The U.S. Election: A Character Study and an Opportunity
Deborah Beach Giordano
© October 17, 2016
For the past several months we have been inundated with propaganda (no other term is fitting) for — and primarily against — the two major party candidates who are seeking the office of the President of the United States of America. These campaigns have been run like no other in living memory in their persistent negativity and the virulence of the attacks against those who oppose them.
Many folks have been so sickened by it that they have just walked away, refusing to watch or listen or become involved. Like canaries in a mine, these gentler souls should serve as a warning to us all. The process has turned poisonous; it is unhealthy, dangerous, deadly — putting every one of us at risk.
A National Tragedy
The conduct of these campaigns is symptomatic of a national disorder. It is shameful, hateful, a disgrace; yet we accept it without question — and sometimes engage in it. The notion of “fair play,” the ideals of tolerating disagreement and of reasonable, informed debate have vanished. There is no kindness toward or curiosity about one another, only a blood-thirsty desire to win.
Social media postings (tweets, Facebook, etc.) do not merely point out each candidate’s past wrongs and present behavior (allowing voters to make our own decisions), but do so with malicious glee, gloating that “this will DESTROY” the individual, and labeling the opposing supporters as evil, deluded, or stupid. The result, of course, is retaliatory name-calling, competing memes, and massive “unfriending” (removing from contact).
While it is reasonable to avoid those who say and do wicked and harmful things, what will be achieved by the silencing of dissenting voices? Closing avenues for conversation destroys any hope of understanding, insight, changed minds or opened hearts. To shut the door to those with whom we simply disagree closes our minds as well.
Divisions and Disasters
Believing in “insiders” and “outsiders,” we create sharp divisions between the good and the bad, the deserving and the worthless — and of course we are always on the side of the angels. But what kind of “angel” would hate and condemn others?
This presidential campaign has unleashed our darkest impulses: our resentment, our anger, our fears, our frantic need for others to be wrong so that we can feel certain that we are right. The professed hatred for “the opposition” by both sides is so intense and venomous that my weary spirit grieves for our people. I fear that we are on the verge of losing our humanity altogether.
We are being trained to hate and despise those who hold contrary views. Those “others” are immediately declared undesirables, less than human, irredeemably evil or stupid, impossible to educate or improve.
Pause for just a moment and think where that belief leads, and what it has led to in the past.
The Good News
It doesn’t have to be this way. Our descent into this hellish madness can be stopped. But it will take practice — and a lot of faith.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37, Mk 12:30, Lk 20:27 and Dt 6:5).
We can begin to counter the poison in our nation by developing a prayerful attention to political discussions. This, by itself, could change everything. When the conversation starts starts to turn ugly, we should step back, breathe, and consider: “Why do I feel a desire to react? What am I feeling? Which concern is being appealed to? Does it call me to a higher, better purpose, or drag me into resentment or hatred of some ‘other’?” Simply put: does the message inspire us to bless — or to curse?
Prayerful attention will “lead us not into temptation.” If we are in a prayerful, holy state of mind, we will be far less likely to react in anger. We will resist the urge to fight back, or to join in demeaning those who disagree. We won’t add fuel to the fire.
In a state of holy mindfulness we may even be able to start to repair the harm that this election cycle has inflicted. With God’s help, we may be able to bring a level of calm to conversations; inquiring in a spirit of compassion (not judgment): what is the issue of greatest concern? It helps to explore why folks are so emotional: what are they afraid may happen? what do they long for?
When people join together in conversations, rather than shouting matches, we can discover how much we have in common. We will discover shared concerns, similar dreams; we will realize that we are more alike than different, we will recognize our common humanity.
At this point in time my hope for a nation realigned and redeemed may sound like an impossible dream. But if we do nothing, if we fail to try to “love one another,” it is clear that we are headed into demonic, hate-filled depths.
With God’s help we can learn to work together to create a world from which fear and hatred are banished, a world where compassion and kindness are foremost. As the poet wrote: “We may not finish the task, but we must never give up.”
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Suggested Spiritual Exercise
As we consider the candidates and propositions, let us do so with holy mindfulness, praying that we may be guided to vote wisely.