A former Republican officeholder — who was highly effective at his job — recently asked me if returning to politics in the current atmosphere was worth the effort. Would being a GOP legislator in the Trump era involve too many sacrifices of principle? Does federal office even matter as much as it used to? Wouldn’t writing books or running a charity be a better use of time and talent?

I understand the reluctance. Being a public official in 2019 not only requires constant fundraising and family sacrifice, it also involves the possibility of being captured by smartphone camera at nearly every public moment and being subjected to constant Internet calumny. And it is not possible in much of the country for a Republican to run and win as an anti-Trump candidate. Even Mitt Romney had to pull back from his criticisms of President Trump to win a Senate seat.

These concerns are a concentrated version of a dilemma faced by many citizens. Is politics too damaged to justify our continued engagement as donors, activists and voters? Wouldn’t it be more effective and satisfying to improve the community in nonpolitical ways — giving to a soup kitchen instead of a politician, volunteering at a senior center instead of knocking on doors in a precinct?