Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of remarks between Heather Higgins, Independent Women’s Forum chairman, and Representative Dan Crenshaw delivered at the 2020 Virtual Awards Celebration.
Heather Higgins: Independent Women’s Forum Annual Gentleman of Distinction Award celebrates an outstanding gentleman who protects and defends our American ideals and works to create a stronger and healthier society. Our awardee is not only a warrior in the cause of freedom and the miracle that is America, but also a gentleman who exemplifies a commitment to respect in civil discourse, showing generosity and kindness to critics while remaining steadfast in his beliefs, countering false narratives, and telling the stories that need to be told. He is an advocate for constitutional government, economic liberty, and the human dignity that comes from ordered liberty. He’s concerned with protecting opportunities for everyone, including the female high school track star who depends on having a fair shot, and the working mom who needs the flexibility of income as an independent contractor. And he knows how important it is to both our national culture and to our own personal happiness that we see ourselves not as aggrieved victims without agency, but as resilient, responsible individuals making diverse choices, turning life’s suffering into new strength and using each day to improve our best selves. I cannot think of a more deserving recipient of our 2020 Gentleman of Distinction Award than Congressman Dan Crenshaw. Congressman Crenshaw served our country as an elite Navy SEAL. On his third tour, he was blinded by an IED blast in Afghanistan. The diagnosis was that the blindness was permanent, but with indefatigable persistence, he didn’t accept that prognosis, had a series of difficult surgeries that saved his left eye, and went on to serve two additional tours. This hero, who I am sure would give credit to his team, not to himself, left service with, among others, two Bronze Stars, one with Valor, the Purple Heart, and the Navy Commendation Medal of Valor and soon completed his master’s in public administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I suspect, and when you listen to him you will, too, that he could easily also hold degrees in history, philosophy, and ethics. And I – unsolicited plug here – commend his book Fortitude to you as an engaging and thoughtful read, as well as something that I’ve already purchased as a Christmas gift. Representative Crenshaw, a sixth-generation Texan, now represents the lucky people of Texas’s 2nd Congressional District. Congressman Crenshaw, we applaud you for your service, for your fortitude, for your commitment to this extraordinary idea that is our country, and for the grace with which you protect and pursue these ideals. Please accept this much deserved award.
Congressman Crenshaw: Thank you so much. And I appreciate all that you all do. It’s incredible work and this is a huge honor. Thank you.
Heather Higgins: Well, we are so delighted that you could be here to accept it and we could do this in person, socially distanced.
Congressman Crenshaw: Of course, of course.
Heather Higgins: But yes. And I think crystal is going to be a unique addition to your otherwise very masculine office.
Congressman Crenshaw: We do. We need to feminize it slightly.
Heather Higgins: Not really. But, you know, maybe you could put a collection of Bowie knives in there or something.
Congressman Crenshaw: Oh, that would be – we have quite the collection, so that is possible.
Heather Higgins: So, we have a few minutes and I just wanted to ask you a few questions, some drawn from your book, some drawn from your many wonderful podcasts and speeches, because it’s clear that you have thought a great deal about a number of issues. So, the first question, you talk so eloquently about the importance of character. What traits do you think are most needed in America right now?
Congressman Crenshaw: Well, I think a few. Perspective, I think, might be one, especially in the year 2020, right? We like to live in this reality – it’s a perspective I think if you’re to define it, would be the way we frame our reality. And it appears to me that too many people desire to live in a reality that is constantly in crisis and constantly the worst ever. It’s not the worst ever, right?
Heather Higgins: Well, if you’re expecting the worst, you will see the worst, right?
Congressman Crenshaw: Right. This is fundamentally what perception is. Your perception becomes your reality. And we need to impart a very specific lesson. For one, this is a hard truth. What you’re going through now is not the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through. If it is the hardest thing you’ve ever gone through, it could be, right? I think physically the hardest thing I ever went through was that moment in 2012 in Afghanistan, right? Physically, that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. But if that’s true, then look at it this way: Whatever you’re going through now, somebody else has been through something worse, and they dealt with it better than you did. That’s perspective, right? That’s a hard truth that you can tell yourself. It is an objective truth, and it can tell you that you can do better than you’re doing now. So, that’s one thing. And I think another one, especially in the year 2020, is just the ability to – let’s just, in one word, patience perhaps. And in this case, I’ll say that patience refers to a sense of stillness. This is what I write about in the book. And it is this ability to count to 10. It’s this ability to think to yourself, “Is everything in this headline accurate? Like, should I react to this the way they’re telling me to? Is this narrative accurate, or is it easily debunked if I do like 10 more seconds of research?” You know this would help our public discourse in massive ways, I think, that just the elevation of sophisticated argument over emotional outburst, and also elevating that as a virtue, right? Stop following the people who tell you to be angry. Stop following the people who declare that your own side has betrayed you, right? We have this problem on the conservative side quite a bit. Follow the people who make well-reasoned, linear arguments. We would all be a lot better off if that were the case. So, in other words, look up to different heroes. You know, elevate the heroes that embody these attributes and stop elevating the people who tell you to be a victim or tell you to be paranoid, right, or tell you to be angry. These are not the people you should be listening to.
