Restoring the American Main Street

COMMENTARY Conservatism

Restoring the American Main Street

Oct 11, 2023 30 min read
Kevin D. Roberts, PhD


Heritage Trustee since 2023
JimSchemel / Getty Images

From draconian COVID policies to the woke infiltration of our most vital institutions, the administrative state has destroyed the heart of democracy. President of The American Main Street Initiative, Dr. Jeff Anderson, joins Kevin to discuss why dissolving power away from the D.C. Swamp and restoring self-governance are crucial to stopping America's decline.

Jeffrey H. Anderson is the president of The American Main Street Initiative and served as the Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) at the U.S. Department of Justice (2017-2021).

Anderson earned a Ph.D. studying America’s founding principles at Claremont Graduate University. A former U.S. Air Force Academy professor, he served as the Senior Speechwriter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, co-founded and ran a successful start-up (The 2017 Project), and was a Hudson Institute Senior Fellow before becoming the Director of BJS. A leader in the Obamacare debate, Jeff authored “The Winning Alternative to Obamacare.” He later developed “The Main Street Tax Plan” to promote economic growth, reduce the national debt, and benefit the median American.

Jeff also co-created the Anderson & Hester College Football Computer Rankings, which were part of the Bowl Championship Series throughout its 16-year run.

Dr. Jeff Anderson: There's an awful lot that's disturbing in terms of marriage rates and crime and spending. There's so much you can point to. On the other hand, I certainly don't think we're in some sort of perpetual permanent decline mode. There's some people on the right, this drives me crazy, who act like, "Oh, well, we've pretty much hit rock bottom. Let's just let it hit rock bottom, and then we'll push off and go to some glorious tomorrow." Well, that's not how it works.

Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to The Kevin Roberts Show. As we sit here and record this episode, it seems like Washington D.C. is figuratively ablaze with the speaker race. We're not talking about that in this episode I'm happy to say. It's important, but really for the everyday American, what you might say is the Main Street American, they could not care less. Nothing against the men and woman who have been in that important role, but everything to say that those of you who tune into this show I'm pretty sure are everyday Main Street kind of Americans. That's what we're talking about this week. My guest, my new friend, Dr. Jeff Anderson, is the president of the American Main Street Initiative. You've done other things like serve in the Trump administration as director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. We'll talk about that. We're going to talk about COVID. We're going to talk about masks. We're going to talk about the next administration. But most of all, we're going to have fun talking about Main Street. Jeff, thanks for joining me.

Anderson: Thank you, Kevin.

Roberts: How do you get to doing what you're doing? You got a PhD in political science from Claremont. That sounds very accusing from one recovering academic to another. Hence, the tone of voice. PhD in political science from Claremont. You were a professor at the Air Force Academy. A great institution. I want to talk to you about that because I always thought that I might want to teach there one day. Also, you've done so much in the public square. Here you are one of the leaders of the American center right movement and making a real impact. How do you explain that?

Anderson: Well, I guess it's a little bit of an eclectic background. I liked being in academia. It was great teaching at the Air Force Academy. I wanted to have a little more direct impact on our politics, so I moved out to D.C. a little over a decade ago and have been in a variety of roles. I was in the Trump administration, as you said, as the director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is the statistical arm of DOJ. We put out all the stats on crime and punishment, and that was a great gig. Did that all the way through the end of the administration. I left the same day President Trump did. Then I started my current group, the American Main Street Initiative.

I did say because I was looking around the landscape both before and after leaving the administration, and I was struck by the fact that clearly everyday voters cared about a lot of these Main Street issues. A lot of politicians did as well, but the think tank world in D.C., the policy shops, there wasn't a lot of focus on that at all. This is of course before you got to Heritage and changed Heritage's focus quite a bit in that direction, which I think is terrific. I thought everyday Americans really need the intellectual support in D.C. to help push ideas in the public square and help move them into policy.

Roberts: How's that going? How's that effort?

Anderson: I think it's going great so far. We've been very focused on a lot of issues that, again, I think everyday Americans care about, that a lot of the establishment think tanks wanted nothing to do with. Like masks, fighting mask mandates, illegal immigration, national debt, adhering to our founding principles, separation of powers, fighting, wokeness, all these sorts of things.

