Civility in Politics
With an election year looming and our energies running hot these days, let’s take a few minutes to talk about civility and how some extra care given to civility in 2020 might look. Civility is not compromising or giving up on our strongly held convictions, but it’s a more productive and honest way of speaking to the issues and ideas which move our politics and public discourse. Our words matter. Our convictions matter. Our neighbors matter. So, civility matters. I’m asking us to commit to a higher level of civility in 2020 in two specific ways…
First Resolution: Let’s not post and share the name-calling mean memes in 2020, or ever. They aren’t fair, usually aren’t too accurate, and they likely hurt someone we love, a friend or family member. Let’s just be done with mean memes. Name-calling is simply the least productive and least accurate way to talk to, with and about people, and accuracy is important. Name-calling generalizes people, usually undercuts their personal value and worth, and it’s a childish way to score a point or make ourselves feel better. We often proudly claim and use titles and political designations like Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Libertarian, and more, and using those titles is ok. But using offensive slurs like dopey, traitor, libtards or deplorables, meant to degrade people and grab a laugh, is when we stray into incivility, stop advancing what we actually hold as political convictions and lose the argument. Really. As soon as we start throwing around names and meanness like that we’re no longer arguing a political point of view, but we’re resorting to bullying tactics and personal attacks to intentionally hurt someone. We’re also possibly hurting someone we love with these ugly names, someone who thinks a bit differently than we do and just got a derisive label slapped on them by our social media post. It’s not a joke, not laughable and not right. Besides, that mean meme is probably not only wildly inaccurate but was made by an internet troll to do exactly what it’s doing: to cloud issues and to wreck your civility and relationships with family and friends. Don’t feed the trolls, my lovely people. Let’s stop the mean memes.
Second Resolution: Let’s speak to people’s actions and words, not evaluations of their character. Ridiculing or attacking people just doesn’t get the job done. We’re taking about de-weaponizing our speech. We have to speak with civility, which means making our point about ideas and issues, while not stooping to attacking personalities and personal attributes. This is admittedly a tough one, but it’s such a powerful habit if we can throw some real energy behind it. Let’s apply this to President Donald Trump and me… I personally cannot abide most all of his rhetoric. I do not approve of his calling people names or attacking them personally. I don’t like his use of Twitter to throw personal attacks at children, public servants and other politicians. I cannot stand all the false statements he makes. And yet, I can say all that without saying “F*%k Trump.” I can also study up on and speak against all his inaccurate and false public statements without saying “he’s a liar” or attacking some aspect his personal appearance with a mean meme. Just point to the facts. We can apply this to any politician. I can say, “I really wish Joe Biden didn’t have so many public gaffs, and I’m actually worried at the thought process and disconnect which leads him to say something like, poor kids are as smart as white kids.“ I don’t have to attack Biden’s character or call him a racist to talk about the systemic racism in America which has encoded ideas like equating poor with non-white and therefore equating white with wealth and intelligence. I can be appalled that he would say such a thing and I can hope he reflects deeply on his way of thinking about the world, all without calling him a racist or needing to demean his character. As someone so completely opposed to our current President on so many issues of economics, environmental protection and civil rights, I do find this a tough task. President Trump’s words and actions are hurting people, or have great potential to hurt people, often people whom I love. Attacking his words and actions instead of him personally helps me stay sane, helps me better present an opposing position (which will hopefully help make a safer world for those threatened people), and honors my commitment to civility.
This is a heavy lift and will demand more from us as participants in our civil discourse and interaction with issues and details. It’s takes way more energy to construct an opposing view on something or to deconstruct a stated view, than just saying “they’re a piece a sh*t” or “they don’t love America.” We cannot allow ourselves to get distracted with name-calling and pettiness when there are simply too many things being said and done which we must strongly and unequivocally oppose. We need to maximize every opportunity to expose the threats and crimes which must be confronted. Civility will help us get more done for more people.
Ok, that’s a lot of writing about only two things I’m asking us to embrace: 1) no more mean memes and name-calling, and 2) speaking to people’s words and actions instead of character assassinations. This is doable, and as crazy as 2020 is bound to get, civility is going to be so needed. Also, there are political ideas which need to be confronted and defeated, for our neighbors’ sake. We’ll accomplish that when we keep our convictions and keep it civil.
You’ve maybe seen the story and the headlines floating around which declare that the NRA banned guns during the Vice President’s appearance at their convention. And many of us shared it right along to lay a zap on those bad NRA peoples… and even fewer thought to check it out. A few moments searching would reveal that those tantalizing headlines weren’t entirely accurate. And yes, I’m going to chide you for sharing them.
