With Meanwhile, Back in America Peggy Noonan wrote a truly excellent column this week, one so full of grieving truth that only the hackiest of partisan hacks could deny it. Those for whom Noonan has beautifully articulated the here-and-now of their concerns could not help but make note of it, but they couldn’t acknowledge it with an equal measure of beauty. It was more important to them to thank her while mashing a grapefruit in her face, as Sarah Palin — who used to have leadership skills that went beyond throwing red meat — did here:
Great article, Peggy, but where the heck were you when I and other commonsense conservatives were sounding the warning bell in ’08? You joined the “cool kids” in mocking and condescendingly criticizing — ultimately demanding that we “sit down and shut up.” Better late than never, though, Peggy and your ilk, because, meanwhile back in America…
Ugly and bullying. There is no grace in that response, not the tiniest bit of magnanimity in victory. No mercy. If Noonan got Obama wrong, she’ll never be allowed to forget it, because the “cool kids” on the other side of the lunchroom won’t let it be forgotten, haven’t the maturity to say, “we all screw up sometimes; the past is past, let us move forward, today.”
That’s what good leadership does. That’s what love does; it is what Christians are called to do — show a little mercy to the other guy, and leave the spiteful grapefruits for smaller hearts and minds.
Goethe said “Love does not dominate; it cultivates.” We can say precisely the same of leadership, and of debate and persuasion; if it is sane and healthy, it tries to cultivate, not dominate. A garden hewn with care yields a substantial harvest; one stomped upon in fury yields nothing. I wonder if Palin, by indulging in her point-making, realizes that Noonan will very likely find her an unattractive candidate in the future — not because they disagree, but because Palin used a gift to make a field goal and then spike the ball, like a showboater. She chose stomping over seeding. She used to know better.
She used to understand that there is an art to good politics.
Palin’s response, however is representative of what discourse in America has become. From the White House on down, no one on the national stage seems capable of political cultivation, which is why we are a people transitioning away from being led, and becoming a people ruled.
This sense of everyone having their own pair of jackboots (one named “victimhood” and the other “righteousness”) and being all-too-willing to make a march on someone is not exclusive to our political movers and shakers, of course. Ann Althouse notes the feminists getting all over each other, and one need only look at social media to see how profoundly quick we all are to pick up that serrated grapefruit and find a face to smash.
We are too much on auto-hate-mode; we’re not listening to hear, but to react with a jerking-knee; we’re not trying to understand, because we’re too busy making sure people know how passionately we believe what we are sure we know. We are all-mouth-no-ears, so engrossed in our issues and our daily furies that we don’t even see how often we are doing precisely the thing we say we hate.
I’ll give you an example:
Early yesterday, during the most recent MSNBC Carousel of Conservative Caricature, I happily joined in the twitter snark and then got into my work day. At day’s end, I went back to twitter and the first thing I saw was a high-dudgeon case-of-vapors about an actress whose endorsement deal was politically incorrect. I dared to tweet a sigh expressing weariness with these sorts of stupid commercial controversies.
Immediately a very high-up-the-food-chain conservative swiped at me, “Sorry you think that’s what this is about!”
It took a few minutes, but I realized that shortly before my remark, MSNBC had done its ritual “apology and firing” over the earlier flap, which was about a hateful tweet over a Cheerios commercial featuring a bi-racial family. Clearly, this conservative — who had been consumed all day, by the MSNBC story — had assumed my tweet was in response to that.
I understood the error, but nevertheless thought the snottiness was uncalled for, particularly because this person should know me better. So I tweeted a response, looking for clarification — given my tweets 7 hours earlier, was I being charged with insensitivity on the bi-racial thing? If not, how about an acknowledgment that the thwapping was unjust? Not an apology, mind you — our culture is so saturated with apologies that it seems delightfully counter-cultural to not need one — all I wanted was same sort of response I give someone when I have jumped to a hasty conclusion: “ack! Working too fast; read you all wrong” or something along those lines.
I have found that making such a simple acknowledgement usually suffices; it demonstrates that one has stopped for a moment to see and hear the human being before you (even digitally), and that is all most of us want. It is all most of us need to access our own well of mercy, and reply, “ah, no worries; been there, done that.”
It’s a small thing, that exchange, but it is important. It is the difference between retaining a small part of our humanity, or surrendering every bit of it to the idols of our furious and certain ideologies.
This person couldn’t do it, and chose to simply ignore me. And all I could do was marvel at the irony, and lose a bit of respect for someone who could spend an entire day wrapped up in justifiable anger because of an ignorant tweet — organizing responses, demanding clarification and apologies and so forth — but could not recognize that our exchange was the same thing, in micro, and stop for a moment of human grace.
A quick “oops”, however, was more than could be borne. Apparently admitting even small errors has become a sign of weakness, something the “other side” might see and exploit, so we must be always right, and therefore never wrong — never obliged to see or hear those human people around us who do not consistently echo us back to ourselves, and thus become an amorphous “them”, worthy of our blazing hatred.
It is precisely that sort of thinking that leads a woman to pass up a chance to forge a graceful alliance for the satisfaction of a spiteful face-mashing before the eager crowd. It is precisely that sort of thinking that permits a president to forget he was elected to serve the whole citizenry through skillful cultivation of the opposition, and choose, instead, to simply dominate.
All for control of America.
This trend is a soul-spoiler, inhuman and ungodly, and I am increasingly glad to have found an exit away from its constant distraction and illusion.
In a meditation before his bishops, Pope Benedict reminded us that beyond all of our perceptions and passions, “Everything is created so that this story can exist: the encounter between God and his creature.”
If that is so — and it is — then America was created to be a vehicle for this encounter, which is the ultimate reality. America is a great nation, and worth fighting for, but it I’ll be damned, if I give up my soul for it. Nor should anyone else.
And this is no scold, more of a warning, born of my own errors and failures in love.
Fight for America, by all means. Engage, passionately, every day, if you like — observe, critique, organize, and even snark a bit, now and then. But don’t give up your humanity for her, because nations only last for as long as they last, and then they are gone. If, while fighting for this one, you become incapable of seeing the human person before you (who is equally beloved of the creator) you will have gained the world and lost your soul in the process.
Which is precisely what Christ Jesus warned against, and is the devil’s own trick. Every time.
People clearly disagree — and they’re entitled to — but it seems to me that as the feud between “perfect conservatives” and “finky bad conservatives” continues, and everyone is distracted with their grudges and feeling good about it, this is happening all around us. As long as the right continues to fight amongst themselves, they serve Obama’s interests.