Roberts: Well, thanks for all that work. I actually want to talk about a couple of those things. You mentioned masks and wokeness, but let's start with masks because I thought with great celebration that until the last four or five weeks that we were done with masks forever. I traveled all during COVID, but sometimes I was one of four or five people on an airplane traveling from Austin, Texas, usually up here to D.C. where the group I was leading then opened the D.C. office. I was never scared. I was never worried.

I don't dismiss other Americans who had different thoughts. That's a great thing about freedom and free will. I wasn't ugly towards them, most of them were not ugly towards me, but I was flying and I was doing my job. But the point is I got tired of wearing a mask on planes, it was the only time I would wear one. Four or five weeks ago, I'm walking around in D.C., which is the first problem. Then the second thing I realized perfectly normal looking American doesn't look ill, obviously someone could be ill and not look that way, wearing a mask. Why are they coming back?

Anderson: Well, I was never as optimistic as you were. I always thought they would come back because the public health officials just love them. Public health officials love public health interventions. It shows that there's some reason jobs for their existence.

Roberts: Job security.

Anderson: Exactly, and they're just determined to push this myth that the masks work. It's almost a religion at this point. I think it gives them comfort to think they can control a virus, which even though all the best evidence suggests masks don't work. I can't stand the masks, and that was really the first thing we really dug into deeply. I did a lot of research on the medical studies on masks and a lot of thinking about the sort of almost more from a philosophical angle, what do we lose by wearing these masks? Even if they did work, what's lost? I think an extraordinary amount. Human social interaction really matters, and to pretend that there's not a huge impoverishment of human social interaction when you can't see somebody's face, you can't see somebody's smile. It's crazy.

Roberts: Look into your crystal ball for us. You said that you fully expected masks to come back. Accounting for the fact that I don't want to hear anything to do about that, but that I'm also a realist. Tell us what we can expect as it relates to masks and/or the next public health emergency, whether it's legitimate or not?

Anderson: I think they'll keep trying to push them.

Roberts: It really is a vessel of control or icon of control?

Anderson: It is, very much so. That's why I thought it was a hugely important battle to fight. Now, back in spring/summer of 2021, I was disappointed at the lack of pushback from... I kept waiting for the citizenry to say, "This is America. We're not wearing a mask on our face." There wasn't a whole lot of that. Some people were like that, but there weren't a whole lot. I think thankfully through... I think our efforts have played some role in this, but obviously the efforts of many others. Now, a lot of people are more than happy to push back quite strongly and say, "We don't want anything to do with covering our face. We believe in inalienable rights and that those stem from the recognition we are all each unique human beings. We recognize each other largely by the face. We're just not going to do this." Plus again, the best available medical studies, the randomized controlled trials, there's been 16 done on masks. Masks are O for 16 in providing any compelling evidence that they work. Not to mention that people are also breathing in their own carbon dioxide, and studies suggests they're breathing in 35 to 80 times normal levels, which can do all kinds of stuff to mess you up. It's good to push back on them, and it's also good to just push back against rule by so-called experts. All these mask mandates, I'm sure as you noticed, were not imposed by elected legislatures. None of them were. It was always executives pretending to be legislatures and listening too much to public health officials who have a very narrow view of human existence.

Roberts: Our experience here in the United States was troubling enough. Mine was better than most because we were living in Texas at the time. Governor Abbott deserves a lot of credit for doing less of that than others. He still did too much, which I think even he would acknowledge in hindsight. I don't mean that to be gratuitous.

In the early days we didn't know a whole lot, but once the good data came out on masks and vaccines and other things, Texas got reopened relatively quickly. There were a couple of other states that were quicker, but all of that to say in spite of the bad experiences that some Americans had in other states where they didn't have a governor as focused on reasonable choices being made by individuals.
I think about what happened in Australia, which is often referred to as Texas with a bunch of British accents. It's troubling because as an American you think, well, we can count on at least Australia and a couple of other countries to get it right along with us, and we got it largely wrong. Even President Trump, I will say again not gratuitously, got some decisions wrong because he-

Anderson: Absolutely.

Roberts: ... over trusted public health officials. Hopefully he acknowledges that in hindsight so that if he's in office again and something like this happens again, he knows better. I surmise he probably will make that adjustment. But the point is about Australia, if you think about what binds us together culturally and intellectually historically with a place like Australia, does it worry you about our own ability to be self-governing?

