Tag Archive for: Politics

Childhood Identity (Politics)

In this month’s Tiny Letter, I used last week’s nostalgic post as a jumping off point to discuss childhood, belonging, and identity politics. In it, I write:

That evening, we gather around the television in my grandfather’s home and watch the presidential debate shape up. President Ronald Reagan—a man whose name I’ve never not known—and Walter Mondale—a man whose name I never can remember—engage in some sort of gentlemen’s fight. I pour a second bowl of cornflakes, spoon on heaps of sugar, and notice my family, sitting in the dark, hanging on President Raegan’s every word. They are the Spanish moss to his  presidential cypress. I am the heron hunting food.

Between spoonfuls of flakes and sugar sludge, I try my best to stay inside the lines of my Return of the Jedi coloring book. My mother turns from the living room, asks whether I’m paying attention, tells me I could stand on a stage like that one day. I look at the television and hear the president’s voice as gentle as a grandfather’s, and I look back down to my Ewoks. Why can’t I color like my childhood best friend, Adam Sills? If I were president, maybe my mother and teachers would hang all their hopes on my Ewok colorings.

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The Dead End of Democracy

Trigger Warning: This is an overtly political piece, a piece about America, freedom, and the dead end of democracy. If you’re prone to fits of violence over political issues, feel free to move along.

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It’s Independence Week, the week we celebrate our nation’s birth. It’s a festive week, a week to wallow in and indulge our freedoms–the freedom to grill meat, launch miniature missiles made in China, and overeat Aunt Maude’s famous apple pie. Freedom–ain’t it grand?

It’s an American tradition, this annual celebration. It’s Democracy’s birthday, an unabashed celebration of our freedoms of speech, assembly, and commercial enterprise. We light the candles on the cake of our free press, free elections, and free government provisions. We open the presents of the free market. Freedom, freedom, freedom–it’s the only thing that unifies us these days.

Yet, with all these freedoms, it seems our version of democracy has taken an ugly turn. It’s become more polarized, more vitriolic, perhaps more violent than ever. Yesterday, our President used his own freedoms to take the spotlight off the great history and tradition of our country; he used his freedoms to turn the spotlight toward himself. (Could anything be more American?) He kicked off this Independence week with a tweet that portrayed him as some sort of hero beating down the free press. It was an indefensible GIF.

Of course, the President is free to tweet this sort of violent propaganda (tweeting isn’t directly proscribed by the Constitution, see). What good is freedom, though, without the constraints of character, wisdom, and civility? How beautiful is the exercise of freedom if it induces some loon with an assault rifle (owned pursuant to his Second Amendment freedoms) to act on the President’s propaganda, to take aim at a reporter or two? When freedom slashes the jugular of common decency and social norms, when it lets civility bleed out on the kitchen floor, when it mocks death, freedom is an ugly thing.

The greatest freedom enjoyed by any citizen in any democracy is the freedom to constrain his own personal freedoms. The freedom to act in ways that serve and protect our neighbors, to restrain our speech for the sake of civil discourse, to govern our behavior to create liberty and justice for all (even the press)–these are the freedoms exercised by true statesmen. When we indulge every freedom, when we elevate personal agendas (or Twitter rants) over the collective good, when we wallow in self-indulgence, we undercut the foundational principles of our country’s democracy; we show ourselves to be anything but statesmen.

It’s Independence week, and I’m thinking about modern America. I’m afraid we’ve reached a dead end in this great experiment in democracy. It’s the dead end born of a freedom our founding father’s never contemplated–the freedom to wallow in our own narcissism. And if you’re prone to think this is an unfounded conclusion, allow me to offer this exhibit into evidence: the Twitter feed of President Donald J. Trump.

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Collective Failure and a Drunk President

I’ve explored failure this week, the ways our recognition of it and honesty with it can instruct, refine, and guide. It’s a lesson I’ve learned from experience, from years of floundering in a failing faith and drinking away the pain. This season of alcohol dependency was an acute season of failure, and the smell of that failure–the juniper of the gin, the oak in the whiskey–lingers. It reminds me that my doubts were only resolved by walking through the failure and into the healing of true inner sobriety.

Our personal failures provide a unique opportunity, I suppose. Don’t our collective failures provide the same sort of opportunity?

Months ago, our country found itself drunk on self-importance and self-interest, on single-issue politics, on reactionary rage. So many put aside their civil scruples (81% of evangelical Christians, in fact), closed their moral compasses and voted for a new sort of mix-it-up, social media, reality television, kingpin president. Drunk on his promises, they excused his past failures–misogynism, xenophobia, jingoism, a history of racism–failures from which he never learned. And so, as President of the United States (an office deserving of dignity), Donald Trump continues to repeat the brash mistakes of his past. Yesterday, he engaged in the petty slander he’s come to be known for, attacking the appearance of yet another female cable news anchor.

