A steady diet of junk food is terrible for your body. So is a steady diet of trash media for your brain. I should know, I’ve consumed plenty of both.
I’ve spent much of life making bad meal choices. I have listened to the siren song of the drive-thru instead of what my body really needed. I’ve also spent a lot of time listening to Talk Radio. My intention was good. I wanted to better understand why so many people I love find talk shows like Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s appealing. I only listened to 3-5 hours a week for a period of 3-4 years, but it was enough of a steady diet of the stuff to see it for what it is: profiteering provocateurs bent on money and nearly void of authentic patriotism. The constant stream of anger was hard to take seriously, not to mention the twisted logic used to describe those on the left. Liberals on these shows are routinely portrayed as both diabolical in their disdain of American and buffoons incapable of rational thought. No wonder my friends and family acted so surprised by my politics. Anyone who consumed Talk Radio and even remotely believed it would no doubt be worried, if not apoplectic, about anyone who identified as a liberal. The shows do no original reporting; they just take news from the headlines and then proceed to rip apart anyone who doesn’t see the world from their lens. After a few years of this, week after week, I couldn’t stomach much more of it. I still tune in now and again to some Fox News contributors like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram just to keep myself familiar with what so many of my fellow Americans watch. Every time I do, it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. The sad reality is that many I know and love are malnourished by this media, and even poisoned by it.
Reflecting on my consumption of conservative media has also caused me to take a deeper look at what was once my own preferred diet of political munchies. The salty, satirical stew of late night nonsense like Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert. I never watched much of this, mostly just YouTube clips, but it was enough to cause me to not want a second helping. For sure, the satire of these lefty late nighters is very different from the anger on Talk Radio and Fox News, but in fairness it is no better for my intellectual or moral health. The constant barrage of insults, put downs and blatant ad hominem attacks directed towards those on the right leads to a cynicism and smug superiority. It also fosters an arrogance every bit as harmful as the animus from the right. It creates and enforces the narrative that it is us versus them. Liberals are the smart ones conservatives are the dumb ones. It often reduces the deeply held personal convictions of others to no more than a punch line, creating the idea that all the world fits into one of two categories: the woke or the wing-nut. This menu of sanctimonious, satirical sludge not only fails to satisfy, it leaves me feeling sick.
So, I’m no longer regularly consuming the toxic media from the right or the left. Instead, I’m trying to have a more balanced diet with less opinion pieces and more thoughtful, informative perspectives, with programs like the PBS Newshour and other quality media outlets. It’s up to all of us to decide what we will consume and how to make the best media choices possible.
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.
I believe when we say ”I just can’t understand why anyone would believe that?” it is an indictment of ourselves not them. I think we all have the responsibility to do our best to try to understand each other. That, of course, doesn’t mean we will agree with each other. I’ve spent the last four years trying to understand why millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump and would vote for him again. Here are some things I have observed:
People want to feel safe. They want to feel like they can make sense of the world. For many, the past feels more secure than the present. They worry that the world they once knew is eroding around them.
They feel like as a nation we have lost our moral compass.
They genuinely care about the unborn and have a deep love of God and country.
They see America as a land of opportunity if you are willing to work for it.
They believe in equality of opportunity and often see government action as a stumbling block to progress.
They feel frustrated by career politicians who seem heavy on words and light on action.
They find the way Mr. Trump speaks authentic, even if they don’t condone all that he says (or tweets).
Many worry that Democrats have a fixation on social justice and big government. They worry that this system rewards laziness and focuses too much on the evils of the past instead of recognizing the progress that’s been made. Many believe that we would be better off if we did not view each other as black or white but as children of God and fellow citizens of the greatest nation on earth.
Most conservatives I know who support Mr. Trump are not sycophants, they see and acknowledge his many personal flaws, but feel more comfortable with him than the Democrats.
Many have no illusions that the Republican party has their best interest at heart. This phrase:“I know the Republicans won’t do anything for me, but I am afraid the Democrats will do something to me.” is something I think resonates with many of my conservative friends. I am sympathetic to many of these views.
Like others, I’m exhausted by the political tribalism we see. It feels like partisan politics has permeated every aspect of our life. What once was something discussed occasionally seems to now be all-encompassing. The fatigue of politics is real and it’s mentally and emotionally draining. Even though I try to understand why people support Mr. Trump, I think he is an existential threat to our Republic. I’m not alone in that assessment. More than two dozen prominent Republicans have not only denounced the President but they have also endorsed his opponent along with dozens of senior staff who served the last three GOP presidential nominees. Perhaps most withering is General James Mattis’ warnings about the dangers of the Trump Presidency:
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
I believe we need two strong political parties. I believe we need competing ideas in the marketplace of democracy. I reject the over simplistic caricatures of either party. Political parties give us a mechanism to articulate, debate and put policy into practice, thus proving or refuting our ideas of good governance. The conflict of ideas can lead to statesmanship if conflicting ideas are tempered by shared values. If political parties become about winning and not about ideas we do not engage in healthy democratic debate but instead descend into tribalistic ruin.
So to my fellow liberals, I implore you to do all you can to find common ground with those you disagree with. Mr. Trump no doubt lacks the capacity, judgment and moral character for one who holds such high office, yet here he is, and tens of millions of people voted for him. Spoiler alert: they are all not ignorant, redneck, racist boobs. They have real reasons and real concerns for the country. Many are convinced the negative attention drawn to Mr. Trump is no more than sour grapes by the left for a lost election. Don’t prove them right. If you’re spending more time reading NYT opinion pieces and watching Rachel Maddow than getting to know Trump voters—check your tribalism. Spend some time getting to know why people voted for him. You don’t have to agree with them but you should at least be able to understand where they are coming from.