Anderson: Yeah. It very much worries me. You look at Australia and New Zealand, Canada, they've been about as bad on this stuff as you could possibly be. Like you say, there were a awful lot of mistakes in America. There were only 10 states that didn't have mask mandates at one time or another. Florida most famously under DeSantis, but also there were nine others but that's it. The only country that seemed to really get it right was Sweden, which-

Roberts: Such a shock.

Anderson: ... would not have predicted in advance would be the one to do so. My wife and I actually took a trip to Australia in 2019 and went to the Australian Open. We couldn't wait to go back if we ever had the opportunity. But then shortly thereafter we realized, boy, I'm glad we went in 2019 and not 2020 and all the craziness of Novak Djokovic showing up to play the Australian Open and basically being held in a cell, awaiting the verdict. Then getting booted off the continent. It's amazing.

Roberts: One of the problems, and you touched on this a couple of moments ago, is the growth and power of unelected bureaucrats. We might also say the growth of the administrative state writ large. That's been a focus of some of your work and career. Give us an assessment of that? But also, we want to inject some optimism into this conversation, we sometimes save that for the end. But I think a lot of Americans right now are sort of on the brink of despair, so give us the honest, realistic assessment, but also give us some sense of how we might begin to correct its ills?

Anderson: Well, on the optimistic view I think... Well, one, on something like masks, I think there's been a huge victory on the side of those of us who oppose masks. We're in a very different place now than three years ago. Look at fall of 2020 and how much people were willing to put up with the masks and where we are now. I think there's been a big win there. I think there's a lot of place to improve in terms of the administrative state, and there's a movement, a foot to make that happen. I think even more broadly, it should have been a lesson that we shouldn't be trusting even elected executives too much. The founders had a separation of powers in mind that deciding what the law should be is supposed to be the legislature's realm and the executive's job is to carry it out.

When executives can basically say that, "Oh, there's a public health emergency, so now I will decide whether you can go to church in person. I'll decide everything." That's highly problematic I think. I don't think there was nearly as much pushback on that as I would've liked to have seen, and so I'm glad we're getting a chance to address that today. But our founding principles continue to be rock solid guides for the future, and there are plenty of Americans who believe strongly in them or at least have an intuitive sense that they're right. We just need to get the so-called elites in the Washington to New York corridor to come on board.

Roberts: Let's delve into that in some detail because you're familiar with even part of this effort that Heritage is leading, Project 2025, which often is described as a presidential transition project. That's fair and accurate. But to your point, it's actually even bigger than that. It's more ambitious than that. It is an attempt bar none to dismantle the administrative state.

Anderson: Right.

Roberts: Sometimes I'm told... Because I don't consume any leftist media, don't really consume D.C. based media wherever it is on the political spectrum because it's just not Main Street, frankly. It really skews your perspective. But I'm told that the leftist media is just fixated with this phrase that we use with Project 2025, "Dismantling the administrative state," because they equate that phrase with destroying democracy. Which I know probably gets them clicks and views and all of that, and that fine. But in fact, the administrative state has destroyed democracy, or at least significantly harmed it. Both from your practical work experience as well as your academic experience, walk us through that connection?

Anderson: Yeah. Well, the fact that they think dismantling the administrative state sounds like destroying democracy, that speaks volumes right there. Democracy, a republic, we're supposed to be a nation of free self-governing citizens who elect people to represent us, make our laws. Then we have an executive branch to carry that out. We don't have an executive branch that's supposed to decree how we can live, like what kind of car we can buy or drive, everything under the sun that the executive branch is now involved in. You look at the war powers, it's really supposed to be Congress that decides whether we go to war and the president who decides how to carry it out once begun, which is a very sensible division of power that the founders debated extensively.

I think they got it right. Most of the places that we have had problems in our country, I think where Main Street Americans have suffered, it's been because we have deviated from our founding principles, and we've got way too much consolidation and centralization of power in D.C. Way too much of that in the hands of unelected officials in the administrative state. At various times, although not so much right now, the courts... The Supreme Court is the one institution right now that's actually functioning probably better than it has in, I don't know, close to 200 years.

Roberts: A long time.

Anderson: Yeah. All the way back to the founding really, the Marshall Court I think is... But you have to go all the way back to there. Thankfully we have that going well. It's a sign that we can make progress with other things. The Supreme Court's renaissance, if you will, certainly didn't come about by accident. A lot of work went into that, and similar I think groundwork's being laid on the administrative state, so I'm hopeful.

