No matter who wins the election millions of our fellow citizens, our family, our loved ones will be sad, distraught and perhaps angry. How we react to that will make all the difference. No matter what we feel we would do well to recognize and show empathy for what others are feeling too. We should look beyond our own emotions and use the moment to see others.
I often hear people say “I just can’t understand why anyone would vote for that person.” That, to me, may be the greatest trouble we face. That declaration shows we don’t understand those we share the country with. The divide we feel is real. It’s damaging to human relationships. It tears apart families, communities and it’s weakening our republic.
No matter the outcome of the election we should all resolve to do our part to understand where those who disagree with us are coming from. We simply cannot afford to avoid everyone who disagrees with us, even if we find their beliefs damaging, immoral or unconscionable. Surely they don’t view it that way. I’ve rarely met a person who thought they were doing the wrong thing and reveled in it. Every person’s point of view makes sense to them. We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t learn how to learn from each other. We must do all we can to see each other, hear each other, and understand each other. This will require grace, humility and a commitment to community.
Okay, I know what some of you were thinking: “You don’t get it, this election is different. We can’t just agree to disagree and pretend it’s okay. If the candidate I oppose wins the damage to the republic may be irreversible. Their policies, character and morals will ensure irrevocable harm. To not denounce them and their followers is in essence complicit to the harm.”
Let’s assume that the candidate you oppose lives up to that dire assessment. What advantage will be gained by not talking to those who support them? What good will come by alienating ostracizing, avoiding, belittling or shaming them? Do you think an election defeat will show them the error of their ways? That the morning after the election, somehow, they will be chastened and conform to your view of morality and good government? Is that how you will respond if the election goes differently than you had hoped?
We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester. If we are not brave enough, bold enough, and meek enough to have the hard conversations who is?
Here are three suggestions that have helped me have these kinds of delicate conversations. In the coming days and weeks after the election they may be a value to you too.
First: Reaffirm to those you disagree with that your relationship and their opinion matter to you. Affirm and reestablish your connection with them. I like this definition of connection from Brenè Brown, “Connection is energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued-when they can give and receive without judgment.”
Second: Ensure your goal is to understand their perspective not to persuade them. Simply try to understand why they view things the way they do. I often have found myself saying “I just don’t understand why someone would think that.” Now whenever I say that I realize it is an indictment of me. Instead when I can say “I would say you would say…” and they agree with me then I know I understand. Then, when it’s appropriate, I can articulate where we may disagree. Again, not with the intent to persuade but with the clear intent that they understand why I view things the way I do. Often we come to realize we agree on much more than we thought we did.
Third: You are not personally responsible for saving the republic, ensuring democracy and salvaging every relationship. Some people will not be able to have a conversation with you without being aggressive, frustrated, angry or manipulative. That’s on them not you. There are times we all need to walk away from certain exchanges. We can only do what we can do. But I do think it’s incumbent on each of us to try to do all that we can do.
Will this change the nation overnight? No. Of course not. Neither will one election. Will it change you? Yes!
The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
The first time I was called a baby killer was in 1998. I ran as a Democrat for the Idaho State House of Representatives. Against the advice of more seasoned politicians from my party, I agreed to participate on a local talk radio program. The hosts began by saying how curious they found me to be. “On the one hand, you are a Mormon, but on the other hand, you’re also a Democrat. So are you pro-life or pro-choice?” I refused both terms. I said that I found the terms too loaded and too ambiguous to detail my views on an issue as complex as abortion. Before I could explain my position, or how I had arrived at it, the host asked if I supported the current version of a parental consent bill being considered by the legislature. I told her I did not, and began to explain why. The same bill had been passed by neighboring states and had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend in court only to be struck down. Again, I was interrupted before I could articulate what I thought would be a wiser approach. The host said, “So you’re a baby killer then?” I was flummoxed! I couldn’t believe she had gone there without giving me any opportunity to respond. She had passed her judgment, found me unworthy, and moved on. That rush to judgment and pronouncement left me frustrated and resolved not to treat people that way. Few, if any, topics are more controversial or more complex than abortion. Hopefully I can communicate my thoughts on the issue in a way that is thoughtful and not sanctimonious.
My beliefs on the morality of the issue are that “human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God.” This quote comes from a brief statement on abortion from my Church and reflects my own feelings. I believe life is sacred. I am the father of five children, and the grandfather of two. I hoped for, prayed for, and rejoiced with each child’s birth. I cannot imagine my life without them. I think it is wrong to end a pregnancy for personal or social convenience. I believe the power to create life is a sacred trust from God. I would never want to abuse those powers. I believe those who do abuse those powers will stand accountable to God someday.
