Thursday, October 13, 2016

Still Smiling in Spite of Difficult Election Season

(from the October 13, 2016 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)

It’s a question sometimes spoken and often thought this year. The question emerges on people’s lips and in their thoughts with increasing frequency as we draw closer to November. The question goes something like this: there are more than 300 Americans and it has come down to these two?

Hilary Clinton was inevitable. Donald Trump was improbable. We got them both. Most people don’t like either of them.

So how did we get to this point? Blame us.

It is an old adage that we get the leaders we deserve. Some would question if it’s fair to say that in this case. How did we ever bring it on ourselves to have to choose between a bombastic billionaire who speaks with “locker room language” and a woman who has held many positions but also many secrets even in the face of congressional subpoena? Rather than get excited about voting, we want to yell at the TV. “Go home, blowhard!” “Liar, liar, pantsuit on fire!”

Well, “we” get the leaders we deserve because “we” includes a lot of us collectively. Maybe individual readers of this newspaper consider themselves above the fray, more enlightened citizens, not given to selfish appeals to politicians and therefore not susceptible to their pandering and empty promises. And that may be—people who actually read newspapers are better informed and one would hope more rational and broad minded than the “average” voter.

Nevertheless, if we can consider “we” to be our collective society, than we get what we deserve. When we hold our noses next month to vote for either Trump or Clinton—or take a stab at a geographically challenged third party candidate who didn’t know if Aleppo was a city in Syria or an acronym for a congressional bill—we are reaping what we sowed.

That’s because we have responded to negative ads. On social media we keep hitting the hornet’s nest by sharing and reposting the derogatory comments about the “other” party. We complain about the polarity in our politics, but we have stirred it on. We say we can’t believe the negativity, but we sure talk about it. The ratings for the presidential debates competed with that of NFL games, and had the drama of “Scandal” and “House of Cards.” Only one candidate has experience in ‘reality TV,” but both have made this election season seem like the same.

Now some of us would rather vote them both “off the island” than vote for one for president.

We had options. There was an unusually long list of 17 of them on the Republican side. But people rejected the boring policy proponents for the petulant populist. There were fewer options on the Democrat side. There may have been more, we find out now, after the party chairwoman resigned in disgrace when shenanigans to anoint an insider favorite were revealed. Another reason there were not more or better candidates on both sides is that our culture has made it unsavory for competent people of integrity to seek high public office.

I am reminded in such a time of history, both national and ancient. In our nation’s history, there were many presidents who were not always popular. While we’ve had some national leaders for whom we make monuments, others are lost to history for their incompetence or failures of character.

That reminds me of ancient history. Even in Israel, among God’s chosen people, there were a series of good and bad kings. Leaders ranged from Ahab to David, one synonymous with evil and one revered today as part of Israel’s national identity. But even David, a mostly “good” king from whom Jesus descended, had issues. A well-known story involves David lusting after a woman named Bathsheeba, arranging for her husband to be killed, and taking her as his own. Suffice it to say this is on par with locker room language and Benghazi.

If we have brought these bad candidates on ourselves, we make a second mistake by dwelling on the present. What history shows us is a simple truth. People are not perfect. They are fallible, even to the point of deeply disappointing and unsavory of character. Our candidates today are like all humans. They have selfish ambition and evil desires.

People, and nations for that matter, are also merely temporary. They are like what the prophet Isaiah poetically called grass and flowers that whither and fade. Only God endures forever.

I will vote next month. It will not be with enthusiasm or partisan joy. I’ll vote more out of a sense of duty and obligation. I will give the government my decision the same way I give my taxes: with reluctant obedience.

But I’ll smile when I leave the polling place. This is partly because the dreaded deed will be done and partly because I know if I stay healthy I will outlive both of these candidates. But mostly I’ll smile after voting because my hope is not in mere mortals of the moment.


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