Roberts: Where would you key in? You worked in the Department of Justice, we'll talk about that in a bit. Would you focus on that agency if you were limited... If you were given a magic wand, let's say, to begin dismantling the administrative state, do you start with DOJ? Do you start with another agency? Where do you think you start? Not just for the intrinsic worth of what you would correct there, but also because politically or strategically it gives you some momentum toward dismantling the administrative state writ large? Let me tell you why I asked that question. As we coach brief political candidates for president and an increasing number of governors who are interested in this kind of thing in their state capitals with Project 2025, a lot of their questions are about strategic. The other metaphor they use is what strand do you pull on first to cause the thing to begin to unravel given? Your experience and also your academic background, I'm curious if you've thought about what that strand is? What that agency is that you start on?

Anderson: I'd love to shut down the Department of Education or what have you. But unfortunately, you've got to lay the political groundwork for these things. I think most Americans now they hear that and they think whoever's trying to do that is against education, which of course is the furthest thing for the truth. We want education to be controlled where it should be, at the local level. Not even the state level, really, the local level. Not the federal level. You mentioned my old Department of Justice. Plenty of work to be done there, of course, with the FBI in particular, which has become a rogue entity and thinks it just is in control of itself. But I guess on your point about the strand to pull, the one thing that I found was the biggest impediment to actually getting at least a balance of perspectives among career employees is the federal HR departments, human resources departments. I never hear anybody talk about this a whole lot, but to me the one thing that I ran up against the most as a director of a bureau as a headache was these HR departments.

They're all staffed by career folks and they seem to think their goal is to stymie political appointees, keep them from hiring the people they want, keep them from disciplining federal employees. More exactly, to keep conservative political appointees from doing these things. I think they have a much lighter touch in other contexts. But the HR folks, they have all these Byzantine rules. Only they know them, and it's very hard to push back. It took a lot of time and effort to... I was able to mostly win my battles with them, but it really was exhausting. I think we really got to go after that. There's no way you should be able to have this pure civilian control almost outside of the political appointee's realm of these HR departments and all these rules that they decree and seem to often make up on the fly. Most of them I think are probably just a product of some prior administration or some prior administration's HR folks, so they can be undone immediately by a new administration.

Let me give you one example, so when I was BJS director, I got to hire I think 19 people out of a shop of about 55 over the course of my time there. But most of the time we were under direct hire authorities, so-called, where you can just pretty much push HR to the side, hire who you want. Because I was hiring statisticians and the federal government has a hard time hiring them, so there's direct hire authority was there. One thing we could do is have a lot broader use of direct hire authority. But one time I tried to hire a couple of people who were not under that authority, and I got a list of maybe 75 or 100 resumes. As was my practice, I read through all the resumes and decided who I wanted to bring in for interviews. Then I'd have my staff interview. Then I'd get their feedback, and I'd do the final interviews and make the decision.

Roberts: There's a lesson even in that approach for anyone wanting to serve in government is you do have to be a micromanager with hiring.

Anderson: Yeah. It took a lot of time, but it was worth it. I give a list of about 25 or 30 resumes to HR. I say, "I want to have my staff bring these folks in for the first round of interviews." They came back and said, "You can't bring any of those people in." I said, "Well, why not?" They said, "They're all from the private sector." I hadn't even realized, I guess that was just my natural inclination was to pick people from the private sector. But they said, "You've got to go with an existing federal employee by rule or you've got to pick somebody from the disabilities list." Which if you look, they actually publish this list. It's like, "Are you someone who's had an alcohol problem? A drug problem? Are you morbidly obese?" That's on the list. "Do you have a psychiatric disorder?"

Well, you almost have to have a psychiatric disorder to think that people on this list should go to the front of the line. I don't believe any of this ever got through Congress. It's hard to convince Congress to pass anything that crazy, so this has got to be internal executive rules that could easily be undone. It shouldn't be hard to hire someone from the private sector. We shouldn't be putting people who struggle with various things, alcohol and drugs, to the front of the line. This kind of stuff is constantly in operation and thwarting the will of political appointees, and it's got to be addressed.

Roberts: It must be addressed. You've actually given us, if not the one strand that can begin the unraveling of the administrative state, some examples of what agency heads... Even smaller agencies like what you were directing, small but important, the Bureau of Justice Statistics. To hone in on the HR department. To think about hiring. One of the things we're trying to do, we are doing with Project 2025, is training men and women who want to go into the next government at every level in how to do all of that.