Here are the problems I have with both political parties on the issue. First, the Democrats as “pro-choice.” This is a party that believes the government can help people make better, more informed choices. The party who thinks it is important to regulate food, drugs, the environment, etc. For this party to say it has no place to tell a woman what to do with her body seems contrary to their core beliefs. Save the whales, forget about the unborn, is hard to make sense of. The party’s position has evolved in recent years. In the 90s, the party’s line was abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Even as late as 2012, the Obama administration was still trying to get traction for a policy that reduced the need for abortions. The new party line seems now more focused on the right to have access to abortion, treating it as a medical procedure only, with no moral or ethical consideration. To be sympathetic to the idea that Black lives matter and yet not the lives of the unborn is intellectually incongruent, to say the least. You should read David Brooks’ piece on this. I agree with him that Democrats have moved too far on this issue. If your fundamental goal as a Democrat is the health and well-being of individuals, ignoring the moral complexities of this issue is irresponsible and (I believe) inconsistent with your ideology.
If Democrats are inconsistent and hypocritical with their position, Republicans are sycophantic and scattered. “Pro-life” means sooo many different things to different people. Here are some of my questions: What would it look like to legally restrict abortion as a means of birth control? Would you arrest providers, or women themselves? Would it be a state ban or a federal one? Would women who left the country to have an abortion be subjected to prosecution upon their return to the US? Would the law view all termination of a pregnancy the same as premeditated murder? I have also known some conservatives to go so far as to think that birth control methods like IUDs were akin to murder. In twenty plus years of talking with my conservative friends and lawmakers about this issue I have never heard or seen a policy from them that answers those questions. “Pro-life” to them seems to mean only an idea of being anti-abortion, which I am sympathetic to, but it doesn’t seem to translate into a clear, working policy. If the goal is to decrease the number of abortions, the data is clear that legally restricting the procedure does not reduce the number of abortions. Additionally, there is fair criticism that the Republican Party is pro-birth not pro-life. By not supporting aid for poor people, their access to healthcare, or the quality of their education, Republicans’ seemingly don’t put equal value or emphasis on life after birth.
I am sympathetic to why people vote exclusively on this issue. The problem for me, however, is neither party has a position that completely coincides with my moral view. In addition, not every candidate from the major parties views the issue in the same way that their party does. Not to mention that I think the parties sometimes feel less interested in honestly doing the right thing for people and more interested in fundraising and maintaining their party line narrative as a way to encourage people to vote for them. I am frustrated by the unwarranted certitude from many on the right and the smug superiority from those on the left. As this PEW data suggests, the vast majority of Americans understand the complexity of this issue. They realize that universal application is unrealistic when considering individual circumstances. The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
You can be anti-abortion and think it should be legal. You can oppose abortion and not be a misogynist. I often hear people who say “How can someone be a Democrat? They are for abortion!” Or, “How can someone be a Republican? They hate women!” These logical fallacies do not account for other possibilities. You can be opposed to the criminalization of abortion and also oppose it as a means of birth control. You can both respect the right of a woman to make her own medical choices and still think there are moral consequences for terminating a healthy pregnancy. Likewise, you can acknowledge the moral complexities of terminating a healthy pregnancy and not hate women.
Good news abortion rates are falling. This excellent article explains why abortion rates are lower than they have been in forty years. Turns out, decades of global research indicate that legally restricting abortion is not correlated with a decrease in global abortion rates. Legality has proven largely irrelevant. In fact, “in countries where laws permit abortion only to save the life of the mother, the abortion rate is higher at 37 per 1,000 women than the rate of 34 abortions per 1,000 in countries without such restrictions.” Moreover, countries throughout Latin America—where the most restrictive abortion laws exist—actually have ‘both the highest rate of unintended pregnancies, 96 per 1,000 women, and the highest rate of abortions, 44 per 1,000 women.’ The data is clear. Nations that help women avoid unwanted pregnancies have the lowest abortion rates. If your goal is reducing the number of abortions, focusing on unwanted pregnices is the best way to go about it. Criminalizing abortion is not.
Even if Roe went away abortions wouldn’t. If the United States Supreme Court did away with Roe vs Wade, abortion does not go away, it just moves the decision to the states. Learn more about this here. Doing all we can in a bipartisan way to reduce unintended pregnancies seems the wiser course.
Please stop calling people baby killers and women haters. When you make the claim that Democrats are baby killers and Republicans hate women you lose the credibility that an issue like this deserves. It’s provocative language that is untrue, hurtful and invites division not civility. Also, when we use graphic videos that depict abortions, or use loaded language of moral absolutism, we often do harm to those who have struggled with pregnancy and infertility and a host of other complicated circumstances surrounding this most personal issue. Jeannie Gaffigin, a lifelong Catholic and a conservative, does an excellent job of addressing this in this must read piece.
