Category Archives: American politics

Election 2016: Understanding the Time

Election 2016
“This is the worst campaign in history.” “Unbelievable – it cannot get any worse!” “Is this the best the two parties can offer?” “How did we get here?” “He is unworthy of being president.” “She is the least qualified candidate in history.” “He is a misogynist, racist and xenophobe.” “She is corrupt, a serial liar and does not like people.” “Half of his supporters are a basket of deplorables…and irredeemable.” “Her Presidency would be a third Obama term – disaster!”

Sound familiar?

The 2016 campaign, while drenched in polarization and vitriol, personal attacks and political corruption…only feels like the worst. The reason it is so disheartening is that we are bombarded 24/7 with accusations, allegations and aspersions that either depress us, inflame our anger or foster apathy.

Perspective Matters

From the 1820s to the present, party politics, including local and national machinery, personal attacks, opposition research and agitation propaganda, have been a part of the American political scene. When Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams fought against each other in the 1820s, epithets such as “adulterer” and “scoundrel” were common. When Grover Cleveland ran in the 1880s, his (admitted) fathering of a child outside of marriage was a constant theme of his opponents. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson campaigned with the theme, “He kept us out of war” while plotting for ways to join the Allies against Germany. His behind-the-scenes policies were so egregious that William Jennings Bryan, three-time Presidential candidate, resigned from the Cabinet. In 1928 and 1960, Al Smith and JFK were declared unfit because they were Roman Catholics and therefore loyal to the Vatican over the Constitution.

Insults, sandal, corruption and political manipulations are not new.

What IS new is the level of conscious, willful and public hypocrisy as advocates of both parties excuse the “minor mistakes” of their candidates while magnifying the corruption, depravity and unforgiveable transgressions of their opponents. My wife, Kathleen Self (www.colorbrush.com), affirms that we are in an age of “Polarism” where we would rather shout around and over each other than listen deeply and explore potential common ground.

How do people of conscience and faith navigate in these treacherous waters?

I suggest that there are three broad principles and three specific practices that will help us engage the process fully and retain our sanity, when all around are bitter and hopeless, reacting and retrenching.

Three Principles

Principle One: Remember that our ultimate hope is in the Lord and his present and future reign. The occupants of Congress, the Supreme Court, the White House, our state capitals and city halls are not messiahs, but imperfect women and men that serve the public. They need divine mercy and wisdom – and to be held accountable for their stewardship of public resources. We must discipline our inner life and develop endurance even while actively engaging in political decisions. Nostalgia is the enemy of thoughtfulness. History can inform and inspire, but there are no “good old days” – just days of old when good people made wise decisions.

Principle Two: Our deepest values must guide our decisions; however, we can live peaceably with those that have a different “universe next door.” (James Sire) We will lose some public battles and perhaps win others – what matters long term is winning hearts and minds through insightful ideas, personal integrity and winsomeness. The profoundest ideas presented in anger will fall by the wayside. Advocacy must be accompanied by genuine listening to other perspectives. Tolerance is not agreement – it is the humble discipline of neighborly love when we radically diverge in how we see the most important issues of life.

Principle Three: We must ask and answer the question of vision: What does “there” look like? How do we – and by extension our political leaders – envision a free and just society rooted in virtue providing opportunity for all? How do the economy and education, civil discourse and governmental oversight function in our imperfect but flourishing world? Conservatives and progressives may share more in common than they imagine – but the means by which we achieve our ideal are quite different! Our future rests more on self-regulation and healthy families and neighborhoods versus federal and state governments acting as nannies over specific behaviors.

While we ponder these principles and pursue peacemaking with all people of conscience, there are three practices that foster the possibilities of a flourishing future. These go well beyond the obvious (and necessary) exhortations to get informed and vote. These choices require courage, love and wisdom, a character triad demanding the best of us.

Three Practices

Practice One: When Jesus said that we were to “love our enemies” he implied much more than merciful feelings and restraining revenge. Where possible, we should make friends across every cultural, political, racial and religious divide. People are so much more than their politics or even their gender preference. Each person we encounter is a work of art with much to offer the world. Instead of instant polemics from politics, let’s inquire and learn about art and authors, play and work, and other common interests. If our neighbors are parents or grandparents, focus on their children will bring immediate connection as all people of goodwill desire better for the next generation. Not everyone will respond, but unselfish love united with courage (we may be rejected) and wisdom (knowing cultural mores does matter) can foster a preferred future.

