Tag Archives: election

Understanding the 2020 Election

While the final results are still being litigated, there are some clear takeaways from the 2020 election that are vital building blocks for a better future. It is my hope that all thoughtful people will pause and discern this moment well.

Insight One: Just as 2016 was in large part a rejection of Candidate Clinton, so 2020 will be seen among some as a reaction to four years of President Trump. Though he and Republicans did better than expected, there were still enough negatives to change votes.

Insight Two: 2020 is a repudiation of extremes, particularly socialistic tendencies within the Democratic party. Americans intuitively lean toward the center and are suspicious of groups calling for an overhaul of major systems.

Insight Three: We must do better to ensure access, equity, and opportunity for all citizens to vote, and eliminate any hints of fraud and malfeasance. Whether current lawsuits and testimonies change the projected winners, we can do better.

Insight Four: COVID-19 cast a shadow over what was a growing domestic economy and several foreign policy wins for the current Administration. Hopefully the next Administration and Congress will not undo much of the progress that has been made.

Insight Five: American media and polling agencies are failing the populace in their pursuit of a political agenda. Apart from direct incitements to violence and salacious material, there should be no censorship of opinions. The “fact-checking” agencies need women and men of all persuasions at the helm if they are going to have any credibility.

Insight Six: There is a silver lining in the clouds of anxiety: record numbers of people actually voted. Though we must improve systems, it is heartening to see millions peacefully casting their votes and no widespread accusations of voter suppression (this is distinct from the current processing and tallying issues).

Insight Seven: Finally, the contentious American public square reveals a need for a moral and spiritual awakening that will propel reverence before the Almighty, respect for one another, and shared values and virtues that are essential to liberty.

Regardless of final results, there are clear signs of the beauty and brokenness of our beloved land. May we help build a better future.

Election 2020: Between Apathy and the Apocalypse

“If Trump wins, cities will burn!” “This is the most important election in history!” “If the Democrats win, it is the end of America.” Such is the rhetoric of our divided society. By all public accounts, everyone is on one extreme or the other, and moderates are a vanishing group.

Every election is important. Thousands of local, regional, and state officials are elected and entrusted with billions of dollars and hundreds of decisions. Nationwide, the entire House of Representatives is up for election every two years. A third of the Senate is elected. The next President will appoint many judges, including those on the Supreme Court. The 2020 election matters.

Our current crises do amplify the consequences of how we vote. This said, we must avoid two mistakes: apathy and apocalyptic fear. The former simply gives up and says, “My vote does not really matter” or “The same power-brokers are still in charge, so what is the use?” The latter term frames this election as an “end times” choice between good or evil. How do we avoid these tendencies and take our civic duty seriously?

Here are some insights I have gleaned from thoughtful women and men over the past several years that I think are helpful as we go to the polls:

  • Are we praying for all in authority and blessing those we disagree with most?
  • Do the candidates truly support freedom of conscience and religion, peaceful assembly, redress of government, and free speech?
  • American Presidents are very powerful, but they are not messiahs or antichrists.
  • Are we engaged locally, or obsessed with a few national campaigns? Change for good begins locally, and we can have much influence here.
  • People do not fit into neat little ideological or partisan boxes and we must be careful not to judge too quickly. There are pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans. There are Democrats that affirm traditional marriage and Republicans living and supporting alternative lifestyles. Voters often feel they are trapped, and they end up voting for the lesser of two evils.
  • Are any leaders looking to balance a budget and be fiscally responsible?
  • Are we reading the fine print on ballot propositions?
  • How do all candidates propose to change our trajectories for failing cities and rural communities, poor education, and crumbling infrastructure without just printing more money?
  • What are the policies on immigration? Do they combine compassion and security or just yell at the opposition?

Let’s say, “NO!” to apathy and apocalyptic speculation and, “YES!” to wise engagement, and personal commitment to fostering peace and justice. Our future rests more on the moral decisions of millions of citizens that the rhetoric of a few politicians. Leaders are powerful, but our voice can be more so, if we have courage.

What Does “There” Look Like? 2020 Election Edition

For years I have been challenging myself, other leaders, and elected officials to offer compelling visions of the future that are inclusive, just, and propel all people and communities toward flourishing. Without hope (tempered by realism), we are left with either anarchy leading to new forms of totalitarianism, or timeworn experiments that have proven fruitless.

Here are some questions for those who care about our global and local future:

  • Is your vision inclusive of all classes and cultures? Or are you preying on envy and resentment and fomenting conflict to secure power over others?
  • Is your vision doable and can it be paid for without stifling creativity and opportunity? Are your ideas incrementally achievable or grandiose talking points rooted in scare tactics?
  • Does your vision continue enshrining freedom of conscience, religion, speech, and peaceable assembly, or are you placing whole groups outside the pale because they are not enlightened enough?
  • Does your vision include both changed hearts and just systems? Good intentions are helpful, but without access, equity, and opportunity, they will ring hollow.
  • Does your vision allow for progress without instant perfection and proximate justice on the way to full liberation? Can you find ways for principled compromise?
  • Does your vision build on the lessons of history so that old mistakes are not repeated, and wisdom can be applied afresh to new challenges? Or are you trapped in the recent fallacy that dismisses the insights of previous generations?
  • Does your vision reflect the need for people of character as well as new public policies?

A fresh vision of “there” will require imagination, integrity, intentional action, and a love for continual learning and refinement. We will never build a perfect world, but we can make the present one better.

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.

Telling the Truth: Political Realities, Part 1

Every Presidential election in the USA is important and 2016 is no exception. Economic uncertainly, global and local Islamic enemies, racial tensions, immigration debates and the values and visions of our future are all part of the mix. Conservatives feel more alienated every day, with uncontrollable federal (and some cases state and local) deficits, attacks on free speech and gun ownership and a militarized EPA declaring almost every private puddle a protected watershed. Progressives are frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for global governance on climate change and the stubborn refusal of millions to see the light on abortion and alternative sexual identities and lifestyles.

The conservative and progressive lists above are, of course, generalizations – written to call attention to the hot button issues.

Telling the truth means that facile opining, straw man arguments and exaggeration must yield to critical thinking, examination of foundational values and principled compromise that produces proximate justice on the way to a preferred future. This will not be easy in a culture used to bumper sticker wisdom and sound bite debates.

Our “ADD” culture is not used to careful listening and critical thinking. In 2008 millions voted for “Hope and Change” and even said, “I pledge!” with little idea of the ramifications of President Obama’s radicalism and post-American global vision. Facile reflection is not the preserve of the Left. Conservatives salivate at the sound of military drums or pro-life slogans, but often turn a blind eye to cronyism and rapacious environmental policies.

How about “I pledge…to read the Constitution, study the local and national issues and demand accountability from elected officials.” That is a pledge worth making, regardless of party or positions.