Jessica Anderson, Heritage Grassroots Director, is leaving Heritage Action for now to work with the Trump team at the Office of Management and Budget! We are all very proud of her many, many accomplishments, including this one. Her speech at the 2016 Sentinel Summit in San Antonio in November, were inspiring and so true. We wish her well and know she is not far away. Her Sentinel Army is ready and waiting.
Sentinel Leadership in Defense of Conservative Principles
Speech by Jessica Anderson
Being a Sentinel in 2016 has been no easy task. What we are each committed to is not only counter cultural, but revolutionary.
In 2016, Sentinels have been faced with unprecedented challenges:
- A Republican in Name Only congressional majority who fought for power and the status quo over the interests of the American people all while going home and claiming to fight for the middle class on the campaign trail.
- An election cycle turned upside down by beating back the establishment of the right and the left.
- And a lame duck President so cemented in legacy building he remained blind to the orders of the constitution and separation of powers. Obama dropped executive orders for his policy priorities not only to champion liberalism but to evade Congress and thus, the American people.
By every definition, this year has been challenging.
And it has challenged us personally. Friendships were lost over the election, family relationships strained, political partnerships questioned and many of our neighborhoods torn apart and are still hurting.
But yet, when I woke up on November 9th the emotions and pain of the election cycle were in many ways validated. The election of Donald Trump reflects what many grassroots conservatives like us in this room today have known for years – Americans are tired of politicians failing to deliver on their promises to get the federal government off our backs and out of our wallets.
That said, there is an important lesson to learn and it relates directly to a core principle of Sentinel which I want to share with us today.
Sentinel has never been about relying on someone else to bring change. Sentinel is about bringing change and prosperity to this country, ourselves. No one else can govern our government, manage our household or raise our children- we do. We the people are leaders, we the people are civil servants and we the people are the guardians of the constitution.
But what exactly does that mean when the founders intended us to have elected officials heading to Washington to represent us?
It means that the two roles are in constant tension- On one side it is us as the Sentinel guardsman and leaders of community. And on the other side, the elected official representing us in an elected body.
The tension between these two ideas should be constant and deliberate. The elected official should know how we the electorate thinks about specific issues, just as we the citizen should know how they are voting on any given issue. Constantly in tension, checking each other and hoping to inform a better, more virtuous populate.
How the elected official actually governs then takes on two forms, or surfaces through two unique vehicles- What the left wants and what the right wants.
Let’s look first at how the left has shaped America’s perceptions of elected officials to mean unchecked leadership and then, how that relates to each of us here today.
The rise of modern liberalism can be attributed to two former Presidents: President Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt. These liberal icons reshaped and redefined Presidential leadership in the most fundamental of ways.
To a liberal, the President should be in charge of leading Americans to a morally better world and as such, the president must be the leader of national public opinion- and then when applied, the leader of a mandate.
This view of executive leadership made possible all while assuming that the President was leading into the future. This form of leadership sees the public mind, discerns it and then articulates it. Always going forward, never backwards. Because forward is the only way for things to get better.
Both Wilson and FDR called this process of summoning and interpreting popular sentiment “common counsel,” and it was possible only through the mechanism of the political party. This began to transform presidential politics whereby a new kind of political party could be organized around the charisma or personal force of a leader and with as few intermediaries as possible between the leader and the people.
As this evolved, the left looked less to the constitutional role of the President and instead to his political role. The President was after all the only figure which the whole nation votes.
And so, Wilson claimed that the President embodies the people as a whole and now has the power to transcend separation of powers-something we will revisit later today.
This new vision of a Presidential leader surfaced everywhere….
- The Presidential campaign –the President “feels” the pain of the people.
- A Presidential victory– a mandate to push a legislative agenda.
In the end, “we the people” are striped of our very purpose and “we the people” become a mechanism of the government, instead of a check to the government. And this “empathy” those on the left might seek to provide is not actually real. It is what the elites think the people need. It is not based on real knowledge or real life experience. It’s based on so-called secret knowledge that only they are able to access.
Unable to feed your family, don’t worry the government knows you can’t but they can. Unable to educate your children, don’t worry the state knows you can’t so they will. Unable to pay for your healthcare, don’t worry Obama knows you can’t so sign up for Obamacare right here. The list goes on…
In 2005 Obama explained to the National Press Club what Roosevelt understood: “the freedom to pursue our own individual dreams is made possible by the promise that if fate causes us to stumble or fall, our larger American family will be there to lift us up. That if we’re willing to share even a small amount of life’s risks and rewards with each other, then we will all have the chance to make the most of our God-given potential.”
Obama knew the vision of Wilson and FDR and rose to power as the leader able to know the needs of the people and then- prescribe government as the medicine for any ailment.
Well let me tell you friends, the government’s duty is not to use its power and resources to meet new social problems with new social controls.
Furthermore, when Democrats execute policy or agendas based on this premise- of secret knowledge into the will of the people- we expect it, but when Republicans do it, they create a dangerous precedent for power, new models of leadership and an overreach of policy.
