If there is a consensus about the present election, it is that most people are unhappy with the choices. This can be seen in the fact that many voters are identifying themselves with Twitter hashtags by which they become #never voters who vow never to vote for one candidate or the other (or both).
These hashtag-never elections are driven by unseen levels of discontent and uneasiness. People are unhappy to the point that it does little good to try to argue about candidates since so many feel unrepresented by the choices. There is an uneasiness reflected in the fact that two-thirds of Americans believe that something is terribly wrong with the direction of the nation.
However, this discontent transcends the #never candidates. What needs to be addressed is not only the particular policies proposed by the #never candidates but rather, what it is that is making so many Americans uneasy.
On the surface, there is little to indicate anything unusual in the #never election narratives. The #never candidates are talking about many of the issues that have dominated the messy presidential elections of this twenty-first century: an ailing economy, the jobs outsourced off-shore, the demise of the middle class, unraveling communities, anarchic immigration, the growing threat of Islam, and an increasingly authoritarian government’s assaults on freedom.
Perhaps it is precisely this “business-as-usual” focus amidst an increasingly unrecognizable America that is making everyone uneasy.
Recent American elections have always been more about the nation people desire than the one that exists. This “desired America” most people want is a mix of the enduring fifties paradigm of prosperity and security with varying percentages of the giddy unrestraint of the sixties. In the past, most candidates at least made a convincing pretense of promising variations of this desired order.
Not so in this election. The #never candidates do talk about this desired America. However, instead of reminding the electorate that this desired America presupposes a moral framework that must be maintained by order, virtue, and discipline, the #never candidates simply prefer to live off its memory. They promise all the benefits of this desired America while doling out dispensations from the duties needed to sustain it.
In the face of a decaying society, the #never candidates ramp up the rhetoric, claiming government (more or less of it) can restore America. Simultaneously, they shirk the real spadework—the restoration of morality, without which there can be no social regeneration—and alienate those who defend moral values by relegating them to a very secondary role or dismissing them altogether. As a result, the elections have taken on a shallow and frivolous tone that rings as hollow and superficial as the tweets that drive the election campaigns.
For example, both #never candidates talk about America’s middle-class families as if there were no crises in the family. And yet it is ever more obvious that families are being decimated by divorce, abortion, and single parenthood. So many “families” of all classes are not families in the true meaning of the word, but the remnants of broken families strung together by a third or fourth marriage or no marriage at all.
They talk about helping communities as if the communities of old still existed. Reflecting today’s dysfunctional families, so many communities are ghosts of what they used to be because they are decimated by urban sprawl, inner city meltdowns, uncurbed crime, and rampant drug abuse that has infiltrated into Middle America.
Both #never candidates speak about the American Dream in which individuals are encouraged to realize all they can be, yet they ignore the present reality of people who self-identify as that which they can never be.
Above all, gone is the talk of the much-needed help of God and the return to an abandoned godliness.
Thus, there is a great disconnect between an American society in shambles and the rosy façades of the America promised by the #never candidates. They promise families and communities without commitments, an individual freedom uninhibited by morality, a government emancipated from any higher moral law, and the expectations of a prosperity disconnected from economic realities.
What is missing is order.
In the words of Russell Kirk, order is that first need of the soul whereby people orient themselves. When the orienting principles of society are abandoned, the nation succumbs under the weight of the decaying institutions of an eviscerated order. And this is making many Americans uneasy.
The present order is hollowed out. The discontent comes from the tension of maintaining the fiction of the desired America in the face of a society that has been removed from its moral foundations. The uneasiness comes from the uncertainty of imagining an America outside of the old American order that prevailed for so long.
The result is #never elections, #never candidates, and #never voters. If America is to return to order, the nation must adopt a set of values that reflects #always honor, #always duty and #always love of God.