The Challenge Now

President Obama has been re-elected.

Despite what some may say, the challenge ahead of us all is not to avoid being rounded up by presidential stormtroopers, to rescue the Constitution from being torn to shreds, or to find a place to hide and wait out the apocalypse.

The challenge is whether we can find a way – as the vast majority – to marginalize those voices of extremism, rancor, and hatred on both sides of the main political divides.

The big challenge is to elevate being human, being kind, being considerate, and all such other basic and essential things to a status where they matter more to us than our status as a registered this or that.

I'm excited at the prospect of another four years of Obama as president. Some people are disappointed. But even if Romney had been elected, I had this image of him searching the Oval Office in vain for the buttons that control gas prices, employment, and the economy.

A president and other elected officials can help – and most of them genuinely want to help their constituents, if only because it means an increased likelihood of re-election. But lots of aspects of everyday life depend not on who is in office but how we treat others. And my fear is that, in our efforts to get our preferred candidate elected, we use our words and actions to do such harm to others that we make it hard to work together to actually become the change and create the change we want to see in the world.

Now that the political ads have stopped for a while, can we begin a movement to change the culture of political rhetoric in this country? Not that politicians will stop trying to paint their opponents as evil and insane in order to make themselves look preferable. Expecting that to change is probably unrealistic.

So what can you do as a voting individual? You can stop accepting the rhetoric at face value, stop believing that the other party consists of anything other than human beings who are more like you than unlike you.

As I said once not long ago about being Christian, I say now about being Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or anything else: Let's be human first.

This is not to say that we will not confront genuine differences and even hostility. Nor is it to say that who is elected or what legislation is passed doesn't matter. The point is precisely that, in a time when a lot of social change is taking place which many of us view as positive, the more we can avoid giving those who are troubled by such change the opportunity to view themselves as under attack by forces of darkness, the more likely it will be that we can change attitudes and not merely laws.

 

  • Straw Man

    “The big challenge is to elevate being human, being kind, being
    considerate, and all such other basic and essential things to a status
    where they matter more to us than our status as a registered this or
    that.”

    Agreed! I try to do that in my life; I don’t think in terms of doing that in the political arena. It can’t be done in the political arena, in this country in this era, because decency is as unthinkable in it, as the abolition of slavery was in the Confederacy or not abandoning colonialism was in 17th century England. The premise that the president is lord of life and death–i.e., that he has the power to decree death for anyone he considers an “enemy combatant,” without due process or judicial review–is now firmly entrenched, as is the premise that the president decides when to make war, being the commander in chief of the country, etc., etc..

    This age presents voting Christians with a “choice” between a man who kills with a word, and a man who promises to do the same, albeit perhaps more vigorously. It’s as if we’re given the choice to crucify Christ and pardon the thief on the right, or crucify Christ and pardon the thief on the left. Voting to pardon Christ and let the two thieves suffer their fitting punishment would be “throwing away your vote.”

    If we “let the dead bury their dead,” and let the vile politicians go be vile without us, we have a real opportunity to be Christ in our personal lives and to the circle of people we contact directly.

    • Claude

      If we “let the dead bury their dead,” and let the vile politicians go be vile without us, we have a real opportunity to be Christ in our personal lives and to the circle of people we contact directly.

      Righteous idea. Because elections don’t have consequences. Because going to war just happens. Because the best shot at curtailing the imperial presidency is to withdraw from politics.

      I agree with you about the various Bush-Obama national security measures that have enabled a disturbing expansion of executive power. Although it would be difficult to mount enough of a popular challenge to reverse these measures (just ask Glenn Greenwald), it’s not impossible. Imitation of Christ, however, is not going to get the job done.

      • Straw Man

        “Righteous idea. Because elections don’t have consequences. Because going to war just happens. Because the best shot at curtailing the imperial
        presidency is to withdraw from politics.”

        You appear to operate under the illusion that there’s anything you can do. Your choices are emperor or emperor. You’ve been given two carbon copies to choose between, to give you the illusion of choice. That’s it.

        • Claude

          Spare me the shopworn rhetoric. It’s all the more obnoxious for the masquerade of virtue.

          Would 911 have happened on Al Gore’s watch? Would Al Gore have invaded Iraq? We’ll never know, because Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum.

          • Straw Man

            There’s no rhetoric about it: you can place Romney and Obama’s policies side-by-side and observe that in no significant particular do they differ. You have a choice between one or the other. Whichever you pick, you’re going to get virtually identical policies on virtually every front. There is no option C.

            For example, you can pick the man who kills women and children with drones, and defines any male “of military age” in the blast zone as a “combatant” for purposes of counting non-combatant deaths… or you can pick the other man, who will do the same thing. You can pick the man who fathered the doctrine that the President can order anyone killed, anywhere, without a trial–or you can pick the man who will eagerly embrace and use that same power. You can pick the man who fathered Obamacare, or you can pick the man who fathered Romneycare. You can pick the man who wants to ban guns, or the man who did ban guns in Massachusetts. And so on.