When we sacrifice our ability to lead ourselves, we become more and more dependent on a leader to dig us out, define us and then cast a vision for our future. It may seem like a stretch, but its happening everywhere when we allow one man alone to fix a broken policy.
So then, how does this all relate back to a “legislative mandate” from “we the people” to a President? Yesterday, Russ spoke about a populist mandate that comes directly from the people and propels a candidate forward- we saw this with Donald Trump. But the fruits of the Trump movement did not grow overnight and they are certainly not exclusive to Donald Trump; they have been growing over the past 6-8 years. Trump’s mandate has come from us- working in districts, vocalizing the needs of communities, and demanding our elected officials vote conservatively. Trump’s legislative mandate to repeal Obamacare, build a wall, lower taxes and create jobs to uplift the middle class did not come from pundits or pollsters anticipating the thoughts and needs of the American people. In contrast, Barack Obama, did not have a legislative mandate to create Obamacare, to triumph gay marriage, to issue executive amnesty and he knew it. How? Simply, look at how he passed his priorities- he bypassed Congress and issued executive orders, politicized the Supreme Court and essentially legislated by phone and pen. For Obama, he did was liberals think they do best- claim to have secret knowledge of the American people. This is not how the founders envisioned government leading from a mandate.
Government exists to secure the safety and happiness of the people. It does so by protecting the rights of citizens and creating the conditions that allow us to pursue and hopefully find, happiness.
Moreover, the Founder’s view of elected leadership is clear: the individual leader is merely an office-holding servant of the constitution.
And these elected officials rise to the fierce obligation of defending the enduring principles of natural law.
This may be the calling of elected officials, but it is part of our calling as well and goes back to the original argument of “we the people” and our elected officials being in constant tension. Sentinel is at its best when we too are servants of the constitution, when we too are guardians of the constitution and then seek to fiercely defend the enduring principles of national law.
When we see ourselves as the civil servant, the more we stop seeing our elected official as our savior, capable of knowing and then meeting our needs. It is only then that we can begin to live out civil society in real and meaningful ways. This removes power from Washington DC and places it back into communities.
This all may seem lofty and idealistic. You may be asking yourself, Jessica, I am just one person with small resources and little time. I promise you can still play a part and your part is vital to our nation moving forward. Here are six easy ideas to get you thinking:
- If your Representative is not a conservative- hold them accountable.
- If your neighborhood is torn apart by racism and hate, be the bridge. Host neighborhood block parties to bring people together. Organize a buy-cott for businesses less frequented. Hold thank you posters and wave flags outside your local police station or firehouse. Ask the media to come and cover it.
- If the high school or middle school in your county has kids refusing to take part in the national anthem, hand out American flags outside the Friday night football game. Share information about that school’s See you at the Pole day and make sure that the single student praying for our nation is not standing alone.
- If 3rd graders in your town have never seen the constitution, bring them a free copy and offer to volunteer and read it to them one day.
- Do your teenage children or grandchildren understand gun safety? Take them to a gun range and show them the power of the 2nd Amendment.
- And finally, know your network. Sure, your family, friends and tea party get your emails, but do they actually agree with us? And then, can they themselves articulate the same message to their community? Find out. Take your friends to coffee and unpack the issues of the day and redefine the art of the possible.
Sentinel Leadership is most ardently about preserving conservative principles and that starts locally. It starts with every Sentinel not only being committed to holding their Member of Congress accountable but living a life of civic duty, volunteerism and patriotism. We know this, which is why we are here today. But do others around us know this?
We must grow civic pride at home and launch a counter-assault on the left. We must beat the left where they are winning now- in neighborhoods, in our schools and in our communities.
As guardians of the constitution, it is no longer enough to just talk to each other. We must get out of our comfort zones and bring others in. The task for 2017 is to build in our communities and alongside other Sentinels.
This matters more than we might even realize. Just this week, I am reading more and more articles from the left saying they too need a tea party that they too need to bust up the Democratic “establishment.” That the days of protesting in the streets are no longer enough to change America that they have to win elections and win wars. Disgruntled DNC activists are walking out of committee meetings and the left is having a revolution of its own.
We must meet our communities where they are and not allow the left to run rampant.
Accountability must now take on two parts:
One part holding your Member of Congress accountable to conservative principles when policies are not in line with the constitution. And the second part is holding your communities accountable to the vision of the founders where an America for civil society, freedom and prosperity could flourish.
And while it might feel daunting, I believe this is possible because of each of you in this room. I have hope for this country, because of Sentinels, doing small acts of kindness alongside big bold ideas for reform. I have hope for my 3 year old son to grow up in a land of liberty, because of Sentinel Nation. For this task cannot be left to others. It’s ours. Don’t look to your left or right, look to yourself and where will Heritage Action be? We will be there every step of the way providing resources and ideas to help, for we too are citizens and we are each committed to keeping America great and to fulfill not only a legislative mandate for 2017 but a mandate for a new America build on prosperity for generations to come.