Let's just continue down this somewhat hopeful path of 2024 going well for someone who's philosophically conservative. There's a conservative administration led by a standard-bearer, whoever he or she is, and Project 2025 is adopted. By the way, the Heritage Foundation fully expects all of these things to happen. Not with any hubris but with great hopefulness, we trust the American people to get it right. You say maybe start with the Department of Education, maybe hone in on the FBI. Whatever the playbook is, this is the question, how many years do conservatives need to be in power in order to dismantle the administrative state?

Anderson: Quite a few I would say, and people should be thinking in that vein. There's such a clear Main Street movement out there politically, and that I think without question what propelled Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. Every single person who had ever been elected as president in the United States prior to Trump had either been a vice president, a commanding general, a senator, a cabinet secretary. I don't think I'm missing anything except for one person who had only been a congressman. That was Abraham Lincoln, who had been the foremost spokesman on the foremost issue of his day. Then Donald Trump gets elected with not even having been so much as the mayor of a town. But he ran on immigration, on trade, on stopping endless wars. These Main Street issues that really resonated with voters. His issue set was much clearer to everyone than anyone else's. The other 16 Republicans or whatever, nobody knew what they stood for as much as Trump's issues.

Hillary Clinton stood for a bunch of long time establishment left-leaning issues. Trump wins, and I think you see that there's this enthusiasm for that sort of issue set you've seen carried out by Ron DeSantis in Florida and many others. There's a winning coalition out there. I don't think that the American public likes at all the strong leftward tilt that seems to have bled straight out of the worst of academic coffee lounges into our politics now. They're just waiting for somebody to come up with these common sense Main Street policies, this agenda. I think you could have a lasting governing coalition, but it's got to be... This is where actually being savvy politically comes into play. Candidates matter and messaging matters. We'll see how it goes. But there's certainly the potential there for a major shift and conservatives to have power for quite a while, in which case a whole lot could be done with the administrative state.

Roberts: We ought to be resolute, sober minded about what we're up against, but also hopeful that we can get this done. That we've got the plan, potentially the candidates at every level. As I often say, I imagine you would echo this too. While the presidency is important, obviously, while every seat in the US house, us senate's important, governorships are important, it's also important that Main Street Americans focus on school board elections, On city council elections.

More and more especially in the last year as I travel the country and people ask, "Well, Kevin, you give us an update on D.C. things. But what suggestion, what recommendation do you have for us in terms of reclaiming the public square?" I always say, now unfailingly, "Start local." Some people have taken me up on that suggestion. They're not even starting with school board, they're starting with... Like in Texas, as you know because you've had a couple of stints. There are something like 3,500 special purpose districts, water districts, emergency districts. Probably most of them shouldn't even exist, but the fact is they do. The only hope that we have of even those local municipalities, those local districts not running roughshod over self-governance is for good people to be in them. Does the American Main Street Initiative sing from that hymnal in encouraging people to be active locally as well as at the federal level?

Anderson: Oh, absolutely. I would certainly agree with that. Having good people in positions is just... You can't overstate that too much. I think that's a lesson actually from the Trump administration. I was honored to serve in the Trump administration, and I think it was very successful in many respects, but there was a weakness in getting good people into positions. There was a sort of log jam at the presidential personnel office, for some reason people just didn't get through. You had career folks... It's actually mentioned in the Mandate for Leadership book. It was the slowest filling of positions that we'd seen in recent decades. The result is career staff just control everything then if you don't have the political appointees in position. But it's not enough to just have them there or at the local level, it's important to have the right people there. If you have somebody who's not going to do anything worthwhile, it's not worthwhile to have them there.

Roberts: From a Main Street perspective, what do you think the two or three major issues are for the 2024 presidential election?

Anderson: Wow, I've been so focused on the issues that we think have it important to push like the mask mandates, illegal immigration, which has just been so bad under President Biden. Worse I think even than most people realize.

Roberts: It's hard to fathom the scale of it actually.

Anderson: It is really extraordinary. I think the national debt's a huge issue we've been trying to push hard, the separation of powers stuff. But I'm not sure all of those are necessarily going to be the top shelf issues for the election. To a large extent, I think immigration will be a big issue. It's a question of does it become a really big issue or not? Some of that's a matter of letting the American people know what's really going on down there. Inflation I think is probably... Inflation, the economy. The fact that people just can't make ends meet in the current economy is probably the number one issue, but you've got no shortage of issues with all the-

Roberts: Unfortunately.

