Restoring the Republic One Grandfather’s Desk at a Time

While I was never an earnest student, it occurred to me upon the cusp of my entrance into college that I might need a desk. This was music to the ears of my mother, a teacher, for two reasons: one, she thought I might finally become studious; and, two, she would finally be able to get me to move her late father’s desk out of the garage. Thus, during that brief, closing window of Michigan’s season of clement weather, I dragged my grandfather’s massive oak desk into the light.

Beneath layers of dust I found a sturdy, unadorned work desk. It was battered and stained due to years of service in a grocery store chain’s warehouse where he worked as a foreman; and, later, in his garage where he snuck off from his slice of domestic bliss to work on his car, even though it was in perfect working order. For some inexplicable reason, rather than simply clean his desk, I felt something more was needed, especially given my love and respect for my grandfather. I decided to restore his desk.

Of course, as an 18-year-old kid, I had no idea what I was doing. But pain is a teacher that leaves an indelible mark, and so from this experience I learned the rudiments of furniture restoration. I quickly realized the aspects of it I loathed—sanding and stripping; and the aspects I loved—bringing a piece of discarded furniture back to a life of beauty and utility. In the end, the love outweighed the loathing and, with intermittent periods of inactivity due to bouts of public service, a lifetime of rescuing furniture from the landfill commenced. And during those bouts of inactivity, I often pined (pun intended) for the time to restore more furniture.

This pining was encouraged by the fact that my grandfather’s desk commenced a journey with me. I placed and used his desk in every political office to which the public entrusted me. The desk reminded me of my grandfather, his principles, and how he virtuously lived them. Steeped in the fact America is a revolutionary experiment in self-government, my grandfather embraced the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual anchors of faith, family, community, and country. These anchors provided the “order of the soul” that is the prerequisite not only of justice and freedom, but of self-government. This order of the soul enabled his generation to transcend the tempests and tumults of the 20th century—fascism, communism, depressions, world wars, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. Indeed, my grandfather’s desk provided needful inspiration as a testament to how difficult, intricate, and even (at times) tedious work could restore and redeem even the most distressed entity. That desk had seen things, as had my grandfather. Yet it endured because he had inspired me to care for it.

In sum, my grandfather’s desk reminded me that every succeeding generation stands on the shoulders those who have gone before them. Today, the left disregards the need for any order of the soul and prefers to stoop in the shadows of disorder. It plots ways to demean and diminish the accomplishments of preceding generations. Their aim is to revile and, later, erase the past; to drag us off the shoulders of giants and back under the boot of tyranny. The result has been a decades-long effort to fundamentally transmogrify America’s revolutionary experiment in self-government into a soulless exercise in servitude.

What abets the left is what it sows: the disorder of the age. The constant stimulations and manipulations of our devices and vices amidst the so-called communication revolution point to the gravest danger to free people: the disorder of the soul that extinguishes the roots of order, of justice, of freedom. Lost in the incessant, algorithmic engineered madness is a respite from the world, one that affords us the leisure to roam one’s mind over the blessings and permanent questions that make up the resplendent mosaic of life. We are left hungry for a chance to deepen our commitments to faith, family, community, and country. We long for the opportunity to work with our own hands with patient diligence to restore an item’s humble splendor … and remind ourselves that restoration is possible on a higher level, too.

In short, we are losing our ability today to order our souls.

When writing at my grandfather’s desk, I once pondered this question posed in a 1992 lecture by the late Dr. Russell Kirk:

Is the course of nations inevitable? Is there some fixed destiny for great states? … At the very moment when some states ‘seemed plunged in unfathomable abysses of disgrace and disaster,’ [Edmund] Burke wrote in his First Letters on a Regicide Peace, ‘they have suddenly emerged. They have begun a new course, and opened a new reckoning; and even in the depths of their calamity, and on the very ruins of their country, have laid the foundations of a towering and durable greatness.’

Yes, the hour is late, but hope remains. Let us be not afraid.

When I left Congress, I am sorry to say that my grandfather’s desk was damaged in the move. At the time, it was far beyond my skill set to fix it. (Though, now, I think I may have been able to save it a second time.) Ultimately, I ended up going to the Salvation Army, buying a suitably battered and discarded desk, and restoring its beauty and utility. I am writing this piece upon it.

True, it is not my grandfather’s desk. Yet, this desk was restored by the very lessons I learned from restoring his desk—a restoration that was only possible because of the foundational principles by which he lived his life, imparted to my mother, and were then imparted by her to me.

Thus, I still stand and write on the shoulders of giants. While the view from up here may not be the most scenic or serene at present, if our fellow citizens shake off the faddish disorders of this chaotic age and once again embrace our nation’s and past generations’ foundational principles—faith, family, community, country, liberty, equality, and the constitutional rights and duties of our free republic—the “soul of America” will again be ordered; justice and freedom affirmed and defended; and our country again be an inspirational, shining city upon a hill.

Or more accurately, it will be an inspirational, shining city upon the shoulders of giants.

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