If you know me, then you know I’m no fan of the NRA’s leadership and agenda. I don’t believe they support the 2nd Amendment, but a dangerous and dishonest interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. I also find misinformation equally distasteful. In this day and age of so much information being shared, posted and promulgated, we must learn to fact check things and dig deeper! Or we look silly, dishonest and gullible. We like to make our opponents look bad, to score easy points, to zap’em and to “win.” Please. There’s more at stake than points in a political game of words and insults!
The truth of the story is that the NRA did not ban guns during Pence’s speech, but the Secret Service did. Why? To protect Pence, of course. The moral of the story is still the same… more guns in public do not make people safer, but in fact no guns make them safest. The government knows this. The Secret Service knows this… and safety is their job. But if we rush to make this a story about the NRA’s hypocrisy, then the really valuable and true lesson is lost, along with our credibility. We need a safer future, one with fewer guns in our public lives, one with sane and common sense gun legislation, and one with less misinformation banging around in our Facebook echo chambers.
Let’s do all we can to keep it real. Yes, those inaccurate headlines appealed to me, and yes they fit so nicely with my own worldview and assumptions. Too well, in fact, and that’s exactly why I didn’t share them. Instead, I checked the facts. Be blessed all, and be careful what you share!
You are not alone.
To every one of my Muslim friends and neighbors, you are not alone. The demonizing of your religion will not go unchallenged. Threats to discriminate against you because of your faith will not go unchallenged. You are our neighbors, friends and family. There are so many Americans, so many Christians, who will defend you.
To every immigrant, even those who came to us undocumented, you are not alone. We will still speak of your dignity and worth and celebrate our connection as human beings. You are our neighbors, our fellow humans, and you matter to us. Your children matter, and we will not leave them forsaken.
To every woman who feels that deep pain in their soul when men use and excuse demeaning language like “grab them by the pussy,” you are not alone. We will continue to hold people accountable for their words and actions. We will always speak of your value and we will defend your bodies and rights.
To every LGBTQ friend and neighbor, you are not alone. We have seen important civil liberties achieved in the last decade for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer minorities, and we will not sit idly by when those are threatened. You matter to us, and we will continue to safeguard your life and liberty.
To the millions who have healthcare for the first time, and those who finally have coverage even in the face of preexisting conditions, you are not alone. We will not sit idly by while your health is threatened by political games and rhetoric. We will fight for you and with you to keep the healthcare you so desperately need.
To our non-white friends and neighbors who have been vilified, faced condescension, and suffered demeaning, racist abuses, you are not alone. We will continue to stand with you for equality and truth. We will continue to work for a day when no one’s race or ethnicity is used as a weapon to disenfranchise, demean or discredit them.
To refugees around the world and those who have made it to US soil, you are not alone. We will not allow you to be further victimized by fear and suspicion, but will loudly proclaim your dignity, value and humanity. You are our sisters and brothers.
Those holding public offices change, but some things will never change. We will always stand together to create a better world, a safer world and a more beautiful world where our diverse gifts and shared dignity brighten every dark time. We will work harder each day to embrace love and accept our differences, and we will safeguard one another against all threats. We will stumble and we will misstep, but we will always rise and be better for our shared efforts.
You are not alone.
We are finally here… it’s crunch time. Today we’ll be wrapping up our General Election for the President of the United States. Millions have voted early, and we’ll be joined by millions more. Please take a deep breath and stand back for a moment; no matter who wins we will all be here on Wednesday, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Scripture has so much less to say about who we cast a vote for (as in none, no scripture at all) than about who we are going to be regardless of who is our President. Of course it matters who is the next President of our country, but I only control my one vote, not the election. There are many things in scripture to shape my personal values which should affect my vote, but we must admit that scripture primarily directly speaks to my submission to civil authority. Who I am, what I say and how I impact the world, is up to me. That’s the constant in my life, not the person holding our highest elected office. My own life, words and actions, are the responsibility I personally carry as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I can only guess how either candidate will make it easier or more difficult for me to actively express my faith in God and my discipleship to Jesus Christ. Wait. Let me rephrase that… neither candidate will have any impact on my ability or responsibility to actively express my faith in God and my discipleship to Jesus Christ. And certainly as a Christian, I will be working as hard and as loud as I can to be sure that no one else faces any threat to their religious freedoms be they Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist, etc. For even though a person’s convictions and faith belong solely to the individual, we must safeguard everyone’s right and to openly and safely be themselves. No matter who is in that highest office we will be our brothers’ keepers, and our sisters’ keepers. We will continue to stand with sexual miniorities who may be denied their civil rights and we will work to help and welcome the globe’s most vulnerable populations in their own countries and when they are forced abroad seeking refuge. None of this changes, regardless of the election’s outcome. Stop thinking of the election as an end or a solution… it is simply one step, forward or backward, in the sojourn of a little slice of our species.
