I recently returned to everyday life from a week-long solo excursion into the the beautiful desert of Utah. It has long been a dream to visit Zion National Park. Its remoteness brought closeness with God and self. Its silence spoke loudly to my soul. Its stillness brought forth peace to my being.
Perhaps one of the more rewarding aspects was the ability to be disconnected from the wild and tumultuous socio-political climate which permeates our airwaves. Outside of the occasional, brief moments of cell reception I had (which were mostly to fulfill a promise to my mom that I send proof that I was alive each day), I became totally abstracted from the political noise.
I did, however, do much reflection regarding the past year or so. Political discussions have never exactly been peaceful. Yet in the last year things have gotten dirty and mean-spirited. Admittedly, I am a culprit to this pattern. I can call for more edifying discourse, call to respect amongst disagreement. Yet I so easily fall prey to the temptation to join in the cluttered yelling.
It does not take much reflection to recognize that the political rhetoric of current is destructive. It breaks communities. At its worse, it causes harm to individuals, specifically the marginalized. Further reflection, indeed deeper reflection – at least for me – was required to identify why political engagement was impacting me so greatly. Buying into the dualistic thinking that plagued our election, I found myself viewing others who I respected as enemies. If they were not with me side, they were “in sin”. The hasty nature in which Christians on both sides of the political spectrum connected political affiliation to moral “truths” was shocking. It is of no wonder animosity has run high. The opportunity to listen has disappeared.
It was in the middle of the Utah desert that I realized that in politics there is no forgiveness. The elected officials, or desired elected officials, offer no such accountability to wrongdoing. They blame. They spin. They play the counterfactual “well if so-and-so did this, then…”. The example set from the stage is more divisionary, dualistic thinking that further establishes us in the partisan divide.
With this standard in place, it is much easier for us to get caught up in the yelling. Unwilling to accept the fact that we cannot easily change the perspective of our political “other”, we double down in the attempt to be right. Yet the pursuit of being “right” has resulted in many of us being in the wrong. Maybe the best way forward is to hit the reset and simply say “I’m sorry.” I know I have a lot of that to do.
Admittedly this all sounds a bit soft when there are existential threats to our democracy, including in our White House. None of this excuses or provides justification for the increasing evidence that there has been wrongdoing, on personal and political fronts, by our president and members of his administration. The wrongdoing must continue to be exposed and we must begin holding our officials more accountable for their actions. And it’s entirely acceptable to be angry, to be afraid, and to fight against injustice. But we simply cannot do that until we come to grips with the fact that we are all in this mess together, and we together have made it messy. Democracy used to be evidence that we can all live and respect each other despite disagreements. Pursuing the good was a matter of character rather than belief. Yet democracy has also exposed our worst in recent years. Maybe its time we re-humanize and start from the ground up. As the wise philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Love is the ground; love is the building; love builds up. To build up is to build up love, and it is love which builds up.” So let’s build.