Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage
By Dan Crenshaw
(Twelve, 249 pages, $28)
Dan Crenshaw is a name many conservatives recognize and respect. The rest of us should, as well. The 36-year-old Crenshaw is a millennial who hasn’t lost his way. In fact, this retired Navy SEAL embodies the virtues and attributes that helped make America the last best hope of earth. As Crenshaw phrases it, “Don’t we live in the most prosperous nation on earth with a quality of life and freedoms that are the envy of the world?” We do, and this is impossible to square with the corrosive outrage that so disfigures our current political and cultural debates, increasingly forcing reasoned thought and civility out of our national and personal conversations. Outrage and unreason that Crenshaw says we must defeat before they defeat us.
In this book, Crenshaw warns that we run the risk of losing this last best hope if we allow the virtues and habits that built America to decay and to be replaced by sloth, a sense of entitlement, and outrage. Those who share this concern should read Fortitude. Those who don’t share this concern need to read it even more.
Fortitude is a combination memoir, self-help book (self-help without the psycho-babble), analysis of American’s current cultural ills, and a prescription for how to save the future. The war stories in the book are inspiring and show the incredible price young men must pay to become SEALs. The training for membership in this hyper-select fraternity of warriors is probably the toughest of any military unit on the planet. The many jobs they do for America on the battlefield are beyond price, and in some cases nearly beyond belief. There’s not enough gratitude on the planet to adequately recompense these brave and multi-competent young men for what they do for us all. We can only marvel that they are willing and able to do it, and thank our good luck that we have them.
Crenshaw is a rookie Republican congressman representing a Houston area district. But he’s not just a generic politician. At his young age he has already served and sacrificed for his country in a big way, and appears to have entered on public service for the right reasons. (Too many who have chosen “public service” are in fact servicing the public in the animal husbandry sense. They’ve chosen office-seeking for a career in lieu of legitimate work. Not Crenshaw.)
Crenshaw knows from fortitude. In his 36 years he’s needed and demonstrated more of it, along with larger doses of grit and determination, than 20 average Americanos will have to call on in a lifetime. His résumé includes 10 years as a Navy SEAL, where he reached the rank of lieutenant commander. His naval career was cut short by disability retirement thanks to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan that destroyed his right eye and nearly cost him his left. Only multiple surgeries and a long in-hospital recovery and rehabilitation period that Crenshaw says may have been more demanding than combat and more painful than the initial injury led to return of near normal vision in his left eye. This experience could have licensed Crenshaw to descend into self-pity. He did not. Rather he relied on the mental toughness that he developed through a stoic approach to life and a sense of duty and self-reliance that many more Americans used to have and more could and should have again if America is to survive, let alone thrive.
Crenshaw’s analysis of the cultural wrong turns America has taken is sound. Engaged conservatives are familiar with most of the elements of our cultural devolution that Crenshaw catalogues. These include dumbed-down education at all levels with almost exclusive emphasis on America’s shortcomings, real and fabricated, instead of its triumphs, which are many. The abandonment of religion in America and the West generally has robbed us of comfort and a sense of purpose. The desire for the government to solve all of one’s problems rather than sorting them on our own and the tendency to blame others for our own shortcomings have made us weak and submissive. The current obsession with all manner of victimhood and the identity politics this produces is incredibly corrosive. Reasoned discourse has too often been replaced by shouting at each other, and the less the shouter knows about the issue at hand, the louder and more outraged he tends to be. A country in the grips of the cultural maladies above will not sustain.
Crenshaw’s solutions for our current cultural malaise are right on, though it’s hard to see how we transition from our current slack state of affairs back to the tough-minded, self-reliant, strong, and free America of the recent past. Crenshaw calls on us to lower our voices, reason through issues rather than simply rant about them, and treat others who’ve come to different conclusions than we have with civility. Quit looking for offense. Strong and free nations don’t waste cultural capital on micro-aggressions and insane arguments over pronouns. We don’t issue participation trophies. And we don’t look to the government to run our lives and provide us everything we need or just want for free. In Crenshaw’s words, it’s all about
the importance of building a society of iron-tough individuals who can think for themselves, take care of themselves, and recognize that a culture characterized by grit, discipline, and self-reliance is a culture that survives. A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart.
Bravo! But how do we get there? In fairness to Crenshaw, it’s likely no one could answer this question. But his attempt is still admirable. Crenshaw’s résumé and his character are too long-forged at too high a price for him to resolve into just another cynical political careerist. He promises good, possibly even great things in public office. And, we can hope, more future books as worthy of reading time and consideration as Fortitude.