I’ve been in the news and on Twitter obsessively for a couple of days now. The Mueller letter to Barr was published by the New York Times and the Washington Post and since then, I have been able to think about little else but the danger my country is in. Right now my hands are white from a Raynauds attack that I suspect is only partly due to the cooler weather today. I feel like some weird radio that picks up the frequency of disaster and then I have to write about it.
After reading numerous reports and watching many cable news programs, I have processed a few thoughts.
The ship of state has been sailing along for the past hundred years or so with few problems within. The Civil War was over, the only wars we fought in were far from our mainland. We had economic problems, and world wars, and the cold war, along with several world peace/stability proxy wars like Korea and Vietnam, but for the most part, we have been prosperous and safe. As we have charted our course through the calm waters, we have become more and more secular, more and more urban, more and more disconnected from the Earth, more and more dependent on one another and less dependent upon God. The result has been the rise of several modern trends.
First, the trend of environmentalism which is, at its heart, the instinctual reaction of people to the danger of mankind disconnected from the Earth. The Earth teaches us the law of the harvest, the law of increasing returns, the value of hard work, and so much more. As large percentages of our populations move to urban centers we loose the roots that bind us to the Earth and in a spiritual sense, to God. Environmentalism is one way moderns have tried to mitigate the damage of this disconnect. Unfortunately, in its more extreme forms, environmentalism becomes orthodoxy, or like a religion, with zealous advocates that insist upon widespread adoption of strict rules and regulations. The movement is largely political and social, and doesn’t recognize the profoundly spiritual needs that fuel the fervor. Because of this secular and social focus, the movement has alienated, ironically, those who are not urbanized city dwellers, but the rural communities who are not a part of urbanization and are therefore immune to the forces that created the movement. They don’t see the need for environmental concern because they are still connected to the soil.
Second, secularization of society as a result of increased diversity. When there is a great deal of religious diversity, the easy and lazy approach to getting along is secularism. We just don’t talk about our differences. We don’t pray in schools, we don’t put religious symbols in our courtrooms or city halls, we keep a wall of separation between church and state. The problem with this approach, as we are seeing, is that religion is the fertilizer in the orchard of public morality. Without the essential rituals and reminders of religion, as a society we drift ever further from the principles of morality which make society possible. The breakdown of norms in the executive branch is clear evidence that the moral fabric of the nation is unraveling. George Washington in his farewell address was right. Religion is an indispensable support to morality in a society. So secularism, while an easy solution to the dilemma of religious diversity, is unsustainable.
If we are to survive, we must become a religious society that is able to tolerate a large diversity of perspectives. This means eschewing divisive orthodoxy, stripping down of false doctrines, and forcing ourselves to see the world from the viewpoint of someone dramatically different. We must make room in our public spaces for all religious expression. We must form a new faith in which we take all the spiritual knowledge of all different faiths and put it in the marketplace of ideas. It is not so different from science. Scientists from all over the globe share ideas and insights and research. Why should it be different spiritually? It is time to cast out fear and orthodoxy and begin experimenting on the word. If we believe our religion to be of value, we should be willing to share it. If we know that we don’t comprehend the eternal nature of God and his complicated relationship with all his children, and anyone with a smidgen of humility should know that- then we should be willing to admit that we could benefit from the study of other faiths.
Third, the creation of the two party system. The two party system has evolved over time as the most efficient way to govern. The parties have created caucuses of factions which must compromise with the whole in order to gain seats and influence in the government. This has resulted in two moderate parties, a government with smooth transitions of power, and a remarkably stable system of norms and institutions that serve the public. There have been other benefits to the two party system. An extremely busy society of specialized individuals can simply choose a party and then be alleviated from the inconvenience of having to study each candidate and issue that comes up for a vote. The parties have come to be trusted by Americans who belong to them. At least as trusted as any group with power. We are a rebellious and suspicious people.
Unfortunately, over time the parties have polarized into two vastly different groups of people who, like the builders of babel, hardly speak the same language anymore. We are divided by race, religion, economic status, age, and even geography. In the information age, we have our own separate media to keep us informed. The parties have found that in our modern age of social media, and a large percentage of apathetic and poorly informed voters, that moderate language and compromising policy is politically unpopular. The rise of Donald Trump has shown that a combative style, a bombastic disregard for social norms, and a flippant exaggeration of facts can get you free publicity which can put you head and shoulders above more qualified candidates in a crowded primary contest.
Don’t think for a moment that opportunists of both parties are not taking note of this trend. Donald Trump, although exceptionally shrewd in some things, is remarkably sloppy. His misdeeds, as chronicled in the biographies I have read as well as the Mueller report, have been clumsy and lacking in sophistication. This inspires sympathy in his supporters, but in those with greater skill at deception and a thirst for power, it shines a spotlight on our vulnerabilities and gives them a roadmap for their own tyrannical plans. If Trump had been a little more careful, he may have succeeded in shutting down the Russia investigation and we would not know what we do now. The shrewd would-be tyrant will learn from his mistakes.
The parties increasingly have no interest in E Pluribus Unum. They don’t want to unite with the other other party to become one nation, all they need is a passionate and energized 15%. Then the other 35% of more moderate party members will go along to get along. The facts aren’t as important as the passion that gives a shared sense of identity and purpose. The party is your family, your tribe, your identity. I didn’t realize how important my identity as a conservative and a Republican was to me until I lost it. I feel as though I have been banished. I have no country living in a country where party is all that matters.