Anderson: Yeah, there's all kinds of craziness going on right now. It's always hard to predict as well. Oftentimes what might end up being on voter's radar a year from now on the cusp of the presidential election may be quite different than what we think.

Roberts: That is so true. It seems that for most of those, you could put them in this bucket of... A messaging bucket. Something that Heritage is spending a lot more time on because we think we've got the policy solutions right. We'll always continue to do the work. But what we were asking ourselves what can we do that gives the ideas even bigger impact? We're not worried about the credit ourselves, and that is figure out which messaging you lead with. It seems as if, to your point, that if you lead with... A growing percentage of Americans don't believe the American dream is possible for them. They actually, often in some of the focus groups, message testing, we do describe this as a feeling of loss. Almost as if they've lost a loved one. A lot of Americans, if you think about the emotional state they have right now, are on the brink of despair, some of them actually despairing. We know that qualitatively. That they're saying they are insecure. They're increasingly financially insecure because of government spending, which of course has a direct impact on inflation.

They're feeling insecure, we hear this from proverbial suburban women, regarding lawlessness, public safety. Some of that directly affected by what's going on at the border, but some of it directly affected by a district attorney who doesn't want to prosecute violent crimes. What they're saying is, "We need a man or a woman as President of the United States who, A, understands this. Doesn't vilify us for having these emotions because we still believe in America, but we're beginning to doubt it. Secondly, gives us a plan. Thirdly, isn't so ideologically dogmatic that he or she can't bob and weave and be pragmatic without betraying their principles. It seems to me as a lifelong movement conservative, that kind of sounds like Main Street conservatism.

Anderson: It does, very much. These are very basic notions. Have a government that spends within its means, actually enforce the laws as written. Don't allow just rampant shoplifting and causes stores to close all over the place, and usually in neighborhoods where people are poor. It's always the poorer people who end up getting the worst of these horrible government ideas. These are basic blocking and tackling notions, basic functions of government. Our moment right now I think reminds me somewhat of the Carter years when everything seems to be declining, and of course the aftermath of that was quite good with Ronald Reagan. Eight years of Reagan, and we weren't able to sustain that quite as well as we might've liked.

But I think we can hope for another round of something like that. Although in another sense, it's almost a Nixonian moment. Just law and order, police the border. We seem to have to relearn all of the same lessons over and over again. The crime sprees of the sixties and seventies, and how by actually having broken windows policing and enforcing the little laws, it created a culture of people abiding by the law. We saw not only small crimes but major crimes drop precipitously. Policing the border is not a very complicated notion, you just simply have to want to do it. A lot of these things, the no nonsense, almost Nixonian view, I think that's what most voters... It's where most voters are, I think.

Roberts: Yeah. It makes me think about a couple of conversations I had yesterday with journalists. Both of them asked me versions of this question, which I'll ask you, "Kevin, do you think America is in decline?" My answer was, "Some days I think that even though I'm very hopeful about the American future." In other words, something or someone can be in decline and arrest that decline and improve. It doesn't mean that you're fatalistic. Some friends on the new right say, "We're in the epilogue of American history. This thing's over."

Well, we don't know that. But the point is, my answer was, tell me what you think about this? "We're on the brink of decline." Which is a little evasive, but on purpose so that I'm not discouraging people. But here's full disclosure, and you get to tell me given your experience what you think, that the reason I say we're on the brink of decline is because it's apparent to me, for example, since Reagan was president. That while we've had some successes, that a lot about American civil society is worse, frankly. We got to fix it soon, otherwise we will be in a pretty significant decline.

Anderson: Yeah. I guess I would say I think we've been declining.

Roberts: Oh, there you go.

Anderson: I think to some degree across several decades, and probably since Reagan, but certainly more sharply in just the last few years, there's an awful lot that's disturbing in terms of marriage rates and crime and spending. There's so much you can point to. On the other hand, I certainly don't think we're in some sort of perpetual permanent decline mode. There's some people on the right, this drives me crazy, who act like, "Well, we've pretty much hit rock bottom. Let's just let it hit rock bottom, and then we'll push off and go to some glorious tomorrow." Well, that's not how it works. That shows a incredible lack of imagination I think to imagine how much worse things can be. You were talking about Australia and you can add New Zealand, whatever. Look around the world, who's got it right right now? We're still the last best hope on earth.

