Them (Sasse)

Them:  Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal
Ben Sasse, 2018
St. Martin's Press
288 pp.

An intimate and urgent assessment of the existential crisis facing our nation.

Something is wrong.

We all know it.

American life expectancy is declining for a third straight year. Birth rates are dropping. Nearly half of us think the other political party isn’t just wrong; they’re evil. We’re the richest country in history, but we’ve never been more pessimistic.

What’s causing the despair?

In Them, bestselling author and U.S. senator Ben Sasse argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, our crisis isn’t really about politics. It’s that we’re so lonely we can’t see straight—and it bubbles out as anger.

Local communities are collapsing. Across the nation, little leagues are disappearing, Rotary clubs are dwindling, and in all likelihood, we don’t know the neighbor two doors down. Work isn’t what we’d hoped: less certainty, few lifelong coworkers, shallow purpose. Stable families and enduring friendships—life’s fundamental pillars—are in statistical freefall.

As traditional tribes of place evaporate, we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team. No institutions command widespread public trust, enabling foreign intelligence agencies to use technology to pick the scabs on our toxic divisions.

We’re in danger of half of us believing different facts than the other half, and the digital revolution throws gas on the fire.

There’s a path forward—but reversing our decline requires something radical: a rediscovery of real places and human-to-human relationships. Even as technology nudges us to become rootless, Sasse shows how only a recovery of rootedness can heal our lonely souls.

America wants you to be happy, but more urgently, America needs you to love your neighbor and connect with your community. Fixing what's wrong with the country depends on it. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 22, 1972
Where—Plainview, Nebraska, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard University; M.A., St. John's College; M.A., M.Phil, Ph.D., Yale University
Currently—lives in Washington, D.C., and Fremont, Nebraskas

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse is a fifth-generation Nebraskan. The son of a football and wrestling coach, he attended public school in Fremont, Nebraska., and spent his summers working soybean and corn fields.

He was recruited to wrestle at Harvard before attending Oxford and later earning a Ph.D. in American history from Yale. Prior to the Senate, Sasse spent five years as president of Midland University back in his hometown.

As perhaps the only commuting family in the U.S. Senate, Ben and his wife, Melissa, live in Nebraska but are homeschooling their three children as they commute weekly back and forth to Washington, DC. (From the publisher.)

For a more in depth bio, visit the Senator's website.

Book Reviews
Sasse emphasizes the importance of civil debate …and laments the extreme partisanship that characterizes public life in the Trump era. But "the dysfunction in D.C.," he says, stems from something "deeper than economics," and "deeper and more meaningful" than politics. "What’s wrong …is loneliness." … [A] little cloying …but what's curious …is not so much the careful avoidance of politics—politicians are really good at this—but Sasse’s repeated assertions that political solutions are meaningless.
Jennifer Szalai - New York Times

If Sen. Ben Sasse is right—he has not recently been wrong about anything important— the nation’s most-discussed political problem is entangled with the least-understood public health problem. The political problem is furious partisanship. The public health problem is loneliness. Sasse’s new book argues that Americans are richer, more informed and “connected” than ever—and unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.
George Will - Washington Post

Mr. Sasse’s experience as a senator in a time of hyperpartisanship gives his analysis a special poignancy… [his] remedies are wise and well-expressed… his prose has a distinctively cheerful warmth throughout. Perhaps at last we have a politician capable of writing a good book rather than having a dull one written for him.
Wall Street Journal

Sasse is highly attuned to the cultural sources of our current discontents and dysfunctions.… Them is not so much a lament for a bygone era as an attempt to diagnose and repair what has led us to this moment of spittle-flecked rage …a step toward healing a hurting nation.
National Review

Sasse is an excellent writer, unpretentious, thoughtful, and at times, quite funny …even if you disagree with some or all of what Sasse writes, it's an interesting book and his arguments are worth reading—as are his warnings about what our country might become.

An eloquent appeal for healing …what makes Them worth the read is Sasse's amalgam of realistic alarm and warning.
Guardian (UK)

Mr. Sasse’s strongly written analysis of our current existential unease should hit a national nerve.
Washington Times

The solutions [Sasse] proposes …are overwhelmingly social and personal, rather than political. Sasse’s philosophical musings are unlikely to convert many skeptics.
Publishers Weekly

Sasse presents a compelling, well-supported look at why… in our constantly expanding, internet-driven world, so many people feel lonely.… [W]hether readers agree Them is a crucial contribution to a more open and productive social dialogue.

The future of the republic depends on humility, empathy, and respect for pluralism.… Sasse offers a… recommendation for healing: identifying and nurturing common bonds. A sensible and thoughtful yet hardly groundbreaking political analysis.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers Talking Points to help start a discussion for THEM by Ben Sasse … then take off on your own:

1. Does it feel to you that America is coming apart—that we need a re-set? Considering the book's title, do we "hate each other"?

2. Do you agree with the premise of Ben Sasse's book: that the root of our country's divisiveness goes deeper than economics and deeper than the dysfunction in Washington—that our troubles stem from loneliness and a lack of connectedness to our local communities? Other writers, including Robert Putnam in his well-known 2000 book, Bowling Alone, have made similar observations. What do you think? Is loneliness at the heart of American anger and angst?

3. In the section called "Civics 101," Sasse writes, "Citizens in a republic must cultivate humility. It’s the only way to preserve sufficient space for true community and for meaningful, beautiful human relationships." First, define what Sasse means by humility and why it's important. In what …and where …and in whom …do we witness a lack of humility? How do we recover our individual and collective humility?

4. Sasse says that public servants "simply need to allow the space for communities of different belief and custom to flourish." What communities is he referring to? How do we ensure that different communities will indeed thrive—what steps need to be taken? What happens if those on the outside come to resent those on the inside of the communities? What protections can be offered?

5. Of our self-contained bubbles, Sasse writes that today what matters—more than actual content—is who does the reporting. "It isn’t just that living in ideological bubbles makes it harder to criticize one’s own side," Sasse writes. "It’s also that it actually becomes harder to believe credible charges against one’s own tribe." Is Sasse correct in pointing out that the messenger is more important than the message? Do you find yourself caught up in a bias bubble? Are you part of a "tribe" of like-minded thinkers? Is there a way to escape our biases, to move beyond them?

6. Sasse points to the fact that "America is being split into the "haves" and the "have-nots" and that the gap between them is growing. He admits that "it's increasingly difficult to move up" the economic ladder—"a stark departure" from the expectations of the past several generations. How important do you feel the income gap is? What solutions would go a long way toward closing the income gap?

7. Talk about the other societal ills Sasse identifies—opioid use, lower birth rate, pregnancy decoupled from marriage…. What are some others? Does Sasse's depiction of a country-in-trouble" ring true to you? Is he overly pessimistic? Is he realistic?

8. Consider Ben Sasse's background. How did it prepare him for a life in Washington and as a spokesman for the nation?

9. What do you know about Ben Sasse and his time as a U.S. Senator? As a Republican from Kansas, where do his allegiances (and votes) lie?

10. Ultimately, after reading Them, does Ben Sasse correctly diagnose the problems of this country, and does he offer us a viable solution or solutions?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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