There can be no denying it–President Trump is drunk on vengeance and rage. Vengeance and rage are coming from his Twitter stream, from his ears, from his eyes, from his wherever. These demons have blinded him to his failures, have kept him from the emotional and moral maturity expected of a president. You can mark my word; this will be his undoing.

Our collective failure as people of faith, our inability to see past our own self-interest for the good of our country has led to the sorts of indignities we see coming from the White House. And though we cannot make the President of the United States sober up, though we cannot make him learn from his own mistakes, we can tend to our own sobriety. We can confess the drunkenness that resulted in him becoming the Chief Executive.

Failures are an opportunity to recollect, to refine, to course correct. If this is true–and I think it is–our country has not seen a more opportune time to recollect, refine, and course-correct in my lifetime. Our failure is our drunkenness. It’s time to sober up.

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Photo by Michael Vaden; licensed under Creative Commons via Flickr.

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A Tiny Explanation (On Politics and the Soul)

What I have learned over this last year is that the state of our politics is about the state of our souls. Politics is causing great spiritual harm in Americans lives because Americans are going to politics to have their spiritual needs met. This is the meaning of rising polarization. This is the cause of politics’ burdens on our spirit. Politics does a very poor job of meeting spiritual needs, but politicians will pretend they can do it if it will get your vote.” ~Michael Wear

 

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Why I don’t Write About Hillary

In the past two days, I’ve received several questions from readers about my writings on Donald Trump, chief among them is this: Why don’t you write equally negative things about Hillary? Are you a Democrat?

Oh, the binaries we so enjoy.

Perhaps it’s time to say it straight. I am no more a Democrat than I am a banana or the sky or Thor. I’m not a card-carrying member of either party. I am, though, an American citizen, born under the stars and stripes of Old Glory flapping outside a maternity ward somewhere in Louisiana. This has always been my country, and I love her, which is to say I love her people, her rocks and rills, her woods and templed hills. I love the underlying premise of our fair country–all men (and women) are created equal.

I’m American, yes. I’m also a follower in the way of Jesus, which is to say, I’m the Christian variety of American. I reckon this means that I put God above country, that I count myself a citizen of another Kingdom (an eternal one that will outlast the damage done by any election), and that the ethics of Kingdom motivate my actions. (This is only true on the best of days, of course; on the poor ones, I can be quite the idiot.) The ethics of the Kingdom trump even the Constitution, though there’s at least one similarity to both–all men (and women) are created equal. Scripture puts it this way:

“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.”*

Equal, equal, equal.

Men and women–equal.

Rich and poor–equal.

Citizens and immigrants–equal.

In the early days of Mr. Trump’s bid, some of my fellow believers in the way of Jesus lined up to support him (mostly men of influence). They told us he was a man who had our best interests at heart, a man who was changing. They told us he would advance “religious liberty” (which is to say religious power) and that he’d be the man to appoint the next Great Conservative to the Supreme Court. They’ve said, and said, and said. And despite all of their saying, Mr. Trump continued to make xenophobic statements about Muslims and Mexicans. He continued to demean women. Video leaked of him bragging about sexual assaulting women.

And this brings me to the point. I only write about Mr. Trump because he represents that certain sort of unabashed evil–xenophobia, jingoism, misogyny, overt sexualization of power–that bamboozled men of faith. Through his candidacy, we see how engaging in end-justify-the-means politics co-opts the faith. At the end of the day, we see how jumping in bed with politicians (hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge) only exposes the darkness of our own hearts, our own lust for money, power, and greed. And as of this week, we’ve been given another clear example of how situational ethics might lead people of faith to excuse the worst of sexual abuses (as if we needed that proven again).

The Trump candidacy underscores how people of faith, when backing a prospective candidate, can shed the core tenant of belief–all men (and women) are created equal–for a slice of the political pie. This exchange–faith for the pie–is the very barter that’s haunted men from the start and has haunted us ever since.

No party has the moral high ground, there is no doubt. But Hillary is Hillary and always has been. She’s not pandered people of faith, and she’s not co-opted (or been co-opted by) the Christian right. She’s not conflated religion and politics, at least not to the extent of her counterpart. And that being the case, I find no reason to write about Hillary. She’s not pretended to be my people. She’s not made implicit promises of political power in exchange for the vote.

*Scripture taken from Galatians 3:28 in The Message.

Photo by Michael Vadenlicensed under Creative Commons via Flickr.

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