To single issue voters I have learned from my own experience that politics, public policy and governing are complex. There are hundreds of issues that governments face. Political parties offer an ideological approach more than detailed policy initiatives. That’s beneficial to everyone. It allows for compromise. When we base our entire vote on a single issue, we often do so because we don’t want to engage in the messy complexities and ambiguities that a healthy republic requires.
So now what? I believe both parties could work together to reduce the demand for abortions. However, it will take people breaking out of their polarized partisan views. As with most issues, the first step is being able to talk about the issue in a way that allows those who disagree with us to be heard.
No one has ever given anyone freedom. Freedom has to be wrestled from those who see your gain as their loss. Freedom comes from fighting for power and it’s a messy business.
Reflecting on the life, mission and legacy of John Lewis has brought me both comfort and discomfort. I am grateful and comforted by his example of faith, optimism, patriotism and dedication. I was moved when former President Barack Obama referred to him as “one of the founding fathers of our more perfect union.” What an apt description! My discomfort has come as I reflected on my own life and found my response to the inequities and injustices of life wanting. I can and should do more.
John Lewis was known for coining the phrase “good trouble”. He said, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” (Tweet June 27, 2018)
I’ve been thinking about “good trouble” and its context in United States history. There have always been those who challenged the status quo and who were vocal about it. To me good trouble means speaking out, and being willing to challenge those forces that seek to prevent us from being what we can be. I, of course, do not approve of violence as a means to an end. However, it is often the byproduct of major movements, it always has been. The Boston tea party and the subsequent revolution were surely not regarded as “good trouble” by the British or loyalists. Many of their fellow colonists were anxious about what a rebellion against Britain would mean. The issue of slavery was settled by powder and ball.The labor movement came as a result of protests over decades, many ending in mass violence and the destruction of property. The women’s suffrage movement was anything but a calm and gentle protest. As Katie Clarke Lemay writes in an excellent NYT article “I think the way we talk about suffrage needs attention. It is so often described in a way that makes it seem kind of dowdy and dour — whereas in fact it is exciting and radical. Women staged one of the longest social reform movements in the history of the United States. This is not a boring history of nagging spinsters; it is a badass history of revolution staged by political geniuses. I think that because they were women, people have hesitated to credit them as such.” Judy Heumann occupied a federal building in San Francisco among other protestors to draw attention to the needs of those with disabilities. Thousands took to the streets to protest during the Stonewall riots which helped bring about change to discriminatory laws that affected the LGBTQ comunity. As Ibram X. Kendi points out in this excellent opinion piece from July 4, 2019 “When Americans struggle for the power to be free, they are afflicting and revolutionizing and refining the United States. They are the Patriots. Patriotism…is resistance.”
No one has ever given anyone freedom. Freedom has to be wrestled from those who see your gain as their loss. Freedom comes from fighting for power and it’s a messy business. We have seen millions of Americans take to the streets over the last few years. Americans who are challenging the status quo. As this report shows, over 90% of the Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. I wish it had been 100%. But as concerned as I am about those who resort to violence, I am more concerned with those who seem fixated on the violence and not on the reason for the protests. History has taught us that if our goal is to expand freedom, it will not come easy. It will require us to learn more, say more, and do more. It will require good trouble!
If you are feeling repulsed by politics, you’re not alone. Most of us understand the need to participate in our democracy. However, our current climate is more tribalistic than ever. What we want is a place where we can bring our ideological background, lived experience and skills to address a common problem, yet still collaborate with those of opposing views; working together with the end in mind of reaching the best solution to an agreed-upon problem.
Instead, politics often feels like a blood sport—a grudge match to the death. One where compromising for the greater good has been replaced by winning at all cost. This kind of partisan hunger games is rife with hypocrisy, animosity and breeds an antipathy for politics to the average citizen. It’s easy to blame politicians, the media, wealthy stakeholders and special interests and, in fairness, there is a case to be made against all of them. Attributing blame may help us identify the ill, it does little for the cure. I’m afraid no one is coming to save us. No single candidate, no single election, no single act of Congress will turn the tide of hostile, tribalistic, politics. It’s going to require us to do more–much more than snarky memes, snappy late-night satire, or faux outraged cable news clips. We are going to have to fix this ourselves. Here are three things I am working on:
Being better informed.
Engaging in the process.
Connecting with those I disagree with.
