“Leave them; they are blind guides.
If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." Matthew 5:14
Recently someone inquired why I have, at times, prefaced affirmation of President Trump with, “Though I’m not a flag-waving Trump supporter….” The presumption may be that I’m patronizing a critical public without sufficient reason. The transparent truth: I have an overarching concern that our current political atmosphere is toxic; our shared humanity is being sliced up by a pendulum swinging back and forth, the uncritical action and reaction between blind Trump followers and blind Trump detractors.
At the outset, let’s not be overly harsh on the blind. They are each of us. From the vantage of heaven, the least of saints looks down at the greatest among us and wonders, “Why does he keep walking into that pole?” On our best days, afforded the greatest illumination possible, we’re still walking in the shadows of heaven. We’re limited by sense, reason and experience. We can only see so much. We don’t know what we don’t know. As such, we ought to have great humility, mercy and civility towards all our brothers and sisters.
Because we’re a people of faith, because we aspire to ever-greater, unquestioned assent to Revelation in Jesus Christ, we run the risk of giving the same assent to muddied, imperfect people, parties and processes. Let’s admit that each of us have allowed ourselves uncritical, unquestioned, unqualified allegiance. The good news: Jesus was sent into this world for such as us. He wants to restore our sight. (Luke 4:18)
Let’s have the audacity to believe that, as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ, we can shed greater light on our present circumstances. Below are some thoughts for your consideration on the purpose and power of politics. I offer them in interests of initiating respectful, candid conversation.
Politics is not about canonization. On this side of things, we’re dealing with very imperfect people and processes. As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Our focus ought not ultimately be on politicians, nor their perfection, but the capacity to attain the greatest good possible.
Uncritical allegiance to politicians and parties, without regard for the objective good, factors into institutionalized evil. For instance, many faith-filled people have been duped by a narrative reducing “election” to “getting what’s [not] yours,” at the expense of all other values. First of all, nowhere in scripture will you find Jesus forcing people to give. He always appealed to hearts. And He affirmed one’s use of their unique gifts. Systems can not love, only people can. With due note of the need for organized society to help those who truly fall through the cracks, as reasonable and able, architects and advocates of an entitlement culture have not only contributed to institutionalized denigration of human life, religious liberty and marriage, the promised entitlement is unsustainable and perpetuates a core-human bankruptcy.
Even for those who might myopically reduce politics to entitlement, or economic betterment, can we not recognize and celebrate indications that what Trump stated in his first State of the Union Address is happening? "We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to Independence, and from poverty to prosperity."
Words and manners matter. While we ought to have the highest regard, and even jubilation, for Trump’s attainment of good, words and manners do matter. They disclose the person. We ought to remain troubled that “locker room talk” and display of hand sizes have made their way to our nation’s defining stage. We ought to be choosing leaders who help us to form teens into virtuous adults, not epitomize adults who act like teens. The health of a democracy, in large part, depends upon virtue formation.
Vice is adverse to success. It’s true that current legislative constipation is largely the result of establishment forces coalesced against Trump. But let’s not let anti-establishment ferver distract us from the Elephant in the Room: Trump was elected to an establishment, to lead an establishment, to accomplish goods that are established, not simply time-stamped executive orders.
What’s revealing are the instances of opposition by those who act against their own best interests. Even among good Catholics who support great outcomes attributed to Trump (e.g., National Sanctity of Human Life Day), too many are flaky about giving him the slightest regard. These reveal the importance of something more than ideology. They reveal the importance of virtue and character. The reveal a fierce resistance in us to being pawns at the service of stroking an ego, or affirming vice.
Here’s some free, political MiraLAX: How much more effectively might he advance good if his words and actions weren’t tainted with narcissism, impulsiveness, crassness and the like? If he was humble, magnanimous, ingratiating, thoughtful and kind particularly with adversaries?
While I have hopes in what seems to be a kind of transformation (his pro-life and marriage positions have evolved quite recently, as is an emerging semblance of statesmanship), Trump has a ways to go to demonstrate the kind of statesmanship or virtue I might hold up as examples for my children.
Our response is formative for the next generation. We need to understand the political perspective of morally-minded younger people, and how it may be impaired, and charged. Over eight years under Obama, nearly half their lives, today’s teens were without great example of virtuous statesmanship or Constitutional conservatism. They had to endure:
- Tyrannical progressivism (e.g., mandating religious orders pay for contraception).
