream from politics to have that conversation about all the things that we should want for our kids."
But jump-starting a postpartisan national conversation about what the nation should want for its children is exactly the sort of thing someone who is looking to run for President might do. And the solutions that Sasse proposes are, in many cases, precisely the opposite of the examples set by Trump or Hillary Clinton, both of whom Sasse has criticized for failing to behave like "you know ... an adult."
For Sasse, emotional and intellectual maturity is a lockpick for the nation's future. He speaks of an American crisis of loneliness and disconnection; he calls for parents to take back responsibility for their children's upbringing from schools and for children to resist consumerism, travel widely, work hard and "become truly literate," with a reading list that resembles a graduate-seminar syllabus. His personal canon contains unexpected choices for a conservative Republican: books by Aldous Huxley, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Karl Marx, along with Augustine and Alexis de Toqueville.
Way back in August, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly noted that Sasse is "a hero of religious and cultural conservatives" and "was the dream #NeverTrump third-party candidate after Trump's victory in the primaries."
But if you look for details about Sasse's faith in the succinct Time profile, you'll be mostly disappointed. The magazine does mention that the senator previously served as president of Midland University, "a Lutheran school west of Omaha."
Did Time need to mention religion in its short feature? That depends: How grounded in faith is Sasse's brand of family values and formula for maturing the nation?
On Twitter, the witty father of three certainly makes no secret of his regular Sunday church attendance:
If you're interested in Sasse's religious background, the evangelical World magazine interviewed him about his personal theology and public policy back in September:
How does your faith and theology inform policy fights and discussions?
Three thoughts: First, a basic Christian orientation to living in the world. We live in the already and the not-yet, so as a Christian I am convicted of my sin and aware of Jesus’ salvific work both by imputation and by atonement on my behalf. Now I get the chance to live out a life of gratitude to God by trying to serve my neighbor, and politics is one of many secular callings—like building good shoes or speedboats.
The American system is a glorious inheritance, because it is an anti-statist tradition. The purpose of American limited government is to make a broader, affirmational claim about human dignity and natural rights. Government doesn’t give us rights. We get rights from God via nature, and government is our shared project to secure those rights. The American system is a wonderful place for Christians to labor. We don’t have the challenges that Daniel had. We’re not being asked to bend the knee and worship Caesar. That is a glorious thing that we get to live in a state that doesn’t try and require idolatry. We should understand, affirm, and pass along that free tradition.
People of goodwill are going to argue about policy. That is a good and healthy thing. We, as Christians, have a responsibility to do it in a way that doesn’t violate the Ninth Commandment. We don’t want to bear false witness against our neighbor, so we should assume our neighbor means well and try to characterize their position accurately, not beat a straw man. As it turns out, really believing in the dignity of your neighbor and loving your neighbor means that you want to try to refine and shape their best argument. Sometimes I’m going to be converted. There’s going to be a policy issue where I thought I knew the answer and somebody else has a better argument. I should be humble enough to actually be persuadable. If I’m going to try to persuade them, I want to do it by not misrepresenting their view. Some debates are genuine, where you’re actually open to wrestle with another idea. Other debates are faux, where all you’re really trying to do is beat someone. It turns out the latter is not only unpersuasive and ineffective—it’s really boring. It’s also dishonest.
Religion aside, what are the odds that Sasse seeks the 2020 Republican nomination — or the 2024 one?
Yes, those campaign seasons are such a long way away. And so much can — and will — happen between now and then.
However, the comment section is free, so go ahead and speculate. But please be nice.