Being informed is going to require more than consuming media outlets that confirm our bias. The issues we face are complex and often confusing. We can’t give 30 seconds to a 30-year problem and think we know anything about it. We have to pay the daily price to understand complex issues. One thing that helps me is try not to get my news from social media. Social media is based on algorithms. It gives us what it thinks we want. Social media pushes us to opinion pieces because they get more likes and shares. Opinion pieces are fine but they lack a depth of reporting. Instead, I have been trying to read the paper more. I subscribe to both the New York Times and Washington Post digitally. I wish I could afford the paper copies (but I still hope to afford retirement someday). Social media also pushes us to the types of stories we like–for me that’s politics and not stories from science, art, culture etc.; going over the paper every day has helped me have a broader perspective. Sadly, social media is also filled with misinformation that spreads like wildfire. This is a quick guide on how to spot fake news.
I also like long form newscasts like NPR’s All Things Considered,Morning Edition and thePBS NewsHour. I know it is hard to find the time in large chunks, but it really makes all the difference. These outlets are free and can be listened to or watched anytime online. Avoiding getting my news primarily from social media has helped me be more informed.
Engaging in the process. It’s been 15+ years since my name has been on a ballot. It’s been nearly ten years since I actively worked on a campaign. I engage candidates directly, infrequently, or not at all. There was a time I used to love to hang out with my local precinct people, knock doors, stuff envelopes and help organize events. Now I don’t even know who my local party chairperson is–not to mention my complete lack of substantive involvement in any local nonpartisan city elections.
Connecting with those I disagree with. I am making some progress here. This has happened both on social media and face-to-face. I have heard over and over again since the last presidential election about how divided we are and that we don’t understand each other. Yet, I have also heard over and over again how people don’t want to talk to others about politics because it is so divisive. We can’t have it both ways. We have to find ways to talk about politics with people we disagree with and not be disagreeable. I sincerely think social media can be a venue for meaningful dialogue, people! I also think we can do this face-to-face. Imagine having a dinner party with the express purpose of talking about a particular issue–looking forward to learning from someone else’s perspective (instead of dreading that you have to have dinner with your crazy right-wing or left-wing relative). Let’s get together and talk about the whole chicken!
I don’t think the answer to our current political dilemma is to avoid politics. I think we have to reshape it. If you are a conservative and feel like your party is unrecognizable in the era of Trump reclaim it! If you are a liberal and think your party has left behind its roots to the working class, or is failing to think big enough don’t walk away, engage. No one is coming to save us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. It’s time for us to reclaim our politics. We will not agree on everything, nor should we. We can, however, agree to put country over party, and good faith 0over bad politics.
Love of country, like love of an individual, requires truth, forgiveness, justice, mercy and grace. No substantive relationship exists without conflict. How one manages that conflict determines the strength of the relationship. Forgiveness is also essential to any substantive relationship. Reconciliation is an important component of forgiveness, thus an essential component of love. Therefore, if we love this country, we must be willing to embrace conflict, truth, reconciliation, change and forgiveness.
If someone has done you harm, even if they did not intend to, that conflict must be addressed. If it is ignored, it will fester. Can you imagine someone saying, “Yes, I know I hurt your feelings in the past and I never said I was sorry but look at all the good I did!” You would consider that an abusive relationship. Acknowledging our past sins and their lingering consequences does not negate our core values, it reinforces them. Reconciling the past does not diminish the good that has been done or our potential for good in the future; it enables more good! Yes we can, and must, extend a measure of grace to those who erred, fell short or have done us harm. Grace leads to forgiveness; it does not, however, absolve one of the responsibility of truth. We can’t as a nation be what we want to be if we refuse to be honest with who we’ve been, the good and the bad.
Acknowledgment of misdeeds is not enough. There must be reconciliation. To reconcile there must also be truth. Truth and reconciliation are companion virtues, as are justice and mercy, forgiveness and love. Without them, we can no more hope for a healthy relationship than we can hope for a healthy republic. We must avoid the temptation to frame our history in narrative that only highlights the highlights. To do so denies the truth and impedes our ability to be our best. We must believe that “the truth will set us free.” and embrace it.
“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. …we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
We cannot hide behind a shield of tolerance, diversity, inclusion and acceptance and consider ourselves finished. Those are means to an end. Truth and reconciliation will require honesty and action. It will require that we learn to live with the discordant idea that our destiny is always out of reach but that the reaching itself has value. Blame, shame, accusation and avoidance must yield to truth and reconciliation. Embracing truth will require us to be more honest about our history. We must recognize that our own dependency on narratives, monuments and false ideas have allowed us to perpetuate abuse and avoid reconciliation. Embracing reconciliation will require forgiveness and mercy. It will require the creation of new narratives and new visions that are more honest, inclusive and equitable.
How we go about this truth and reconciliation will require the redistribution of power and resources, as does any change to the status quo. That will be, and should be, political. Our best ideas should compete to produce our best outcomes. The idea that we should embrace truth and reconciliation is not a political question, it is a moral one! We should not think ourselves patriots if we fail to embrace truth and reconciliation, justice and mercy. We must commit to the soul searching, back breaking, sober work it will take to move forward, ever pursuing, and never fully realizing, our potential.
