God does not follow political party platforms. Neither does truth. In the current state of American politics, both sides of the aisles — Democrats representing the Progressive or Liberal point of view, and Republicans representing the Conservative point of view — believe they are right, true, good, and have the best interest of the nation in mind.
Each side is so convinced in their party platform, they will lie, bully, and push their agendas for the sake of their parties’ ends as Ari Shapiro, of NPR, recently reported in July. And if we believe bending the truth and framing an opponents view in bad light is not lying, then what exactly is it?
Since when in history have we considered civil discourse and good living and community flourishing to involve spinning one another’s words so as to deceive the voter into our point of view? I thought lying was for those who didn’t want to be found out, who didn’t want the curtain pulled back to be revealed that they were frauds, as the Wizard of Oz taught us?
Today, religious conversation is more often met with respect and tolerance than our political conversation. Can you imagine a TV ad mocking and twisting the words of Jesus, Muhammed, or the Buddha to persuade a few adherents to another religion? These matters are important enough that they need fair representation. Maybe we need a new “CoExist” bumper sticker that includes a Donkey, an Elephant, some Tea Bags, one of the OWS logos, an “LP,” and a globe enveloped in leaves.
Shouting “intolerance” won’t calm this storm. But it would sound refreshing. We’re sensitive to racism, sexism, and exclusivity of Christmas (“happy holidays!”) but we’ve failed to grow sensitive in our political discourse. Being “my brother’s keeper” means helping neighbors in poverty and then flinging verbal poo at the neighbors who are not.
Peggy Noonan has remarked more than once that the reason we have a disdain for politicians in general is that we hear all their faults and invented faults in a heated countdown toward election that we cannot help but be suspicious of them when they are elected. Memories of loud nasty words and fact-twisting do not vanish once the election is over.
These political parties were not always polarized. In April, David Gergen at CNN pointed out that Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 thought the parties were not polarized enough and advocated to see party lines drawn and ideologies set. Fourteen years later, in 1950, this report was published by the American Political Science Association,
Historical and other factors have caused the American two party system to operate as two loose associations with state and local organizations, with very little national machinery and very little national cohesion. As a result, either major party, when in power, is ill-equipped to organize its members in the legislative and the executive branches into a government held together and guided by the party program.¹
Today’s political landscape reveals this approach failed. It overlooks the public consciousness that we are to be held together and guided by the people, the electorate, the local communities that put our representatives in power. To be guided by a political party seems to miss the point, for parties have no citizenship nor voting rights. These parties are not just driven by ideology but by massive sums of money and power. On the airwaves, you’d think the battle is between Corporations and Government. Maybe that’s a smokescreen our parties want us to think. Maybe we’re being guided by parties more than anything else. They have become our larger identity as we demonize those different from us. To be guided by a political party that has chosen a certain ideology, as both the Democrats and Republicans have done, gives no freedom of thought, little conviction, and hardly true representation. We no longer vote for unique representatives but donkeys and elephants.
And this brings me back to the beginning. God and truth are not concerned about the platforms of political parties. God cares about humans knowing him, loving one another, and wisely seeking long-term human flourishing together. Truth cares that humans find it a friend. At times, truth will overlap a liberal point of view, pointing us to clarity and blind-spots in our prejudices and traditions. At times, truth will overlap conservatives, reminding us that some fences should not be moved in the name of being “so 21st-century.” We are still humans after all and time, trends, and technology cannot change that.
As the election draws near, let’s seek kindness in our political conversations and not shy away from them. Let’s consider political ads as unworthy of our serious attention and a waste of time and resources. And let’s avoid the temptation to fear-monger and fact-twist to make our beliefs heard. Let’s be better than our leaders. By living more appropriately human in our communities, maybe we can eventually find courage to elect representative more concerned with truth than party lines who will take a new culture with them back to Washington. We are a team: one nation, undivided. If we refuse to unite under that banner, we should expect the same refusal from our leaders too.
¹ from the forward of “Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System: A Report of the Committee on Political Parties” (1950). APSR, Vol. 44, No. 3, Part 2,Supplement.
Image credits: talkingpointsmemo.com,