Last month the regular news cycle seemed to go on hold while Americans watched, transfixed, as Justice Kavanaugh’s de facto trial played out on screen. Despite the grim subject matter—sexual assault—the most sobering part of the ‘trial’ for me came during Kavanaugh’s testimony when he rebuked the Senate Judiciary committee saying, “This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions, from serving our country.”
He’s right, of course. The stakes are now far higher for anyone who aspires to serve this country in any high profile capacity. Anyone who feels that they owe more to their own spouse and children than to their ill-behaved countrymen will surely shrink from the limelight. Partisanship has proven a greater force than civility or even patriotism. Whether Kavanaugh is innocent or not, a line has been crossed and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to retreat from it.
How shortsighted is this? Had Kavanaugh’s words struck Senate Democrats the same way they struck me, one would imagine that at the very least they would have proceeded with a more measured and respectful approach in their quest for justice. Democrats are foolish if they do not anticipate that they will be treated similarly next time they have the opportunity to put a Progressive on the bench. Our society has grown so nearsighted that we can’t see a mile down the road much less to the inevitable destination to which our trajectory leads.
This shortsightedness is not constrained to this one issue and it is not singular to this political moment. It seems to be a perennial feature of our democracy. Interestingly enough, Alexander de Tocqueville predicted this problematic American disposition in his famous exposé of the American social and political regime, Democracy in America.
“As soon as they have lost the habit of placing their principal hopes in the long term,” Tocqueville writes, “they are naturally brought to want to realize their least desires without delay, and it seems that from the moment they despair of living an eternity, they are disposed to act as if they will exist for only a single day.”
Tocqueville believed that democracy is to blame, but the loss of religion is too, and I would add (I’m sure he would agree) consumerism plays a role. Americans, in our restless appetites for industrial and individual progress, have become so accustomed to ease that we are averse to any form of delayed gratification. We look only to tomorrow’s satisfaction without an eye to the consequences for our grandchildren, children, or even ourselves down the road. We have trained our eyes only to immediate success with an utter disregard for the long-term consequences of such achievements.
This pernicious tendency manifests itself in policies that place heavy financial and environmental burdens on future generations, acts of political expediency which poison the water for future dealings, and in our culture which calls for living “in the moment” or “like there’s no tomorrow.”
What is the remedy for this plague in our society? Tocqueville suggests that religion is a natural mitigating factor against the human tendency towards shortsightedness. Religion keeps our eyes locked on the horizon. Our faith is all about delayed gratification. We know that our reward lies beyond this life and so we invest in lasting institutions, future generations, and our future selves. In a sense our faith is counter-cultural because it is all about the long game.
It goes without saying that the long game isn’t always attractive, especially to the youth in our increasingly secular society. Youth are naturally disposed to adhere to our ailing culture’s perverted definition of liberty: the license to serve one’s base instincts, unrestrained by moral or political authority.
As you read, a Synod on Youth takes place at the Vatican. Our bishops are meeting to strategize about the ways in which they can address the concerns of young people. An element of this effort will focus on the ways in which the Church can make the faith more accessible and attractive to young people. Though this is a noble goal, it is also a dangerous endeavor.
By now we are all too familiar with examples of religious institutions bending to the will of secular society, afraid to get swept under the rug (or worse) when the tide of public opinion turns against them.
In the short term it may seem expedient to cater Church teachings to secular morality, attracting the youth by making the faith seem ‘mainstream’. How short-sighted this would be — to compromise the truth for the short-term “good” of boosting church attendance numbers or enthusiasm would be a great disservice to young people.
The Church is one of the few remaining lighthouses, capturing the eye of floundering sailors as they traverse the uneasy waters of this life. We know that we will win the moral victory not only because our God is King, but also because we will outlast the enemy and the ruins that will come of the self-serving society he has built out of sand.
While the world around us walks through life head down, unconcerned with tomorrow, content with the successes of today, let us be the few who gaze into the horizon, knowing that the spoils and satisfaction of victory won’t come in this life. That way we will be able to look beyond ourselves, our political moment, and our earthly challenges and build and preserve lasting foundations. May the Church and her leadership resist the temptation to compromise truth, and continue to be a help and an inspiration to the weary sailor.
Keenan White is a senior studying political science with minors in history and Constitutional Studies. She is a staunch, albeit hypocritical, advocate of living on campus all four years. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.