There seems to be a national, and even international, solemnity and solidarity about the thing. As we all work to #flattenthecurve we are selflessly helping to not overwhelm hospitals, healthcare workers and those most vulnerable in our society.
What a week! The roller coaster ride of the stock market, the cancellation and closure of almost every major American institution, and the world wide focus on a tiny little bug. I, in no way, want to minimize the real consequences people are feeling as a result of this virus. My heart goes out to the people in China, Italy, Iran and others around the world who are sick or otherwise afflicted. The physical, social, emotional and economic toll on individuals and nations is real. However, I also can’t help but see something admirable in all of this.
There seems to be a national, and even international, solemnity and solidarity about the thing. So often when adversity strikes we naturally focus inward and are most concerned with how it will effect us personally. Surely there has been some of that with this as well. However, for the most part, I’ve seen people who will not ever be sick come to the conclusion that they should make the necessary sacrifices to isolate themselves throughout the community and the world to minimize the impact of the virus.
As we all work to #flattenthecurve we are selflessly helping to not overwhelm hospitals, healthcare workers and those most vulnerable in our society. I have also seen people turn their concern to those who will be the most adversely affected not only by the disease itself, but by the economic consequences. The hourly worker, those without healthcare, sick leave and the resources to manage a disruption like this. I have watched over the last few days my employer, my faith community, as well as local, state, national and international governments work swiftly to try to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and help those in most need. I’ve seen less blame and more honest inquiry on what this all means and what is the best way forward. Of course there are those who are prone to nativism, conspiracy theory and doomsday hand wringing, but for the most part I have seen a calm compassionate response, coupled with the desire to know more and do what we can to get through the situation. I’m certainly not happy about this virus, but I do think there are some things we will see going forward that will give us pause to reflect on the value of working together. ￼ So as we wait this out, wash your hands, keep your distance, stay informed and keep up the good work! See you on the other side!
We cannot change what others post. We cannot change others’ opinions. We can, however, contribute to the conversation. We can do our part to build a community. We can do our part to have an honest, open dialogue about issues we may agree or disagree on.
I had the opportunity to be interviewed on a friend’s podcast we discussed how to not be a jerk on the internet. We talked about the temptation to just give up on the idea that the internet can be a place where civil discourse could happen. However, we concluded, if we do that, then the haters win! We can’t just consider the internet as a place of either antagonism or a total withdrawal from the important issues of our time. What if it were different? What if it brought us together as a community of friends, family and colleagues working to create the best world possible? A place where you can express your opinion and ideas without it becoming a fight? So here my ideas for not being a jerk on the internet:
#5 Stop blaming others and start fixing you! I can’t blame you for what’s wrong with the government, society and the world in general, that’s weak! I’ve got to figure out my own contributions to the problems we face. I’ve spent a few years carefully reflecting on my own opinions, finding the flaws in my logic, learning to avoid either or thinking and trying to challenge my assumptions. What am I doing to contribute to tribalism misinformation, or contention with others online? How can I stop doing those things? I’ve written about a blog post about this previously: How do I stop calling you out and start fixing me.
#4 Stop preaching to the choir: The more I discuss the world with those who share my worldview, the more I begin to view the world as “us versus them.” Here is a piece I’ve written about why I have completely stopped sharing simple memes and snappy one liners online that confirm my opinions. They do nothing to broaden my understanding of complex issues and alienate those who do not share my opinions. Before I read or post something online I stop and ask myself. Am I doing this to confirm what I already believe? I’m I trying to persuade others to think like I do? Or am I trying to really learn, understand and help the world be a better place?
#3 Try to understand where people are coming from. Whenever I find myself saying, “I can’t understand why anyone thinks that,” I tell myself, “That’s your problem, not their problem.” I don’t have to agree with someone to understand why they think the way they do. If I don’t understand why someone holds an opinion, that’s an indictment of me not them. We should spend much of our online time trying to understand each other not just talk over each other.
#2 Act don’t react: When I see something online that makes me crazy and I’m tempted to lash out. I take a breather, relax, try to understand their perspective and challenge my own assumptions. Even when, and especially when, someone lashes out at me, I try to be chill. That doesn’t mean I just agree with everything, but we can disagree without being disagreeable
#1 Be Kind: Picture the face on the other side of the screen. These are real people just like you! With real feelings and real families, real problems and very real emotions! In other words treat people like you would like to be treated.
We cannot change what others post. We cannot change others’ opinions. We can, however, contribute to the conversation. We can do our part to build a community. We can do our part to have an honest, open dialogue about issues we may agree or disagree on.
