The Peripatetic Preacher Hardheaded Hope

The Peripatetic Preacher Hardheaded Hope November 9, 2020
Official portrait of Vice President Joe Biden

At long last, and after much anguish and fear, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the newly named President and Vice-President elect. For those of us who voted for them, it is a time of genuine pleasure and nearly unrestrained joy. Last Saturday, when the race was called by all major news outlets—including Fox—I was reminded of my feelings in 2008 when Barak Obama became the first African-American president. With that election, many imagined that America’s long nightmare of racial division had finally come to an end, that millions of white voters had chosen a black man as their candidate. A mere eight years later, a bigoted, narcissistic, misogynist, and barely in the closet racist, Donald Trump, was elected president, and the hopes of an end to all manner of national divisions came crashing down. And now, after four years of lies and chaos, of anti-science with regard to the pandemic and climate change especially, and a rejection of all expected norms of governance, the country has elected a man of genuine decency and high moral character, a man that even the rock-ribbed Trump sycophant, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has called “the most decent man I have ever met.”

As a result of this election, I am hopeful that some of the depredations of the Trump years may be overcome. I expect a President Biden to overturn, and to overturn and repair very quickly, many of the Trumpian assaults on climate, health care access, international partnerships with our traditional friends, and the astonishing love fests with our traditional adversaries. In all those ways, among many others, I expect a sharp turn toward a kind of normalcy, a time when every day will not be filled with angry twitter bursts, and raging fury against the media and all those who happen to think differently than the titular leader of the free world.

It is hardly surprising that the small-minded and supremely arrogant current president has not yet admitted his election loss. What else can one expect from a man of grade-school maturity, who imagines those who lose at anything to be less than virile, not finally a man at all. To be a loser is to be at the bottom of Donald Trump’s pantheon of greatness, a place that includes persons like Senator John McCain, Senators Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney and Kamala Harris (a “monster” in the dignified words of Trump), and any number of uncounted dead soldiers, who are, in the crude language of Mr. Trump, “losers and suckers.” Joe Biden also has been consigned to that ignominious crew, so of course Trump can never admit to having lost to Joe Biden; that would mean that he, Donald Trump, has been bested by one who is beneath his contempt, “Sleepy Joe” who can never defeat the incomparable Trump, because he simply cannot do so. Hence, a small army of attorneys today, Nov.9, are fanning out around the country to file lawsuits against election fraud, voting malfeasance that Trump imagines has cost him his rightful victory. The only problem is that there is no reasonable proof that any such massive fraud has occurred. Such a belief resides primarily in the tiny mind of Mr. Trump, simply because he cannot ever be seen as a loser in any way. For a man like Donald Trump, to lose is to disappear from the ranks of the great, and that he cannot allow. Still, in the next few days or at most weeks, he will need to accept his loss in this election, though one can bet that he will go to his grave imagining that his reelection was stolen from him by cheating Democrats and insufficiently sycophantic Republicans and Independents.

In many previous essays of mine I have demonstrated what I have thought of Donald Trump as president, and I am supremely glad that he and his various minions who have demeaned and desecrated our democracy will no longer hold the levers of power, and I look forward to Joe Biden’s selection of real grown-ups to run things for the next four years. Nevertheless, this essay is written to warn those of us who voted for Biden/Harris not to expect miracles from them, not to raise our hopes too high for significant and lasting progress on the huge problems that pre-dated the Trump presidency, along with those problems he and his crew created. We must have what has been called hardheaded hope. This is a hope that looks directly and honestly at those problems, casts a steady gaze on those we have chosen to tackle them, and be prepared to weather our inevitable disappointments when these leaders are not able to fulfill all of our dreams and hopes. I share this warning, because I am an inveterate reader of the ancient Bible.

Among all the books I have read, it is the Bible who over and again calls me back to reality. Far from being a book of “pie-in-the-sky” optimism, a “chicken little” naiveté, the Bible says again and again that human expectations must always be tempered by human frailty, human greed, human lust for power and success. The Bible’s pages offer any number of warnings against unbridled bullish Pollyanaist certainty of human triumph at every turn. Today I will point to just one: King Solomon, son and heir of David.

