The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis — and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, by Ben Sasse (St. Martin’s, 320 pp., $27.99)
In February 2016, as Donald Trump’s star was unexpectedly rising, a Republican senator stood athwart history, yelling Stop. A mere two years after one of those uncompetitive midterm elections that, for most Americans, are little more than a blip on the CNN chyron, Nebraska’s freshman senator, Ben Sasse, announced on Facebook that he could not in good conscience support either Trump or Hillary Clinton. We can do better than the two candidates who would eventually face off in November, he insisted. Smelling the sort of intraparty blood they like to feast on, the media came circling.
On paper, Sasse must have struck them as a familiar sort of Republican rube: devoted family man, anti-abortion, God-fearin’ patriot, and conservative as the summer Nebraska corn is high. (“I’m one of the most conservative members of the Senate,” Sasse often proudly repeats.) They could not have been expecting the wunderkind they would meet in the small town of Fremont, Neb., 30 miles northwest of Omaha. A Harvard grad with a Ph.D. in history from Yale, well traveled, social-media-savvy, Sasse was not just “articulate” — the preferred term for those in public life who manage to pull together something resembling a coherent series of thoughts on a cable-news segment — he was whip-smart, thoughtful, and deeply versed in history and constitutional principles. His highly developed sense of East Coast irony made even Rachel Maddow smile. Inevitably, a Beltway class always on the lookout for the next election headliner began to stroke their chins.