Heather Higgins: The thought that that leads me to is how hard that is to do in a culture where so much of our social media is driven by artificial intelligence, which is going for that quick, emotional, overreactive response and not the thoughtful understanding about what’s behind things. Very difficult. Do you have any way that you get people to wean off of that social media approach and into a more thoughtful – you have so many followers, have you found that you’ve had any luck with getting them to reframe how they think about these things?
Congressman Crenshaw: It just has to be a conscious decision, right? People have to hear that first line first, you know, that these social media algorithms are designed to get the most amount of clicks, and what gets the most amount of clicks is something that is emotional in nature. Okay, so once you know that maybe you’ll be slightly less prone to react that way. So, the first part of it is simply knowledge. But there is no secret weapon to this except getting people to act better. You know, it is a new form of communication, and I think humans just have to adapt to it. And for us to adapt to new things, we do have to rely on I think old principles. Old principles and virtues that are well-ingrained, that have worked for humanity for quite a long time and apply those things.
Heather Higgins: That is wise. I will hope that we can do it. The other thing that you’re very good at, and I think is in this weird world that we live in, you should have come to prominence for your heroism. Instead, you come to prominence because of a bad joke on Saturday Night Live. But you disagreed respectfully, there and in so many other venues with those who don’t share your views. So, we now live in a culture, though, where there are so many deep fundamental differences that that has driven us to a point where even those experiences that used to be shared, our common culture that weren’t politicized, our sports, our late-night comics, our music, have now become politicized and not necessarily shared at all. Give us your thoughts about where we go from here.
Congressman Crenshaw: Yeah. I mean, what you’re pointing out is this increasing contempt for people who disagree with you politically, increasing vilification of the other. I mean, it’s amazing what people on the left think of us, right? Take whatever policy, you know, disagreement there is. It’s amazing to hear what people genuinely think on the left. And I don’t think they’re making this up because I’ll speak to people privately and they will believe the same things, right? They will believe that the only reason we could possibly have this policy stance is because we’re fundamentally evil, we fundamentally are oppressive, or whatever adjective they want to use. It’s kind of mind-blowing. And over time I think that level of contempt manifests into these other pop culture areas that you’re talking about. And that’s the disintegration of America, when you can’t share the things outside of politics anymore, when baseball becomes politicized, when basketball becomes politicized, when late-night comedy is purely political and purely designed to make fun of, in the most wretched of ways, half of America, that’s a real problem, right? That’s a signal that we’re at a breaking point here. And I wish that our celebrities would be a little bit more responsible with how they act on this, right? You know, again, for a lot of reasons. One, they don’t know what they’re talking about most of the time, almost all of the time, but two, I wish they would recognize how damaging it is to the country when we can’t share the movie anymore because the star of that movie hates me. That’s a real problem and we’ve got to get past that. We all have to act more responsibly.
Heather Higgins: I hope we do. Well, in line with this, we live in a country where patriotism for many is now a term of derision, and it’s used to imply that anyone who thinks of themselves as a patriot is by definition racist and hateful. Assuming that Biden becomes president, he has made clear that we will move from an America-first policy to America-second, at best. Talk to us about why you think being patriotic is important to our future as a nation.
Congressman Crenshaw: Yeah, and I would actually separate those two things. I think America-first is a policy prescription, and a good one, right? I think it’s a reevaluation of our trade policies, it’s a more realistic understanding of our relationship with China, it’s an understanding that something like the Paris Climate Accords is fundamentally anti-United States and pro-China, right? And with almost no benefit to the environment. So, what the heck are we doing? So, it’s a policy – you can draw a direct line between America-first and these policy prescriptions. I would add border security into that, as well. Patriotism, I think we should separate these conversations. Patriotism should not be partisan at all. I believe the left has made it partisan. They started to question things like whether we should admire our Founders, and Mount Rushmore, and the Pledge of Allegiance, and the national anthem. These things should not be questioned. These are the only things holding us together. Again, it goes back to this Disintegrationist view of the United States, where there is a fundamental desire to rip apart the few things that hold us together. And there are things, right, that make us Americans. And that’s our history, it’s our holidays, it’s the symbols, right? There’s a common morality that I think we share. It’s based in Judeo-Christian history. You don’t have to be Christian, but these morals and sense of ethics are based in this history, right? These are just facts. You can’t deny these, but there are those who want to deny them and turn them on their head entirely.
Heather Higgins: The 1619 Project.
