“This is the winter of our discontent,” drawn from Shakespeare’s Richard III, was used 60 years ago by Steinbeck to express brooding forces preying on good people – fear, cowardice, loss of conscience, loss of hope. Looking at our listless national leaders, lost moral anchor, lack of focus on history – never mind literature – one is tempted wallow in “our winter of discontent.” Do not.
Yes, the 2020 election was a COVID-afflicted disaster, ideologically and insufferably negative. Yes, we are a divided nation. Yes, vaccines are slow, Biden bumbling and feckless, his policies on Iran, China, debt, censorship, rights – reckless. But think hard about the moment.
First, too much is at stake for conservatives to give up. In our hearts, we know this. Core freedoms are at risk – the right to express our opinions, hold our faith, work, assemble, attend school, petition for grievances, limit government’s reach, truthfully teach, protect our family, restore national solvency, and honor border sanctity. These are not small matters.
We also know our Nation’s character – distinguished by never giving up. History teaches: Never count Americans out where freedom is concerned. From 1776 to Tranquility Base, Americans resolve to do things – and do them.
Yes, we sometimes lose. We lost bitter battles on the way to freedom, in places like Bunker Hill, Quebec, Long Island, Kip’s Bay – a hundred engagements over seven years – until the British empire surrendered at Yorktown.
In WWII, defeats at Kasserine Pass and Dieppe preceded Normandy, Pearl Harbor preceded Doolittle’s raid, and Pacific losses preceded Midway and Iwo Jima – triumphs for freedom.
Nor do we shy from the battle of ideas. America’s love of freedom has prevailed against “utopian socialists” and “international Marxism,” Trotskyites in the 1920s, European fascism, “authoritarian socialism,” communist “fellow travelers,” and violent radicalism in the 1960s, along with Soviet Communism, which Reagan relegated to “the dust heap of history.” In each case, Americans routed enemies for freedom – decisively.
How? Individual and national resolve, exercising rights to protect them, and embracing risk, secure in the knowledge that free Americans, working together, are unstoppable. So, today’s stakes are high, but history says we will prevail if we know our past and apply it.
Second, the best victory is conversion. What is conversion but persuasion in the service of truth? We all have the power – those who know why rights matter – to speak at school board meetings, town councils, city halls, public hearings, with state legislators, petitioning, joining organizations like AMAC – unifying behind one mission. One pebble tips a scale, one wave turns a tide, one voice that stands, explains, and refuses to hide – can change everything.
Ronald Reagan was disparaged until understood and revered. Winston Churchill, while prescient, was derided for warning about Hitler’s “national socialism” and later Soviet Communism. Reagan and Churchill stood their ground, glad for the chance. They teach us now. They suffered political critics but won the day.
Churchill famously quipped that “Success is the art of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Reagan never doubted freedom’s call, America’s destiny, or the power of simple truth, plainly spoken, courageously defended to convert. If they believed, shouldn’t we?
Whether battling Democratic socialism, Chinese communism, High Tech monopolies, media prejudice, cancel culture, anti-religious or anti-Second Amendment sentiment, their resolve should be ours. Behind conservatism is the power of history, truth, and persuasion. These tools we should wield with confidence, not doubt.
The power of one well-informed mind and stout heart to restart a conversation is real. Once upon a time, no one thought Britain could stand down the Nazis, or Reagan the Soviets. Both did, or free peoples did, persuaded by their belief. This is the conviction Lady Liberty needs today.
Third, persuasive victories are won by inches, incrementally. Epiphanies are rare, around a family table, at a congressional hearing, or in the voting booth. Good people must speak, offer sound arguments, make plain what others do not see. In time, experience comes around and meets doubters. Socialism, like unemployment, is theoretical until the fingers of restriction, lost rights, debt, taxation, and aggravation curl into a fist – around the individual. Then it is real.
Fourth, envision good outcomes. In practical terms, we can envision the US House and Senate flipping in 2022, new administration in 2024. We can envision convincing moderates to hold fast, not letting radical ideas pass. We can envision being over COVID, retaking governorships, preventing future lockdowns. All good, but what about right now?
In the near term, we must envision lockdowns lifted – work for that outcome, businesses reopened, kids in school, teachers responsible to parents not unions, politicians regaled with facts, recalled if appropriate, social media abandoned, boycotted, entanglements unknotted, new venues created, citizens newly appreciated. We must hoist the flag of accountability.
All this we can do before 2022, long before 2024. We have in our power the ability to shape the next two years. We must use that power – which starts with not accepting “this is the winter of our discontent.” Yes, easier said than done. But doing produces energy, as ambivalence drains it. We must lean forward, conservatives who care, starting now.
Funny how history teaches. In truth, although Richard III is controversial, the line is often misunderstood. His speech offers hope, not despair. War has ended, his brother ascended, “glorious summer” before them – and “our stern alarms changed to merry meetings.” And Steinbeck’s character, who loses hope, gains wisdom in the end. So, let us resolve to “merry meetings” and new wisdom – along the way more hope, less fear.