As Reagan said in the Time for Choosing address in '64, hitting rock bottom is probably after a thousand years of darkness. I think we have to fight very hard to keep... Well, hopefully to push back and have an upward turn, and start to rise again. It's going to be some ebb and flow, but it'd be great to have a few decades of continual rising. But even if things continue to decline, as we've seen over the last few years, they can decline a lot faster if you don't work hard to make that decline slower. That's not necessarily the rosiest way of looking at it, but it's reality that you've got to fight to make things as good as you can make them and not count on some fanciful notion of hitting rock bottom and pushing up and having it be all of a sudden... In a way, it's an escapist mindset I think. It's hard to prevail, so let's just indulge the fantasy.

Roberts: You kind of answered what has become the proverbial final question here about why are you hopeful in spite of all the challenges? I've had a couple of guests say, "Well, that presumes, I'm hopeful." But I gather that you are, even from your countenance those members of the audience who are watching can see that in you. Let me ask you a practical version of that on behalf of the audience, but also for myself, for all of us at Heritage. Given that plan that you just laid out, that we've been in decline but we don't want to go to rock bottom... I also agree with you in your assessment of that sentiment, but we need a few decades of getting things back on track. What two or three things would you suggest to members of the audience for them to do? We're not looking for grandiose things, but anything... Especially given the time you spend with Main Street folks, anything practical come to mind that might encourage people or they may listen to this conversation and say, "Man, I want to go do X," that you would suggest.

Anderson: It's always tough. Everybody's circumstance is different. I think just as much as possible interacting with others, sharing your views with them. Encouraging dialogue and inculcation of knowledge. Sadly in this day and age, people who just read the mainstream news or digest it, they don't really hear much of anything. A lot of kids go to schools, they learn next to nothing about our founding principles. The typical everyday American who cares about these things I think can in modest but important ways drop a few comments here and there and just really help to give somebody a different perspective on things. I think that's important. Trying to get involved in various groups and the Tocquevillian civil associations that have always been the beating heart of America are crucially important and have been weakened of late.

I think anything you can do to get involved with your community, your church, anything is typically good. Just staying informed on the issues and voting in an intelligent way. Getting a knowledgeable way... Getting involved in the political realm to the extent you can at the local level. Helping out with campaigns, whatever. All these things are good. Getting involved in our schools. Our educational system is probably... In some ways I think our political system is in better shape than our education system at this point. Especially our colleges are just pretty much a disaster at this point. Our elementary and secondary schools are not a whole lot better. They've got to get better. You see a lot of this with people. Here's a personal choice people can make, pull your kids out of a horrible public school and homeschool them. Not the easiest thing to do, but my wife and I are involved in that to some extent. My wife does the lion's share.

Roberts: Likewise.

Anderson: But that's crucial. If you want to have a next generation that actually knows something about traditional American morays and our founding principles and doesn't just get whatever somebody chooses to try to indoctrinate them with in the public schools, well, that's a huge matter. Taking care of your own next generation.

Roberts: Yeah. We've got to dig deep to do this, right?

Anderson: Yeah.

Roberts: We've got to be creative, and as has always been the case with not just Americans, but other societies that have had self-governance, none of them to the extent that we do, we have to sacrifice.

Anderson: Absolutely.

Roberts: That's not a bad thing. It's a good thing because we regenerate this desire for human flourishing and self-governance by doing so.

Anderson: Yeah. It's a very happy sacrifice to be republican citizens. Small R republican citizens.

Roberts: Jeff Anderson, president the American Main Street Initiative. Thanks for what you do. Thanks for being here. I look forward to having you back many times and collaborating with you.

Anderson: Thank you, Kevin. I really appreciate being here. It's great to talk to you.

Roberts: Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Jeff. I didn't promise this on the front end that it would be hopeful. I sort of figured it would be. But if you to this, you know that it was. We thank him for being here. We thank you for maybe following up with one or two of those points that Jeff made. In the meantime, in spite of all of the challenges facing America, keep your chin up. We're going to win.

The Kevin Roberts Show is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. The producer is Philip Reynolds. Sound design by Lauren EvansMark Guiney, and Tim Kennedy

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