Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The School Yard: electoral politics in the 21st century

“Keep these words I am commanding you in your hearts.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your homes and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NRSV

The so-called “fourth estate” of the press is arguably the most powerful of the estates, the other three attributed to branches of government.  The term can be traced back to 18th-century England and speaks of the power of the press in reporting government actions.  A government can command virtually anything but is often stayed in going too far by the power of a free press to make citizens aware of what could be an unpopular and morally questionable policy.

That power occurs to me as I read the reports of the Republican presidential contenders who had once pledged to support the Republican nominee, whomever it may be.  Things being as they are, nasty and unfiltered as school yard fights often are, each of the remaining contenders has backed off the pledge to support the Republican nominee.  The reason such a thing has come to be is because of the vile words and actions especially between Trump and Cruz.  More to the point, Gov. Kasich has not allowed himself to be drawn into this spitting match and, as a result, does not get nearly as much press coverage.

In speaking of the power of the press, however, it has occurred to me – especially in comparing this election to that of a school yard or street fight in this age – that just as kids provoke others in getting a fight started and keeping it going, so also is the press by continuing to “report” on every nasty thing spoken.  Then, of course, we have children recording these fights with cell phones and posting them on social media.  The “reporters”, of course, are pretty pleased with themselves as are those who report every nasty thing spoken by these “adults” who aspire to the highest elected office in the land.

When Moses spoke his words to the Israelites prior to their moving into the Promised Land, he also issued a standard by which the people of Israel must conduct themselves; assuring them that the measure of their success in their new homeland will be directly proportional to their faithfulness to their God and His Law.  Their willing faithfulness, however, was not restricted only to the contemporary generation. 

Moses was adamant that this Law should not be only an afterthought or only something to consider during their worship times; this Law must become a part of their being and their doing and their relating to one another.  Only in this way will the children begin to understand the Law and how it works in daily living, in “real life” beyond what is theoretical.

Electoral politics is ideally a time in which ideas and policy proposals are exchanged in public debates.  Voters, through the “fourth estate”, get to hear about these proposals and ideas and then decide for themselves how they should vote.

Unfortunately, the “fourth estate” is giving us little more than an exchange of insults, and maybe this is all there is to report.  Finger-pointing and name-calling between grown men and women have always been an unfortunate part of this electoral process, but this time around it seems to have gotten much worse – especially when it has become a contest between who has the more attractive wife.

Make no mistake.  The anti-Trump PAC (not affiliated with Cruz) which released the nearly-nude photo of Mrs. Trump before the Utah primary crossed a line which should not have been crossed and opened this door which should never have been opened.  Trump accused Cruz of being behind the profoundly inappropriate ad and threatened to “spill the beans” on Mrs. Cruz.  Not long after this, Trump released a comparative photo of his wife alongside an unflattering photo of Mrs. Cruz.  The “fourth estate” ran with it, the electorate has been hungrily eating it up, and the children continue to provoke and record even nastier school yard fights.  We as a nation, as a people, are the poorer for it, for the children are only a reflection of the culture in which they are raised.

It is often said the press can only report what is, that who we are and what we do is only exposed by the press.  Perhaps this much is true; but I cannot help but to wonder if we are in some measure being defined, at least in part, by what the press chooses to report rather than that we are being merely exposed. 

At this point it is not at all about whom we may elect to serve as president, for it will be far from over come November.  Our children and the future of this nation are at risk.  From the time of Moses, a people – the whole people – are responsible for teaching our children well; and when we poison the well from which everyone drinks, we will one day be called to account for how we have lived and what we taught.  Call it “karma” if this is the preferred term of an agnostic society, but Divine Retribution is near at hand; and the judgment may already be upon us.

Yet Moses also called it.  The people will forget themselves and their God and will go and act in accordance with what seems best for the time.  They will forget the Law which governs and the God who set the standard for His people. 

Even still, there is always a way back.  A change of behavior, a determination of exactly where we went wrong, and a determination to make it right means we have a chance to make things right once again.  And when we do, as Moses told the people of Israel: “When you … return to The Lord your God … then The Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you …” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3). 

It is a standard which demands mutual respect.  When we refuse to engage in our own brand of retribution, when we refuse to “return evil for evil”, the evil will be slowed.  Can we not see it only gets worse when we engage evil on its terms, become evil ourselves, and that our children become the “collateral damage”? 

There is hope for this nation, but that hope will not come by any one person.  It will come only when we stand for what is truly right and live according to that standard of righteousness; for this is the true strength of a people … a whole people.

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