To my conservative friends: If you think Bill Clinton should have been impeached for lying under oath about an affair, but Mr. Trump has been framed by a partisan witch hunt—check your tribalism. If you dismiss Mr. Trump’s poor leadership, relationship with honesty, racism, corruption and moral character—check your tribalism. Admitting Mr. Trump lacks moral character and leadership doesn’t mean you have to embrace liberalism. Now is the time for your party to own this. The party of Lincoln is being eroded by this presidency, and the future of the Republic is at stake. If you can’t see that, you may be blinded by partisanship.
We can’t let parties divide our attention from the shared core beliefs that this Republic was built on. These are solid ideals that are worth defending. We are better united than divided. We should not agree on everything but we should work together with the same end in mind—that together we can and should “form a more perfect union.”
“Joe Biden is a lecherous, bumbling, basement dwelling loser who hasn’t accomplished anything over the last 50 years!” Welcome to election 2020! Let the multi-million dollar smear campaign begin. Of course, none of those characterizations of Mr. Biden is fair or true. This, sadly, is the state of politics in America. Instead of a campaign about ideas we are engaged in a frenzied food fight of ad hominem attacks, hasty generalizations and insults. This is not new. The Jefferson vs. Adams campaign was brutal as this pithy youtube clip demonstrates. Our hope is that we learn from the past, not repeat it.
I’m sympathetic to how easy it is to assassinate character. It requires hard work to be informed and cognitive dissonance to navigate the complexity of our time. The easier path weakens the republic, absolves us of our responsibilities, and perpetuates hyper-partisanship. The truth is most politicians are regular people. People who had the audacity to believe that democracy isn’t a spectator sport. We see the most character assaults at the presidential level because it has the highest stakes and the most visibility.
I’ve followed every presidential race since 1992. In 28 years, there have been two candidates who I actually thought had bad motives: Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. It was clear to me that even though the impeachment of President Clinton was motivated by political opportunism not love of country, his conduct and the cover up were unacceptable. I thought he should have resigned. I was grateful for those in his own party who had the courage and patriotism to condemn his behavior. Likewise, I am proud of Republicans who have decried Mr. Trump. I have written often about Mr. Trump. His motives are very clear and show, time and time again, he is not to be trusted and is a threat to the republic.
I have learned over the years that elections are more like public transportation than weddings. We are not committing ourselves to a soulmate. We are looking for someone who can get us as closer to our destination. So what’s this got to do with Joe Biden? Everything! The contrast between him and his opponent is stark–not just subtle differences in policy but wide chasms of moral character. Yes, I basically share Mr. Biden’s political worldview. More importantly, I believe he has the moral fortitude to help steady the ship of state that has been so badly beaten by the storms of egotism, nationalism, fear and self interest–the guiding stars of the current occupant of the White House. Joe Biden’s years of public service, and faith in God, country and his fellow citizens are even more important than his policy platforms. The truth about Joe Biden is that this election will be more about us than him. A test to see if we have the courage to choose hope over fear and patriotism over polarizing disfunction. I’m not just voting for Joe Biden (which I am proud to do). I’m voting for the future of a republic worth fighting for.
I have little patience for armchair quarterbacking. Being a critic is cheap. A crisis like we are seeing with COVID-19 will test all of our leadership skills. Looking for blame will do little to help the situation. Donald Trump and other government leaders are not responsible for this virus. I think we all have to be patient as we work to manage this crisis. No matter how much planning and preparation we do there will always be missteps, miscalculations and mistakes.
One of the hallmarks of leadership is how one responds under pressure and how one owns the problem. During World War II, President Harry Truman kept a sign in the Oval Office that read “The Buck Stops Here.” Good leaders don’t blame others for problems, they go to work to find solutions. A companion principle is accountability. Leaders are eager to know how and what went wrong so they can fix it. The coronavirus is an unparalleled crisis in our time. It has required unprecedented leadership.
Mr. Trump has provided unprecedented leadership, but, sadly, it has been unprecedentedly poor leadership. He not only refuses to take any responsibility for the handling of the crisis, he looks for every opportunity to blame others. Instead of “the Buck Stops Here,” we see a passing of the buck. Blaming and abusing the media, gaslighting the World Health Organization, as well as projecting his own failures on governors and others. He has refused to acknowledge where mistakes have been made and shows a disdain for facts. His press events are more like campaign rallies, filled with lies and scapegoating. His dismissal of the crisis early on, and the lack of tests, health care equipment etc., could be chalked up to understandable mismanagement, if it wasn’t for the constant lies, blaming and shaming (for a thorough time line of Mr. Trumps reactions to the virus check out this three partseries from Steven Harper).
Some of you will read this and think I am making a partisan attack. However, a crisis like this cuts through party lines. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in liberal Massachusetts, has had wide bipartisan support during the crisis. So has Andy Beshear, a Democrat in deep red Kentucky, and Larry Hogan, a Republican in liberal Maryland. All of these governors have approval ratings in the 70s or 80s. Republican Governor Herbert of Utah, and Governor DeWine of Ohio have received national bipartisan praise, as have Democratic Governors Cuomo and Newsom of New York and California. Why? Because they have exhibited the kind of leadership that we need in a moment of crisis.
No doubt there will be a congressional panel that it will look into the national mismanagement of this crisis. Historians and other academics will expose in great detail why our response was so inferior compared to places like Germany, Iceland, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. We will not need to wait for those reports to confirm what we see everyday coming from the White House: a void of leadership looking to absolve itself of any responsibility or accountability for this crisis.
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!