We can resolve not to rant but to reason. To talk less and listen more–to build bridges not walls. We can engage in conversation with those we disagree with in a constructive manner. We can acknowledge the complexities of issues without being condescending. We can reject our own unwarranted certitude. We can learn and try to understand others perspectives instead of trying to persuade them to adopt our own.
We can reject sarcasm and embrace empathy. We can walk away from anger and embrace understanding. We can stop sharing over simplified, inflammatory content and instead pose our own thoughtful questions and ideas. Every person’s perspective has value and meaning to that person. We can admit when we are wrong. We can embrace conflict and shun contention. We can remain true to our ideals and be open to change. In short, we can all do our part to not be a jerk on the internet, or anywhere else for that matter.
I cannot count how many times I’ve been asked, “How can someone be a member of the Church and a Democrat?” I’ve gotten pretty good over the years of not rolling my eyes or lashing out. The question usually comes from a place of ignorance, not malice. I’m appreciative of those who have met my ignorance with kindness, so I’m trying to respond the same way to others when I hear this question. I typically redirect with a question of my own: What do you think the Church means when it affirms its political neutrality? This usually leads to a conversation where we can come to a better understanding of each other.
However, I am alarmed when I often see, not a question, but a statement, “You can’t be a faithful member of the church and a Democrat.” This is incorrect thinking and, frankly, it’s bullying. Whether the statement comes from a place of ignorance or malice doesn’t change the fact that it’s not appropriate and is often intimidating. We do harm when we assert that one ideology or political party is morally superior to the other. It’s counter to the Church’s official position and shows hostility to those who think differently than you do.
I have personally seen the damage that comes when members of my faith community equate conservatism with religion. I have friends, family and students who feel judged and ostracized for their political leanings–some have even left the church over it. Everyone is responsible for their own faith. I believe it is unwise and harmful to blame someone else for your faith crisis. However, we also have a responsibility to treat others as we would want to be treated. The church has made it abundantly clear that it is non-partisan. They do not endorse candidates or political parties. I do not judge others faith, or lack thereof, by their political affiliations. I have known great people of faith all over the political spectrum. I only ask for the same courtesy in return.
We should be able to talk about our political identification–why we believe what we do and how we came to these conclusions— without any fear of reprisal or rejection. I am saddened when my deeply held convictions are met with skepticism or derision. We must be a community of saints, not a tribe of ideologues.
Members of the Church in the US are typically conservative. However, as this PEW research shows, and several news outlets have written about, the 2016 election of Donald Trump has changed some of that. With election season upon us, no member of the church should feel bullied or judged because they are thinking deeply about the future of the country and may come to different conclusions than their fellow saints. So, if you can’t understand why someone thinks or votes the way they do, that’s an indictment of you, not them. It’s incumbent upon all of us to be people of kindness, empathy and understanding. We have a great opportunity to do that in an election cycle which will surely be contentious and divisive. We as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can, and should be, a model for the nation on how to understand and respect each other.
As the House of Representatives moves forward with impeachment, it will seem to many Americans that Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States, is on trial. Of course, that is true. Impeachment is not a legal proceeding but a political one. More importantly than Mr. Trump being on trial, I believe, we, as the American people are on trial. We have an opportunity in this moment to decide if we stand with our own tribalistic notions or with our core democratic principles and the rule of law.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts. Here is a brief snapshot of what we know about Mr. Trump and his conduct:
From the Mueller report we know he coordinated his 2016 election campaign with the Russian government.
We know he asked for Russia’s help in investigating his opponent.
We know he lied about his campaign coordinating with the Russians.
We know he objected to the independent counsel’s investigation on these matters.
We know he obstructed justice at least 10 times trying to derail the investigation.
We know he has now engaged in a quid pro quo with the Ukraine, threatening to withhold military aid unless they investigated his current political rival.
I have written about Mr. Trump in the past and his history of immoral and dishonest conduct. All of which are germane to the current impeachment.
As dismayed as I am that someone like Donald Trump could ascend to the presidency, I am more worried about those who defend his actions. I am worried that we have moved to an era of partisanship and tribalism that takes precedence over reason and principle. Thomas Pepinsky does an excellent job describing this in his sobering Politico piece about regime cleavage:
For decades, Republicans and Democrats fought over the same things: whose values and policies work best for American democracy. But now, those age-old fights are changing. What was once run-of-the-mill partisan competition is being replaced by a disagreement over democracy itself. This is particularly evident as the president and many of his allies crow about the illegitimacy of the House impeachment inquiry, calling it an attempted coup, and as the White House refuses to comply with multiple congressional subpoenas as part of the probe. This marks a new phase in American politics. Democrats and Republicans might still disagree about policy, but they are increasingly also at odds over the very foundations of our constitutional order. Political scientists have a term for what the United States is witnessing right now. It’s called “regime cleavage,” a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced.
