Last Thursday's Bret Stephens column was headlined, "The Rudderless West," and claimed in the subhead: "We are drifting, in the absence of mind and will, toward a moment of civilizational self-negation."
I don't even know what that means and I know that he's right.
This is why you don't read The New York Times before work.
I am trying to run a goddamn business here.
"The West is now rudderless," Stephens writes. "To be rudderless puts you at the mercy of elements. The elemental forces of politics today are tribalism, populism, authoritarianism and the sewage pipes of social media."
Where does fixing that fit on my to-do list here at the Professional Speechwriters Association? Maybe between "finish workshop PPT" and "bug post office goon"?
And what's more, Stephens says, the rudderlessness is urgent: "The West is not adrift in placid waters. With limited resources but ruthless methods, Vladimir Putin has gone about undermining democracy from Kiev to Kansas. With equally ruthless means and far greater resources, Xi Jinping has raised the banner of efficient authoritarianism as the preferred model of 21st century governance."
In the column, Stephens also used "fissiparous," and I had to look that up and then I was behind.
But you know what? I was not depressed. Because I actually do think my work with speechwriters—assuming it gives them more direction and confidence in their work with leaders—is, at least, not hurting the cause.
Speeches, when they are thoughtfully written (rather than spewed "from the heart") are not the primary tools of tribalism, populism and authoritarianism. And I believe speeches positively counteract the creeping corrosion of social media—after all, placing one human being before a group of fellow human beings—without anonymity or even physical protection—to make a case that the crowd either will, or will not, embrace.
There's something fundamentally sincere about that.
And if the West is to find its direction, perhaps it will be a speech—at the right moment, to the right audience and by the right leader—that will set it on its course, as so many speeches have done for so many rudderless, civilizational self-negating societies, for many hundreds and thousands of years.
And so I got to work.