Congressman Crenshaw: The 1619 Project is one of those things. And then you have to question these people. What is on the other side of this revolution that you desire so badly? And I’ll tell you what’s on the other side. It’s CHAZ. That’s on the other side. We all remember CHAZ from Seattle.
Heather Higgins: Yeah.
Congressman Crenshaw: We’d like to forget it, but it’s there. And if not that, it’s currently Portland. This is what’s on the other side of the chaos, right? They’re not offering some kind of utopia. And I think we need to recall that. I think we need to recall the principles that make this country great and why it’s worthwhile to engage in a sense of patriotism. There is a – and the last thing I’ll say: I think there is virtue to this idea of nationhood, right? There is moral, I think – what’s the word I’m looking for – there’s moral value to it, that we all feel like we’re in this together, that we do salute the flag, that we feel like we’re part of the red, white, and blue. That team spirit, if you will, is important to keeping a civilization together and strong. Without it, we disintegrate. We are weak. It is survivability more than anything else. It is sustainability, it is stability. And I think that’s what Americans generally want, and we shouldn’t be afraid to fight for it.
Heather Higgins: So, one final question: What is it that you think that conservatives need to do to be more persuasive?
Congressman Crenshaw: Well, first, the goal should be to be more persuasive. This is the problem. We don’t talk in terms of, “How can we be more persuasive?” We’re not asking ourselves that question. Conservatives often ask the question, “How do we fight more?”
Heather Higgins: Well, can I give you a thesis on this?
Congressman Crenshaw: Yeah.
Heather Higgins: Which is, you’ll find that a lot of people who are in the media consulting world in the conservative set will tell them that you can’t persuade so therefore all you can do is turn out and rally your own base, so there’s no effort to persuade. But I think you’re a strong advocate for doing that. And I’m wondering how you persuade your colleagues and others in the movement that this is a good thing to do and how to go about doing it.
Congressman Crenshaw: Yeah, I mean exactly. But again, the first goal has to be persuasion. You know, a lot of people think that the only way to go about this – and you’re probably right – I think consultants say that. I think our own base says it, right? It’s almost become a mantra. Just go fight. And I’m like, “Well, what do you mean by fight? What do you mean?” Because the goal of fighting should be to win, right? And the only way you can win is if you persuade. So, it’s fun to go and scream really loud and get in a circle with a bunch of people that agree with you already, but you have to figure out how to translate that to people who don’t necessarily agree with you and grow your movement accordingly. When we actually put in the effort and research the policy positions that we partake in, we really can’t lose arguments. We are very good on this. This isn’t that hard. I promise everybody, I do this a lot. And we have a great team that actually puts out the right information. Beyond that, though, move back sometimes from the policy positions and connect them with deeper philosophical roots, right? Conservatism isn’t necessarily the policy positions, right? In the modern day it is, but we got to those policy positions a certain way. We got to them through a formula if you will. You know, being conservative is a disposition towards problem-solving within a framework of limiting principles. That’s what conservatism is. That’s how we get to these policy positions. So, you need to be able to explain that to people. Why is it you believe in this tax system versus that tax system? Try to relate it to a deeper foundation, and that foundation might be settled in limited government and why limited government is actually important, it might be rooted in, you know, a sense of ethics about whose job is it to take from somebody else after they’ve earned that amount of money, right? You know, you’ve got to bring it back to some basics in order to persuade people, I think, and speak in terms that the left wants to hear also, right? The left will generally want to hear things in terms of compassion and inequalities. Well, it turns out our policy prescriptions can actually speak to these concerns of people who are on the honest left – okay, let’s just say that – who genuinely have questions, I think. And so, speak in terms that they want to hear it on. It will generally be a sense of caring. It will be a sense of compassion. It will be a sense of helping the poor, right? This is what they’re concerned with. So, speak to those things. And on a more practical level and legislative level, speak to issues on the environment and healthcare, right? These are the things that we’ve I think avoided.
Heather Higgins: We’ve been ostriches.
Congressman Crenshaw: Yeah, yeah. They are difficult, they are complex. And we like to be very honest when we discuss policy. The left doesn’t. The left says “You can have it for free. If only the government was nicer.” It’s like well, okay, come on. That’s not honest. We like to be honest and so we get mired down in these deep complexities. We’ve got to figure out how to message that and we’ve got to be aggressive about it, because I think when you ask people difficult questions and detailed questions, they tend to be on our side on these issues. We’ve got to explain it more and we’ve got to actually fight those battles, but in a persuasive way, not just in a loud way.
Heather Higgins: Thank you. Thank you for saying that. That’s such good advice. And thank you for taking the time. And we are so honored and let me congratulate you again for being our Gentleman of Distinction.
Congressman Crenshaw: I appreciate it. It’s a true honor and great to be with you.