We often remember Solomon as a very wise king; there is among the books of the Apocrypha one titled “The Wisdom of Solomon,” and though that king himself had nothing to do with that book’s production, it being written many centuries after his death, its very existence indicates the quite specific memory of Solomon as uniquely wise. Did he not, in 1 Kings 3, cleverly and with great wisdom, determine the true mother of a child claimed by two women, by telling them he would cut the baby in two to give half to each woman, forcing the real mother to offer to give the child to the other, thus saving his life while relinquishing her own child? “All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had made; and they were in awe of the king, because they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to act with justice” (1 Kings 3:28).

Wisdom may characterize King Solomon’s memory, but wisdom was not all he should be known for. 1 Kings 11 tells a far different tale about the king. In the course of his near 40-year reign, Solomon married many foreign women. No doubt, many of these marriages were part of Israelite foreign policy actions, binding one nation after another to the nation of Israel. Unfortunately, we are told that many of these weddings led the aging king to allow his wives to worship their own gods in sight of the temple of Jerusalem that Solomon himself had constructed for the strict worship of YHWH. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4), implying that the king himself decided that syncretistic worship of any number of gods was all right, both politically and religiously.

Meanwhile, while the aging king was practicing random worship of foreign deities, there was a boiling unrest in the kingdom. Various anti-Solomon parties began to emerge. First, there was Hadad the Edomite, a survivor of the purges that David and his brutal commander Joab, had practiced in Edom. Hadad had fled to Egypt as Joab “had killed every male in Edom” (1 Kings 11:14-22). After Hadad heard that David had died, he decided to return from Egypt, no doubt with revenge in his heart. He clearly felt that Solomon had begun to lose his grip on power, and that the time might be ripe for Israel to fall. Another Solomonic enemy was Rezon, a refugee from King Hadadezer of Zobah, who gathered a small army around him, moved to Damascus where he was crowned king. “He despised Israel and reigned over Aram” (1 Kings 11:25).

But these external enemies were in the end the least of Solomon’s worries. Solomon, who was born in the royal house of David, son of the courtesan, later wife, of David, Bathsheba, had vast royal pretensions. He, like many kings around Israel, wished to have large harems and splendid temples and palaces. But his building projects necessitated the heavy taxation and forced labor of numerous Israelite citizens. Such kingly actions are designed to cause unrest and anger among those oppressed by the king’s unbridled demands, and soon a building foreman, a man appointed by Solomon himself, fomented a rebellion against the king on behalf of the multitude who had suffered under the arduous demands of Solomon (1 Kings 11:26-40). The furious Solomon soon sought to murder this man, Jereboam, but like Hadad before him, Jereboam fled to Egypt to hide from the fury of the king. At Solomon’s death, Jereboam came back to Israel, rebuilt his aggrieved army, and demanded from Solomon’s son, Reheboam, a lessening of the royal demands on the people. Unfortunately, the arrogant Reheboam, did not listen to the reasonable demands of Jereboam and his army to lighten the royal load. As a result, Jereboam took his army north to found a new state, Israel, which for the next 200 years was separated from the tiny state of Judah. This tragic division was the direct result of the foolishness of Solomon, who in matters political and social showed himself far less than wise.

As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris begin their tasks of leadership, all of us must be prepared for some successes and some failures in their attempts to solve the nation’s enormous problems. It has long been the way of leaders to have both success and failure in their actions, and it has long been the way of their followers to show extreme disappointment when successes are often clouded with those inevitable favors. I remain hopeful about the team of Biden and Harris; their integrity and skill bode well for the future of US America. But my hope, and I suggest yours, should be of the hardheaded kind, ready to applaud success and live through the failure, hoping all the while that the former may outweigh the latter. Our hope must be of this kind, for the Bible tells us so!

(Images from Wikimedia Commons)

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