Sasse’s big issue this spring was trade policy, where his Boston Consulting and McKinsey experience melds with his representation of Nebraska, a state that profits from agricultural exports. He calls blanket protectionism “a big part of why America had a Great Depression. ‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again.’” When Trump spoke of a new $100 billion of tariffs, Sasse said he hoped “the President is just blowing off steam again but, if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts.”
On June 9, though, Sasse held out a carrot: When Trump expressed interest in negotiations to eliminate G-7 trade barriers and tariffs, Sasse said, “I would happily carry his bag to every single meeting.” Then Sasse showed a stick: “The path to more trade begins with less whining on the global stage. … Pretending that we’re losers isn’t true. The constant victim-talk doesn’t help anyone.”
Anti-whining is in many ways the message of Sasse’s first book as a senator, The Vanishing American Adult, which includes chapter titles like “Embrace Work Pain” and “Consume Less.” Sasse criticizes the tendency to “spoon-feed young adults who we should instead nudge to travel and to read.” He was amazed as a college president to learn that “parents call college professors to complain about grades, and sometimes even contact residence hall directors to negotiate better rooms or intervene in roommate problems. I’m not that old, but the idea that my parents would have even considered doing such a thing is mind-blowing to me.”
Sasse’s “Build a Bookshelf” chapter cites not only C.S. Lewis but Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. He notes that John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion “says that if you begin with questions about human fallenness, they will lead inevitably to the contrast between our brokenness and the idea of a righteous standard, namely the holiness of God.” Sasse also recommends J. Gresham Machen’s great Christianity and Liberalism (published in 1923 but still in print).
Other Sasse recommendations are part of a once-standard canon—Luther, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hamilton, Madison, John Jay, Tocqueville, Frederick Douglass, Adam Smith, Orwell, Huxley, Willa Cather, Twain, Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison—that most students no longer encounter.