“An alarmingly large segment of our society simply has no access to wisdom. In the absence of genuine wisdom, the job of the leader is to provide that wisdom for the people, not to stoke and exploit their ignorance. Sadly that’s not where we are right now. We are going to continue to disintegrate as a society without wise leadership.”
As I scan Twitter and the blogs this 4th of July, I see two things: the cynicism of strident progressive Christians saying we need to jettison our nationalistic idolatry and stop with the 4th of July deification of America, and the sentimentality of blind patriotism that is unable to tell the truth about the American story past and present.
I don’t want to be cynical or sentimental. I want to be hopeful about America, and the prospects of democracy in my lifetime.
In Praise of Democracy
I love democracy, mostly because I don’t trust power. Held in the hands of any one person or party for too long power will corrupt even the best of us.
I love democracy because I don’t want to be ruled by a tyrant. I want smart, tough, well educated, kind, and generous people from all across the ideological spectrum to work together to ensure that we live in a good and just society.
I love democracy because I value government, and I think democracy is its best form.
But it’s time to tell the truth. We have lost the thread of democracy. Not only among our leaders, but among we the people.
We have lost the thread of democracy because we are no longer a well informed electorate. Either we are checked out—stupefied by inane entertainment and porn—or we are held captive to the propaganda of Fox News and the right-wing extremists.
We have lost the thread of democracy because we are trapped in a cycle of malignant tribalism, fueled by racism and resentment. We think the goal is for our side to win, not for both sides to compromise. We’re sacrificing democracy for a party win.
We have lost the thread of democracy because we have turned against each other, and have begun to scapegoat minorities and the poor. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt state the problem well in their book, How Democracies Die:
“The fundamental problem facing American democracy remains extreme partisan division—one fueled not just by policy differences but by deeper sources of resentment, including racial and religious differences. America’s great polarization preceded the Trump presidency, and it is very likely to endure beyond it.”
For Want of a Wise Leader
An alarmingly large segment of our society simply has no access to wisdom. In the absence of genuine wisdom, the job of the leader is to provide that wisdom for the people, not to stoke and exploit their ignorance. Sadly that’s not where we are right now. We are going to continue to disintegrate as a society without wise leadership.
Jesus taught that human communities can only flourish when their members seek the common good of everyone above their own selfish interests. Paul said it simply: be subject to one another. Sadly, this does not describe what we have become.
For Democracy to Survive
If democracy is to survive, then you, dear reader, have got to do your part. You’ve got to get outside your tribe. You’ve got to be willing to die to yourself a little bit, so that the most vulnerable among us can live. You’ve got to read more widely and be informed. You’ve got to turn off Sean Hannity, read a newspaper, and begin to recognize your own blind spots. You’ve got to get outside your comfort zone and get to know people who are not like you.
If democracy is to survive into the next generation, we are going to have to change and grow. We must refuse blind allegiance to political parties and let go of conservative or liberal ideology–broadening our minds to a wider perspective. In order to be all we can be we need both liberals (liberators) and conservatives (conservers) compromising, doing a little give and take to make things work.
If democracy is to survive, you’ve got to want it enough to let your side lose when they deserve to lose. For any relationship to work, each side has to be willing to lose from time to time.
I’ve been a life-long republican. I’m naturally conservative. But even I can see that, across the board, republicans need to lose and lose big. Republicans have lost their integrity, and are backing a foolish president. Once the democrats are in power we can (and must) turn against them as well, holding them accountable to do the right thing. But for now, the republicans are the problem, and they need to lose.
If democracy is to survive we are going to have to change our voting patterns, and only elect politicians who show a willingness to compromise and work together with the other party. And baby-boomers? Seriously man… you guys have got to stop watching Fox News and delete your Facebook accounts.
As far as our racial division goes, I think Levitsky and Ziblatt plot the way forward.:
“To save our democracy, Americans need to restore the basic norms that once protected it. But we must do more than that. We must extend those norms through the whole of a diverse society. We must make them truly inclusive. America’s democratic norms, at their core, have always been sound. But for much of our history, they were accompanied—indeed, sustained—by racial exclusion. Now those norms must be made to work in an age of racial equality and unprecedented ethnic diversity. Few societies in history have managed to be both multiracial and genuinely democratic. That is our challenge. It is also our opportunity.”
Democracy isn’t easy. You’ve got to want it. You’ve got to work for it. Cynicism and sentimentality cannot sustain us. We have to find a way to hope—in each other and in the idea that if we will subjugate our self-interest to the common good, then God will have our backs. The best version of patriotism, the truest version, is self-sacrifice.
So, I hope you’ll think carefully about what I’ve written here, and trust that it comes from a place of love.