It is completely healthy for us as Americans to disagree on how to move forward with agreed-upon problems. How you address the nation’s challenges is political, and fraught with disagreement. What becomes more troubling is when we are willing to suspend the rule of law or disregard our democratic principles because of our loyalty to a particular ideology, tribal identity, or even individual.
Mr. Pepinsky continues:
As Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have argued, democracy can manage political conflict only if citizens and politicians allow the institutions of democracy—elections, representative bodies, the judiciary—to do so. Parties and politicians must not be rewarded for refusing to adhere to laws and institutions. Decades ago, a regime cleavage divided Chileans, with conservatives aligning against the elected government of Salvador Allende and eventually leading to a coup that replaced him with General Augusto Pinochet. The United States has confronted a regime cleavage, too: The last emerged in the 1850s, prior to the Civil War, when many in the slave states began to advocate secession—a clear challenge to the legitimacy of the Union. …But what distinguishes the current moment under Trump from the normal, albeit worsening, politics of executive-legislative relations in the United States is the politicization of the very notion of executive constraint in the face of an impeachment hearing—this is the source of the regime cleavage.
…American politics is not yet fully consumed by this current, emerging regime cleavage. But if it continues without a forceful, bipartisan rebuke, we can expect that politics in the United States will increasingly come to be characterized by the kinds of intractable conflicts between populist outsiders, old-guard politicians, and the machinery of the state that have characterized presidential democracies in countries like Argentina and, more recently, Taiwan. Our regime cleavage has not yet hardened to the extent that it has in these countries, but if it does, it will not be possible to elect a president who can “end the mess in Washington” because both sides of the regime cleavage will argue that the other is illegitimate and undemocratic. Voters, understandably, will lose what faith they have left in the value of democracy itself. In the worst-case scenario, presidents and their supporters would be entirely unaccountable to Congress, while their opponents would reject the legitimacy of the presidency altogether.
So the question I find myself asking is, how did we get here? What has caused so many of my honest well intended friends and loved ones to ignore the rule of law and defend that which seems indefensible? For one, there seems to be a deep sense of mistrust in institutions. The sense that the country has radically changed from what it was before. That the idea of American greatness has been co-opted by a frightening move to the left. That somehow the greatness we once had has been replaced by a new world order concerned more with individual rights than community values. I often hear the phrase “I want my America back”.
The more I talk to people who support Mr. Trump, the more I have come to understand that they are fully aware of his flaws and shortcomings, but still see him as more inclined to restore the order than others. With that in mind it is not surprising that roughly 50% of White Americans feel like they are racially discriminated against. Of course I think white fragility plays a large role here, however it is more complex than that. It’s about narrative, identity, security and what many view as patriotism. The idea that what we were is what we should be and that where “they” want to take us is unrecognizable and scary and may exclude me. So even if the facts don’t bear out this narrative it feels true. It’s easy to blame immigrants, the media, career politicians and liberal elites for the change we are seeing in the country. Growing wealth inequality, changing demographics the AI revolution and the displacement of rural America is disorienting to be certain! All of which should engender our sympathies. It makes a move to regime cleavage understandable and terrifying. In an American narrative steeped in the idea that hard work equals prosperity it’s almost impossible to blame wealth and greed as the disruptors of the order. So many Americans view themselves as potential millionaires, thinking if only cumbersome government regulations, entitlement seeking minorities, immigrants and educated elites would get out of my way, I too could have my American dream.
Donald Trump knows this very well. He exploits it! But, make no mistake, he is not the problem! He is a manifestation of it. We, as a nation have to do a better job of seeing each other, understanding each other, and helping each other. The blinded partisanship exhibited by the Republicans currently is perhaps no more shameful than the dismissive liberal coastal elites disdain for the fly over states but no doubt we are all on trial! No one is coming to save us. This is our democracy, our republic. if we’re going to fix it it will require our own efforts. Blaming and only consuming information which confirms our own bias only compounds the problem. We have risen to the occasion in the past we can do so now, but it will require honestly soul-searching and hard work.
E Pluribus Unum: out of many we are one. This Latin phrase was the unofficial motto of the United States through the revolutionary war and well into the 19th and 20th century. It was found on flags, used by the founders in their writings, inscribed on the buttons of the uniforms the colonial soldiers wore, and even appeared on our currency well into the 20th century. It’s a fitting motto for the rag tag group of colonists destined to overthrow the mighty British empire.
