Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Our Task Hasn't Changed

This time gives us the opportunity to step back.

Former President Trump Holds Rally In Support Of Ohio Senate Candidate JD Vance
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump await his arrival for a rally at the Dayton International Airport on November 7, 2022 in Vandalia, Ohio. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright;
Who, with a natural instinct to discern
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn;
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,
But makes his moral being his prime care

William Wordsworth, “Character of the Happy Warrior”

A surprise, a blow, a disappointment. With every further day of ballot counting, after a weekend of speculation and called races, the midterm gut-punch continued to worsen, sickness sharpening for those who hoped for a red wave last week. I say “hoped for,” though many on both sides of the aisle, including myself, expected a red wave. I say “hoped for,” though too many hoped in a red wave. That was foolishness. Hoped for was all most of us could ever do, not working on campaigns. And we have lost indeed if we cannot find joy even in these circumstances; for most of us, the task is unchanged. 


Now, of course, former President Donald Trump has announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Once again, a week later, 2022 has something of 2015 about it. MAGA is back. This is “our campaign,” Trump said. Ivanka is out, according to a statement. The best Trump team might be assembled. American workers and American families are going to be put first. For some, this is a call; they will join the campaign, work now for a second Trump administration. For most, this is a datum—emotionally charged, certainly, suggestive of possible futures, but one that leaves their day to day lives as they were. They have other callings, other posts at which to stand. 

Faith in national politics is being tested. This is good. We must cultivate the patience to continue the work where we find ourselves. Some readers will, at that, roll their eyes and yawn; holier than me, they gave up faith in elections long ago, have long ceased to hope that votes and ballots will cause the march of progress to stumble. Well before the 2016 election, they learned to hold polls loosely, doubly so when the findings affirmed their wants. The system has outgrown the scale of human life, the machine has no one at the wheel; what will filling in a bubble for A or B really do to change that? 

There is a patience to resignation, but it is an imperfect patience, and it leaves us hollow men. It does not even safeguard us from that besetting sin of mass democracy: infotainment, politics as spectator sport, the fight over bread itself the circus. One can deny the meaning and utility of elections, condemn all earthly cities as idols, and still live a life consumed by that denial and condemnation, watching everything to see just how powerless you really are, listening to all the sound and fury to feel superior to the idiot. No, the complete patience of the complete man knows that all this is passing away, and yet turns back to the plow to receive his daily bread. He is not passive, though he waits. 

I am not advocating for quietism. I admire the sacred seclusion of the monastery, and of the horse and buggy. But you and I live in the world. Let us stay the course. Whatever work you had found it in your power to do to make a little garden out of the desert, to receive the best of our inheritance and hold it in trust for future generations, to beget and pass on to the begotten, is still yours to do. No red wave would have washed away that responsibility. No candidate removes that burden from you. When we vote, we wish to be the voice of God to some hundreds or thousands of people, calling them to their labors. But ours remain. Some of your fellow Americans who had not been will be senators and Senate staffers now, and some who thought they would, will not be. But you and I remain for now where we are—as we were always going to, however last week went. 

So let us ask for the wisdom to recognize where we have been placed. And let us ask for the faith that believes there are things worth doing there, that sees our perch on a ladder of subsidiarity. Yes, a few are called to govern many, to make decisions that send the young to die, to steward the resources of a nation. A few more are called to help them, to be their staff, their hands and feet. But most are not, and will answer for smaller things. Politics begins with the family. It is a tall ladder, though, with many rungs, and there are opportunities near at home. Before your next chance to vote and shape the highest ones, there will be years of work to make a life and love your neighbor on the level at which you stand. But the machine is stifling, and there is no room for retreat; the fight will still be fierce.