- Descent into the bowels of an unsustainable entitlement culture and the human bankruptcy it pronounces, punctuated by a prominent socialist candidate.
- Exploitation and political weaponization of race and gender.
- Toxic atmosphere of relativism, rendering knowledge, communication, and civil order absurd.
- Reduction of the Constitution to little more than toilet paper in the hands of the Hiney in charge.
- Assault by the lie that one’s passion and “orientation” are supreme, equated with identity-- as sufficient basis to validate actions and arrangements, enshrined by public policy.
Thus, most of us rightly saw in this election an order teetering on the precipice of hell. Indeed, the Democrat’s driving agenda is codification of the “non-negotiables”-- support of which is grave matter, basis for mortal sin. This younger generation viewed it from a more proximate and monolithic vantage-- without the benefit of a solid basis in Constitutional conservatism, or critical thinking afforded by a truly liberal arts education.
As such, many younger people may be swept up in the jubiliance of an epic victory over evil, reinforced nearly every day by college students, educational and establishment leaders waving flags of peace and tolerance while instigating the exact opposite. Thus, for today’s generation of morally-minded young people, Trump is understandably their icon. Their hero.
Such a view is understandable, but dangerously short-sighted.
To accomplish the greatest good possible we need to form a generation of virtuous statesmen. Winning elections and accomplishing policy isn’t enough. Individuals need to be won over to the good of their nature, in accord with the self-evident truths “endowed by our Creator” enshrined in the Constitution.
We need to set the standard of self-awareness in pursuit of the good. We need to avoid the temptation to be “authoritarian followers.” Experimental psychologist Dr. Bob Altemeyer spent 40 years studying qualities that define authoritarian leaders and followers. The following “authoritarian follower” qualities are established by research. Note that they are as applicable to “Never Trumpers” as they are to “Only Trumpers”:
1) They are highly ethnocentric, highly inclined to see the world as their in-group versus everyone else. Because they are so committed to their in-group, they are very zealous in its cause.
2) They are highly fearful of a dangerous world. Their parents taught them, more than parents usually do, that the world is dangerous. They may also be genetically predisposed to experiencing stronger fear than most people do.
3) They are highly self-righteous. They believe they are the “good people” and this unlocks a lot of hostile impulses against those they consider bad.
4) They are aggressive. Given the chance to attack someone with the approval of an authority, they will lower the boom.
5) They are highly prejudiced against racial and ethnic majorities, non-heterosexuals, and women in general.
6) Their beliefs are a mass of contradictions. They have highly compartmentalized minds, in which opposite beliefs exist side-by-side in adjacent boxes. As a result, their thinking is full of double-standards.
7) They reason poorly. If they like the conclusion of an argument, they don’t pay much attention to whether the evidence is valid or the argument is consistent.
8) They are highly dogmatic. Because they have gotten their beliefs mainly from the authorities in their lives, rather than think things out for themselves, they have no real defense when facts or events indicate they are wrong. So they just dig in their heels and refuse to change.
9) They are very dependent on social reinforcement of their beliefs. They think they are right because almost everyone they know, almost every news broadcast they see, almost every radio commentator they listen to, tells them they are. That is, they screen out the sources that will suggest that they are wrong.
10) Because they severely limit their exposure to different people and ideas, they vastly overestimate the extent to which other people agree with them. And thinking they are “the moral majority” supports their attacks on the “evil minorities” they see in the country.
11) They are easily duped by manipulators who pretend to espouse their causes when all the con-artists really want is personal gain.
12) They are largely blind to themselves. They have little self-understanding and insight into why they think and do what they do.
We need to Wave Our Flag. It’s in our human nature to wave a flag. As Bob Dylan pronounced, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” All natural law is anchored in divine law. With due regard for everyone’s pursuit of spiritual and religious truth, we wave our flag for our Trinitarian God of the Universe who fashioned us for Himself, in and under whom we will find our unity (e pluribus unum). Thus, while we all ought to be engaged in politics, because it is a God-given means of building the Kingdom here, we affirm that there is no impact around us that surpasses what God wants to do within us.
Let us be united in putting a flag in the sand for Jesus Christ, first and foremost in our homes. (Find out more how we’re seeking personal, family, parish and world revival at MassImpact.us/Live-IT)