And so we have two parties that have two diametrically opposed narratives that are ironically the mirror image of one another. The first is the traditional one. This one is supported by the institutions of federal law enforcement, the traditional news media, and most Americans who have not completely lost faith in our system. This narrative is that a dark horse candidate, Donald Trump, rose above the primary contenders in 2015 to snatch a major party nomination in spite of having no qualifications or experience in public office. That hostile foreign players, primarily Russia, actively supported his candidacy and enabled its rise. That the Trump campaign had several suspicious contacts with Russian nationals that aroused the suspicion and concern of federal law enforcement which then opened a counter-intelligence investigation into the campaign. After Donald Trump was elected President and sworn into office, he believed that he could stop the investigation which he feared would be problematic for his Presidency. He took bold measures to stop the investigation including firing James Comey who showed an unwillingness to be sufficiently “loyal” to him. This resulted in the appointment of a special counsel. Trump continued to fight against the investigation both publicly and privately, resulting in many legal professionals concluding that he may be guilty of obstruction of justice. Trump appointed an attorney general who he believed would be loyal to him and he has shown that he is willing to lie to congress, withhold parts of the special counsels report from public view while giving favorable impressions about the findings of the investigation, and entertain the most bizarre conspiracy theories the President likes to tweet about.
The other narrative is that during the Obama administration, the justice department was corrupted, and that James Comey and other top FBI officials conspired to bring down the Trump candidacy. These individuals used a deceptive FISA warrant to “spy on” members of the Trump campaign. In spite of their efforts, Trump was elected (because he was the best candidate ever, and could outsmart and beat these nefarious players). Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are apparently the masterminds behind this whole sordid conspiracy to undermine his Presidency. They are the leaders of the “deep state” which is catch-all phrase that defines anyone not gullible enough to see through this narrative. “This was an attempted coup!” Trump insists.
Apologies to anyone who might be offended by my comical take on this. This narrative doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny because it isn’t meant to convince anyone, it is meant to sow reasonable doubt. This is a big show trial, and all Mr. Trump needs to do is sow enough reasonable doubt for him to be acquitted by his large jury. He is betting that people will get cynical and say things like, “All the politicians get help from foreign nations,” or “They are just doing all this because they don’t like him,” or “If a Democrat had done this, it would be no big deal,” or “the mainstream media just hates all conservatives.” If he can get us to say these things, then he and Russia have succeeded in their misinformation campaign. Trump will get away with his crimes, and open the door to future corruption and norm breaking. Before long, we do have a corrupt justice department and a deep state conspiring to destroy the campaigns of their opponents, and succeeding. The very lies we were told become the reality we feared.
That leads me to the final societal trend, which is cynicism. The cynic believes he has no voice, no control, no impact on the world. He doesn’t seek to make society better, because he believes in nothing, least of all his own power or vision. He looks down on those who allow themselves to become emotionally involved in what he sees as beneath him. The scriptures refer to this modern person as one whose heart has turned hard. This individual is able to see the children sleeping under foil blankets at the border and shrug. This individual looks at the possibility of an impeachment of the President as a distraction from healthcare. This person believes that racial, religious, and economic differences are insurmountable, and its everyone for themselves. This person sees moral standards as impediments to power. This person looks at those who fight against incredible obstacles in foreign lands to secure the blessings of freedom that the cynic has enjoyed since birth, and they say, “We don’t need to help you. We have our own problems.” This person is wholly unfit to live in a free society and a free society can only handle so many of these people who act as dead weight dragging everyone down.
The opposite of the cynic is the visionary. The visionary is a person who can look at dark and dangerous times as times for change and opportunities for growth. I love that cable news networks are talking about the constitution and the founders again. I love that we are talking about the importance of truth and accuracy. I love that Democratic congressmen and congresswomen are fierce about taking back their role as overseers of the executive branch. Abraham Lincoln was a visionary. He saw all Americans as valuable, even the ones who hated him and fought against him. He was, at heart, more prone to persuasion than to force. It is what made him a great leader. I love his Gettysburg address. It applies so well to these times, except it’s been a lot more than four score and seven years since our nation was founded. The end seems to shout to me.
Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Our battlefield is not Gettysburg, but our fight is just as real and just as important. We must take the path of the visionary, and see our way through these dark times. We can and we must embrace religion with tolerance and the confidence that we can find common ground as we share what we believe with others. We must resist the urge to put our political party above our country. For Republicans right now, that will be hard to do. Right now, America needs people who can do hard things.
America has always been His country. Satan hates her and rails against her because she is the child of his enemy. God created mankind to live in freedom. The spread of constitutional government and government by the people has changed the world for the better. There is no greater thing than to be an American, to be a part of the spread of freedom across the globe. There is nothing more important for Americans to do right now than to rediscover who we are. The Trump supporters understand that we are a nation in decline, but their remedy threatens to destroy everything that ever made her great in the first place. There is a better way. Trump is not the leader of America. He is a usurper. We have but one King, and he is Mighty to Save. He is also always ready to forgive those who confess their sins before Him. It is not to late.
America the Beautiful
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!