Do yourself a favor and after today’s election, take a deep breath and stop the uncivil and angry dialogue. Drop the anger and the fear. Stop believing every unfounded accusation and spin job. Neither candidate will enter office unscathed by this past year, and neither needs to enter office amid this continuing storm of uncivil mud slinging and promised reprisals. Hold them accountable fairly and unceasingly. We will each be part of the process of helping whomever is elected, and our whole country, move forward. And in four more years we’ll do it all again, a little worse or better for the journey. And in the meantime we’ll all keep working hard for the values and goals we most cherish.
We’ll pray and we will be our neighbor’s servant. This is our calling. Not power. Not domination. Not nation building. Serving, and not being served. And peace will be our legacy and our inheritance.
“O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land,
that we may be a people at peace among ourselves
and a blessing to other nations of the earth.”
Book of Common Prayer, Page 821
I took some time this morning to make a much needed walking prayer tour down in DC. I used to do this a little more often, and I miss the city. I walked near the White House, past the Capital Building and around past the Supreme Court building. We have a lot going on right now in government, and it felt good to move among their buildings and lift them all up, Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
It was stealth prayer as far as everyone else knew. I just walked and prayed. No signs, no banners and no yelling. There was some of that going on around in different spots, and I prayed for them, too. It felt good to move outside of the issues for a bit and just express some love and appreciation for the people in our government, and to ask God to give them wisdom, courage and opportunity to help make this a better world.
I was thrice blessed to catch noon Mass at the Downtown Catholic Bookstore. Please allow me a moment to explain…
1) I had no idea that today is the feast day of Catherine of Siena, whom I love. She famously wrote, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” That was the first blessing.
2) We prayed together, especially for Baltimore and Nepal. They have been on my heart and mind for the last few days, and it was good to beg together for God’s blessings with all the souls gathered there for Mass. That was the second blessing.
3) And when I stepped back into the sunlit street I stopped to admire the flowers by the curb and discovered a duck all nestled down amongst them. This was the third blessing.
There may have been a fourth blessing, but I’m still wrestling with it. After Mass I was cruising the bookstore and looking through the prayer books, as I always do… but today as I looked through the books and thought of my desire to be going deeper with God right now, I was a bit overwhelmed for a moment… my heart beat fast and my breath caught in my throat. I felt hot and rooted to the spot for a moment of frozen time.
I recently bought a new journal, not because I have already filled my 2015 journal, but because I was moved to make some room for a freshness in my prayers and journaling. I just began using it a few days ago. Did God’s Spirit touch my heart? Did I feel a tangible touch of nearness with our God about whom Catherine of Siena says, “You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea. The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you.” I don’t know. But I had not had lunch yet, so it wasn’t indigestion.
For now I’m just going to thank God, to express my deep appreciation that I was able to walk a few miles and lift some prayers and at the end of it, be touched in so many ways for the time spent. I have read that my Father Ignatius also saw visions which he didn’t understand, mystical moments that he treasured even without understanding them or ever interpreting them to a specific meaning. If it’s good enough for Ignatius, it’s good enough for me.
I am going to just to say it out loud: Comparing any U.S. President to Adolf Hitler is about the most overused, ridiculous and vapid attempt at humor or political astuteness that can be imagined. It simply serves to embarrass the person doing so, and it serves to move everyone exposed to it a bit further from any meaningful dialogue or engagement with current policy issues. Every President deserves better than this. You and I deserve better than this. It is simply demeaning for us all.
It isn’t funny. It isn’t clever. It isn’t civil. And however well intentioned or sincere a person might be, it doesn’t advance any valid political ideas or highlight any useful policy insight. In the most blunt terms it is a waste of time and extremely disrespectful to our nation’s highest office and any person who might be holding that office.
This is also not a problem of the political right alone, or solely of the political left. This has recently been done with both past President George W. Bush and current President Barack Obama. Both have been vilified by an attempt to connect their actions and intentions to a dictator with whom neither have any political, national or religious common ground. This is a problem of American discourse, not just of one political party or political persuasion. And when followers of Christ engage in it, it becomes a spiritual problem, a spiritual short-sightedness.
Of all of my friends and neighbors who believe that implicating connections and commonalities between their political adversaries and an historical evil such as Adolf Hitler, I ask only this: Find something constructive to do with your time. It might look like this…
- Find someone to encourage.
- Find someone to help.
- Pray for or find a way to better relate to a political figure you feel the urge to vilify or defame.
- Pray for and find a way to help the people around the world suffering under political and tyrannical regimes that are actually reminiscent of Adolph Hitler’s abuses and murderous evil.