Inspired by the ideas of the enlightenment and motivated by circumstances on the ground, our founding fathers explored these audacious questions: What if we governed ourselves? What if we didn’t need an emperor, czar or king? To accomplish such a task would require more than anyone could’ve imagined. Throughout history we have been ruled by authoritarians, despots, kings, tribal lords, etc. Some claimed divine right others simple took power by force but the premise was often similar: the masses were incapable of governing themselves. Authoritarians and despots knew in order to control the masses they had to instill fear and division. A united front could mean disaster. The masses could turn on you and replace you with another authoritarian.
What then could cause thirteen remote and diverse colonies to unite in an effort to break the bonds of arguably the most powerful and greatest empire in the history of the world? What was it about the words and ideas of Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu and others that inspired the courage and conviction necessary for the task? Their words made the case and lit the fire that the old way of thinking must be abolished. Power and the right to govern did not derive from authoritarian elites. It was instead based on natural law–the rights to be governed must come from the people.
Authoritarians and despots rarely care about the masses other than to control them. We are, of course, inclined to authoritarians. The work of creating equanimity among so many is fraught with peril and disagreement. It’s a natural thing to relinquish our control to strong voices who promise protection and prosperity. Authoritarians will always try to divide the masses and pit them against one another–promising that only they can protect us from each other. We absolutely can not let the powerful and connected divide us and deceive us that we are enemies. The race isn’t against each other it’s against inequity, bigotry, fear and any force that would seek self over community.
If we are going to make our multicultural, pluralistic, democratic experiment work there can be no “them’s” in the United States there can only be US. If we are to prosper we will do it together! Of course we will have differing opinions. Of course we will have different cultural experiences. Of course we will have different lived experiences, religious practices, cultural identities and beliefs. Melding those together for a common good does not mean we are homogeneous. It will mean, however, that we are united by certain core principles: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–the idea that each of us are endowed by our creator with these
unalienable rights and we must work toward that end united not divided. E Pluribus Unum: out of many we are one.
At the completion of the constitutional convention someone asked Benjamin Franklin “Do we have a monarchy or a republic?” “A republic,” he replied, adding “If you can keep it.” The framers didn’t know then as we do now that what they had created would last 240 plus years. They didn’t see the Civil War or the great World Wars. They couldn’t have envisioned the ravaging effects and soaring accomplishments of the industrial revolution.
Their vision was limited by their own bigotries, yet their vision also calls to the oppressed to seek for that “more perfect union.” It calls each of us who will hear to pursue life, liberty and happiness. It calls each of us to believe we are all endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. That we are equal under the law.
If we are to be one today we can’t refuse to pay the price of being informed and then complain that others are not. We can not afford to support billion dollar campaigns designed not to persuade each other of the virtue of our ideas but instead to destroy the opposition. We cannot afford to support this with our own dollars or be ambivalent to where else those dollars come from. If we sell our democracy to the highest bidder we are the ones who end up morally and politically bankrupt.
Unwarranted certitude and righteous indignation will not save us from bullies, tyrants and wannabe authoritarians of the 21st-century. It empowers them! Stop blaming the 24 hour news cycle—-turn it off instead. Find deeper, more substantive ways of keeping up on current affairs. Stop trying to fight the opposition party and instead try to fix your own.
Our politics are becoming a bloodsport where the means justify the ends. Where we are more concerned about the next election than the next generation. Where we are not trying to defend our ideas but we are bent on destroying the opposition.This is exactly the divisions that feed authoritarians! If we allow this to happen we have already crossed a line that may very well put in jeopardy the republic enlightened philosophers, our nation’s founders and patriots worked for.
America isn’t a place—it’s an idea; an idea rooted in principles found in the honored creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
We have often fallen short in living up to our ideals. This is America’s story. We dream big and fall short. We aspire to lofty ideals but our day to day is messy and inconsistent will those ideals.
Fortunately, something in the creed keeps pushing us forward causing us to break through and more perfectly move upward. We push on determined to extend those promised blessings to more and resist, even at the expense of our lives, the exclusion of those ideals to any who seek them.
Let’s ponder deeply those ideals. Let’s be honest with who we are and who we can yet become. Let’s do more than look to the past with a lens of patriotic zeal seeing only our proudest moments or look back seeing only our sins and misdeeds cankering our soul and leaving us hopeless.
We look to the past insomuch as it is our guide for the future telling us what to embrace and what to shun, what to celebrate and what to reconcile. With the clarity only hindsight can give, we fix our view to the future, bending our wills to those ideals that will move us step by step to a more perfect union.
Let’s aspire to be as kind as we are courageous! As committed to equality as we are to obtaining wealth. Let’s temper our fierceness by our love for our fellow man.
We are great! We are troubled! We can heal! We can rededicate ourselves to our enshrined creeds, our core beliefs, our sacred vows—written in stone, paid for with blood and sealed on the heart of every person yearning to be free. E Pluribus Unum: out of many we are one!