I’ve awakened each morning to political news that was not much different from the night before, or the morning before that. Even when I turn to international news sources, the American election dominates the headlines. The majority of American voters are hanging on anxiously waiting for Biden to top 270 electoral votes, and the long four year nightmare to near its end. But there is a sizable minority that understands politics as either winning or losing, with no possibility of cooperative work amongst differing views.
Hard core Trumpsters are convinced fraud is rampant in vote counting that they believe is secretively manipulated by Democratic operatives. More “normal” Trump voters, concerned about jobs, white status, street crime, and long held grievances against coastal elites, upper classes, and liberals in general, are loathe to give up on the man they know in their hearts is an untrustworthy, unsound, wannabe dictator. Some have become convinced that anything progressive, liberal, or Democratic is radical left wing socialism bordering on communism, and why not? It’s been driven into them by tea party propaganda since 2008. Asking them to think otherwise is almost pointless.
There are in the midst of all this, far right wing libertarians for whom all taxes are theft, and all government a threat to freedom. They imagine a fantastical paradise of unfettered individual rights to live as one pleases, while they parasitically enjoy the benefits of liberal democracy. They’re a separate case to be bracketed for the moment.
What will it take for national reconciliation? Is reconciliation even possible? For that matter, who wants it? On one hand, Trump supporters appear to be disinterested in reconciliation. They’ve been sold on the idea that it’s either win or lose. There isn’t anything else. Progressives of one ilk or another proclaim reconciliation is high on their list of priorities, which they’re inclined to see as mass conversion to their way of thinking. How likely is that?
There is one immutable truth in the field of applied management theory: You cannot motivate anyone else to do anything. All you can do is create conditions favorable to motivation. Its corollary is, you cannot change anyone else. You can only change what you do and think. With that in mind, if progressives, liberals, Democrats, and others who want a different American ethos with less suspicious, conspiratorial divisiveness, are going to have to take a hard look at themselves to see what they can do differently. Part of that is to become less arrogantly dismissive of the ignorance, fears and anxieties of Trump supporters. Some humility is called for.
It’s not wrong to want dependable, good paying jobs. It’s not wrong to want a decent education for your kids. It’s not wrong to want safe streets, affordable housing, fair taxes and honest government. It’s not wrong to value your own rights and freedoms, or to be anxious about perceived threats to them. There is nothing deplorable about wanting such things, even when couched in deplorable terms.
When St. Paul was working with Corinthians stubbornly resistant to changing their ways, he tried all the usual stick and carrot moves with little success, but he hit on a new path at the end of chapter 12 and into 13 that should be instructive for us also. He acknowledged that each of them had something to offer, even if none had it all, and that was a good start. Then he showed them a still more excellent way. That doing all things as a gift of love for the good of others would bring them closer to the good they desired for themselves. That being patient and kind, not envious, boastful or arrogant, would bring them closer to the good they desired for themselves. That being irritable or resentful would drive the good away. That, in this life, we see dimly and not to let that get us down.
Don’t expect perfection, or, as the saying goes, don’t let perfection become the enemy of the good.
It should be instructive to us in two ways. First, If there is a better, more excellent way to achieve some of the hopes and dreams of Trump supporters, it’s up to us, not them, to demonstrate what that is. Second, it can only be demonstrated by living it out in our own lives by what we say and do, which cannot be from a place of arrogant superiority. Paul, of course, was trying to instill a higher level of discipleship in the lives of new Christians unsure about what it meant to be followers of Jesus. He couldn’t make them do it, he couldn’t motivate them to do it, but he could create conditions that pointed the way. I am more interested today in laying the groundwork for a sort of reconciliation in civil society by using the godly inspired guidance that was given to Paul.
Skeptics are likely to scoff. All I can say is, if God says this is the way to go about it, we should pay attention.