            There were voices, like Ron Paul’s against all of this, but they were silenced. The Republicans’ flouting of their own rules to prevent even a glimmer of a chance that Paul might be nominated, speaks to how thoroughly the discourse is restricted.

            • Claude

              Whichever you pick, you’re going to get virtually identical policies on virtually every front.

              Wait a minute, a Republican administration would NOT have bailed out the auto companies, supported the Lily Ledbetter Act, enacted health care reform, enacted finance industry reform, expanded the Pell grant program, streamlined the student loan program, ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, extended unemployment benefits, etc., etc. Or does domestic policy not count?

              Yes, I know the sordid details of the drone war, to the extent that details on a covert CIA program can be known to the public, which is to say: not much. Statistics from the Obama administration are unreliable, but so are statistics from watchdog and research organizations. You’ve sent your check to the ACLU to support their suit against the Obama administration for greater transparency on the drone program, right?

              Ron Paul was “silenced”? Every time I turned on a Republican debate (often), there was Ron Paul inveighing against imperial warfare.

  • Susan Burns

    I cannot stand to hear the terrible things said about President Obama. He is obviously a man of sterling character and thoughtful intellect. He withstands all of the insults thrown at him without rancor or need for retribution. His genuine concern for every single American is an inspiration. My heart is filled to bursting with optimism and thankfulness. For such a man to be on earth at this crucial point in history is truly a blessing. Maybe there is a god after all.

  • angievandemerwe

    The political class has become entrenched. And entrenchment means power without too much accountability to most of us, because it takes “moula” to get elected. And “moula” is speech”….I find that national security issues are useful to create an atmosphere of fear to gain more power to control, while the real issues of security (like Benghazi) and cuts to the military go unaddressed! The military can be the “fall guys” for not protecting our citizens abroad, because there is some “greater end”? Well, SOMEONE is benefiting from such policy decisions and it isn’t Israelis or Americans. Such policy attempts to rectify nature, to bring about equality, while forgetting how nature really works. The result is reactions and resentments from every side! Such have been our cultural climate before and up to the election!

  • Jeff

    James, your call for civility is well-intentioned, but in your own post you demonstrate why it won’t be successful. You say “The challenge is whether we can find a way … to marginalize those voices of extremism, rancor, and hatred on both sides of the main political divides.”
    The problem is that a fairly significant portion of those who share your political views appear to view anything even slightly right-of-center as “extremist”. I mean, some people think *Romney* was an extreme conservative, for heaven’s sake! Because your post grants permission to marginalize “extreme” voices, and you give carte blanche to people to define for themselves what extremism means, the plea for civility will continue to be ignored, because one is under no obligation to be civil to an extremist. And you’ll continue to see the sort of comments that populate these progressive and liberal blogs here at Patheos — conservatives are bigots, homophobes, racists, evil, uncaring, soulless, greedy, stupid, and every other terrible thing. (and I predict that I’ll get responses to this comment saying that those characterizations are 100% accurate!)
    If you and others like you are serious in your calls to civility, you would do well to first shout down the *allegations* of extremism that flow from your side of the aisle.

    • Claude

      I mean, some people think *Romney* was an extreme conservative, for heaven’s sake!

      Romney called himself an “extreme conservative.”

      • Jeff

        What he actually said was “I fought against long odds in a deep-blue state. But I was a severely conservative Republican governor.” Neither Romney, nor anyone else on the right, would characterize Romney as an “extremist” conservative. That you choose to see him as one is just confirmation of my contention that James’ call for civility won’t ultimately go anywhere. The problem isn’t with “extremism”, it’s with people who see “extremism” everywhere on the other side.

        • Claude

          You are right. I meant to to write “severely” to stress the irony of Romney pitching himself as an extreme right winger when addressing the extreme right wing. My bad. After all, David Frum and David Brooks assured us that all the deception and flip-flopping was just a ruse to get past the rubes in the GOP and that after Romney was president the true moderate Mitt would be revealed.

          So, I didn’t characterize Romney one way or the other. Had Romney not been compelled to morph into a parody candidate to get past the primary, he might well be president-elect today. The GOP coalition is fractured; it must adapt or die. I have already read conservatives (in comment threads) say they are willing to surrender in the culture war. Good-bye, fundies.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      As with homophobia and racism, the key to not merely knowing but believing that not all conservatives or Republicans are extremists is to actually know some Republicans and conservatives. Of course, there will always be those who tar any opposing viewpoint as extremism, and those who consider their hate speech to not be in the least bit extreme. So it is a bit like the notion of agreeing to disagree when it comes to non-essentials. Most will accept the principle, but then comes the question of whether we can agree on what the essentials and non-essentials are.


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