Practice Two: Critical Thinking. Emotions do matter and some of our visceral reactions are actually commendable. When we see injustice, we should be angry! When we experience unexpected blessings, it is time for a happy dance! But emotionalism and allowing our feelings to determine our convictions and decisions is harmful for our personal lives and the good of society. Critical thinking evaluates arguments, ideas and choices. It is not a “critical spirit” that is quick to judge a person whole cloth. There is a difference between evaluating behaviors and policies and declaring someone an outcast and calling names. For example, I stand for traditional, religious marriage and object to pressures that would compel me to perform any ceremonies (gay or straight) against my conscience. I also will defend religious leaders within Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim communities that share my convictions. This said, I will not caricature those that disagree with me or refuse to ally with them on other causes. I desire for all others the rights I want for myself. My challenge to all in the chattering classes: will you think deeply before you act decisively?

Practice Three: Let’s start making our neighborhood a better place, joining with others to improve all domains that contribute to human flourishing. We cannot do everything, but we can do something, from supporting local businesses, to mobilizing our churches for poverty alleviation to helping our local schools. This is much more than joining a cause – it is neighborly love! The work we do every day – paid or unpaid, at home of in the office, labor or leadership, field or factory, in a delightful company or one that needs reform – is integral to our devotion to God and service of others. “Love your neighbor” is a call to action, helping all reach their capacities an exercise wise compassion. How do we start? Pray, listen and use gifts and skills to serve. While you are waiting for the bring break in your music career, sing at the senior centers and homeless shelters. While you look for the dream job, start working somewhere, doing the best you can.

Three principles, three practices. The underlying challenge is character. With divine help and personal discipline, we can bring the highest virtues of a humble life to our world and make a lasting impact, not just a good impression.

Election 2016: It is actually more about our personal and national character than any particular candidates. Will be part of an awakening that begins with repentance and faith and ends in renewal and a transformed future? The answer begins with today’s decisions, for they are tomorrow’s destiny.

A Summer Letter to the Presidential Candidates

Dear Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump,
Congratulations. The race is on.
You each must answer fundamental questions about America’s future:

What is your ethic of human dignity, from conception to coronation, and how do we treat the vulnerable?

Will you affirm without qualification the first freedom of the First Amendment – complete freedom of conscience/religion and repudiate all attempts at enforced theocracies of any kind?

Will you call on all allies everywhere to affirm human dignity and equality and freedom of conscience, repudiating all slavery and dhimmitude?

Will you outline a real strategy against ISIS and other terror groups that includes our allies?

What is a hospitable and wise immigration policy?

How will federal budgets be balanced?

What is our posture toward Israel and a Palestinian Authority still dedicated to her destruction?

How do we really heal racial divisions?

How do we balance the blessings of global free trade with concern for American workers?

How will you balance free enterprise with proper ethical oversight?

AND…What are the virtues that nourish true liberty and what are the responsibilities of every citizen?

Madame Secretary and Mr. Trump,
Our times call for statesmanship, not gamesmanship. Our times call for conciliation and conviction, courage and humility, not ad hominem attacks. It is easy to label and libel – much harder to articulate the vision and sacrifices necessary to secure the future. Self-love and lust for power are the road to personal and national self-destruction. Please articulate a way forward that ensures the common good without a nanny-state and unleashes ethical enterprise and compassion for all.

Waiting for character and vision.

 

A Word for Mr. Trump

Dear Donald Trump,
I pen these words with prayers for you and our nation.

You have caused quite a stir.

But unsettling the political landscape is not statesmanship.

For some you are the key to our nation’s survival.
Others see a narcissist running a new reality show.

I think you are – like all people – beautiful and broken – gifted and selfish, concerned about country and struggling with character.

Many share your concerns on immigration and jobs, national security and terrorism, inefficient government and insecurity about America’s future.

I know that many of your positions are “opening negotiating positions” especially the ban on Muslim immigration and the wall with Mexico.

But Mr. Trump, character matters. You cannot shout, “crooked Hillary” and not face your own challenges. I call on you to cease personal insults and offer clarity on:

  • Immigration that remains hospitable.
  • Job creation that keeps goods flowing globally.
  • Abortion: will you support the Republican platform?
  • First and Second Amendment liberties.
  • Racial reconciliation – how to we reduce tensions and engender unity?

And there is much more…

I haven’t decided my vote. Frankly, I am dismayed that neither party could do better.

Will you envision a future and demonstrate the ethics necessary for all to flourish or are you merely one more demagogue we must endure?

Stop the insults. Start sharing insights. Come clean on any hidden issues.

And above all, cease boasting about all you will do.
Please articulate what all of us must do for a better future.

I already have a Savior…I am looking for a public servant.