a disheartened 'sigh' to politics in America
(both of these photos are from Reuters)
After watching the Republican National Convention last night, and to a lesser extent the Democratic National Convention last week, I'm feeling compelled to write another treatise on politics, and maybe religion, in America. There are lots of great things about America and Americans: we're snappy dressers, hard-working to a fault. We produce some of the best art in the world, we're open and (at least superficially) compassionate and friendly. At a personal level we take responsibility, volunteer and give to charity. We're creative and open to spirituality. We often truly value diversity to a remarkable extent. But I'll be damned if we haven't turned the democratic process into a complete farce and an embarrassment.
As a religious leader, and someone who is on the path to ordination, it generally behooves me to keep my nose out of politics. It's easier if I'm non-partisan. As someone who leans further to the left politically than any major national politician this side of Dennis Kucinich, it's also much less frustrating if I just don't pay attention. I know who I'm going to vote for, so why worry about it, right? With that in mind, last Thursday was the first time I've made the effort to watch Barack Obama speak 'live', and last night was the first time I've watched anything at all on the Republican side. I've kept up with their positions online, but I just haven't wanted to hear all of the bluster. But, ultimately, I get sucked in like everyone else. Some irrational part of me makes me feel like not paying attention is fiddling while Rome is burning--and it is, of course, burning. And so, here we go...
What do you do with the fact that a speech that is completely--and I mean completely--free of political substance and is confidently peppered with intentionally misleading half-truths and childish insults is hailed as the "perfect populist pitch"? Is populism--which is supposed to be defined as a movement of 'the people' against 'the elites'--now defined as a movement by elitists to harness anger among the masses in order to get them to vote against their best interests? Sure seemed that way last night, and in the polls. It certainly isn't about the issues that affect the lives of 'the people' in reality. On the Right side of the fence, I'm, well, flabbergasted that this ticket is what we're looking at. John McCain is, as everyone says, a good man and in many ways a hero. I'm happy that he's there rather than some others. But seriously? Is the RNC really reflective of the direction that we're still headed?
And what do you do with a politic of hope that is full of symbolic substance, but almost entirely devoid of meaningful possibilities for change? I personally will vote for it as a significant step in the right direction--symbolically and politically--but not hope for too much. It's not just about the last 8 years, after all.
Among my peers in the American church, it's somewhat common to dismiss 'government' as some corrupt 'Ceasar' and pursue other routes to societal change and the common good. While I completely understand that impulse, and currently empathize with it, I can't bring myself to buy it. AIDS, New Orleans, health care, political wars, empire building, amoral capitolism, fundamentalism: I'm as bitter and disappointed by our government as the next guy, but we live in a republic and a representative democracy, so 'we' are 'Ceasar', whether we like it or not. It's the tyranny of the masses we need to be concerned with. In our present set up, too much depends on our governmental structure, and we have too much responsibility for it, to act as if things were out of our control and couldn't be changed. Maybe they can't be changed, but for the sake of half of the country and most of the world, they have to be changed. The church, which is a political body, has a spiritual responsibility to get it right in the political arena--which, of course, it hasn't at all by and large--because the political arena is where the significant social decisions are made.
What to do? Put your head down. Read a book. Travel. Learn from what others have done that has worked. Vote responsibly. Act responsibly. Write angry letters. Hope for the best.