So, we have a new President. In case anyone missed it, yes there was an inauguration on January 20th. There were the MOST security precautions and the LEAST attendees in at least modern memory and probably ever. Notwithstanding the shenanigans and violence on January 6th, the transition has gone…smoothly. Doesn’t seem it. But history will mark it as such, in my view.
Now I want to avoid doing the “two Americas” approach to the conversation about what we can all do moving forward. I want to approach the matter treating all those reading as: human beings first, individuals second, before even thinking of going “tribal” (H/T Heather Heying).
Ideally, it would be also… ideal to avoid talking about who-is-to-blame for our current divisiveness. However, it’s not clear that anyone in the current landscape will read much further without some sort of understanding, and if not a common understanding, then at least common airing, of the things that got us here.
Let me take, then, the — begrudgingly — few inches of text regarding…
WHO IS TO BLAME
First: Donald J Trump. He is mentioned first here not because he is necessarily the MOST to blame, but he is the most important and — until about a week ago — the most powerful personality at the heart of our current crisis of confidence in each other and in that common cause (“The Republic” in theory) which we must consider required for our unity as a nation. Even if President Trump is not the cause of any of this, but that he has definitely not taken sufficient responsibility in trying to make it better and not worse. We will not list the myriad ways in which it can be safely argued this is true. Instead, we should simply focus on the one, singular (and in my view, unforgivable), betrayal: he participated in the passion, partisanship, populism, and raw power of victimology. It’s not clear to me how many times he used the term (my assumption is not that often), but it was one of the later speeches of his term in which he told the crowd “all of us here [including himself of course] are victims!” From my perspective, this is the most salient sin, which animated his rhetoric from the beginning and it is — for lack of a better way to describe it — un-American. This is not his only sin, but it leads to at least a majority of his others. After all, you can’t be “winning all the time!” and be a victim! Pick a lane.
Speaking of victimology, another source one can look to for blame: “critical race theory” (CRT), and the progressive, activist, left… specifically those who have promoted this conflation of speech and violence since about 2014 (Michael Brown), ramped up rhetoric and rationalizations in about 2017 (don’t like the President? “punch a Nazi!”), and providing an inappropriate amount of cover for those committing violence (resulting in the loss of 25 souls) since the beginning of the civil unrest in late May 2020 after the death of George Floyd. (There is a lot more to say about this, but will have to do so in another piece.)
Next: the Evangelical, Trump-loving “right-wing.” It was unconscionable to pretend that President Trump— even if the better choice over Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 — was a “fellow traveler” in faith, temperament, reason, or humility. Somehow a fantasy world took hold where some managed to convince themselves we had something different — to put it mildly — than what we actually had in the White House. Some in leadership positions in evangelical circles are slowly but surely coming to terms with this. The more of that the better.
THE ANSWER IS: ALL OF US
Lastly, all the rest of us. No, really. You, the reader. Your humble author. Everyone. Including in this very article for spending so much time looking to the Federal Government in general, and the White House in particular, for leadership, for guidance, for virtue and wisdom, for anything. We are guilty of taking our eyes off of the ball. For forgetting that we’re in charge of our destinies and that we are citizens and not subjects. Now I say that not in terms of “speaking truth to power” or making sure we have a voice, or some other mindless (victim-centric) democratic (small d) notion that we need to finally storm the castle (too soon?) and let them know we’re boss. Number one, that’s insane. That’s not the way any of this works. But more importantly, we have to take a much harder look at what we are doing, personally, as individuals and families and communities, and expect LESS from our Government, lest we get more than what we bargained for (also another piece for another day).
Now, if you made it this far, God bless you, you’re willing to acknowledge, a) that we are not (almost none of us) victims of any of the operators of the current political mess, and b) that more than that we (everyone) are indeed the ones at fault.
NO, THE PRESIDENT IS NOT GOING TO HELP
So what to do moving forward to get beyond this morass? First, our new President (as if to put an exclamation mark on the previous point that the Federal Government is not going to help, and is probably incapable of helping), has done three things that tell us he’s not serious about actually helping “bring us together” (notice I didn’t put President Biden in the people to blame — in particular…he is a part of “everyone” — because I believe the point here is that he’s not HELPING, not that he has been a cause):
First, he made sure and provided his ode to CRT with his denouncement of “White Supremacists” and “domestic terrorists’ in his speech, without an ounce of curiosity, humility, or accountability to the far-left madness and violence of the last eight months.
Second, he proceeded to launch into the usual (though — at least in pure volume/speed/density — bigger, bolder, and better!) foray of Executive Orders that every President since Reagan that represented a party change in the White House felt the need to do: kill/save babies; wokeify/unwokeify college campuses and the military; join/leave whatever international cabal/treaty that will send signals to your base that you care about their strongest passions. A president that wanted unity would stop that predictable back and forth and demand that the country’s lawmakers (remember those guys?) actually write the laws… just for the nostalgia of the thing.
Third, as if to show that President Biden really has not actually had a conversation with a single solitary Trump supporter… ever, he tapped Jeb Bush(!!) as his way of reaching out to Republican voters. For those of you who are NOT Trump supporters, in case this confuses you, let me help: Jeb Bush is the quintessential representation of everything the Republican electorate rejected when picking Donald J Trump as their nominee in 2016. There is no worse ambassador to committed Trump supporters than Jeb, no matter how nice of a fella he is. So, either Biden has indeed not met a Trump supporter, or this is specifically calculated to divide the GOP even further. I can tell you which one of those options, most Trump fans will believe. Both. Definitely both.
SO WHAT TO DO
One of my favorite, eye-roll-inducing, cliche catchphrases is: “Think Globally; Act Locally.” Let’s start here. The next time someone tells you to “Think Globally; Act Locally”… just say no. One of the more modern iterations of this same mindset is (on the K-12 education front.. yet another future piece) is the singular worst possible alternative to the modern (also bad) education paradigm of job preparation and behavior modification/self-esteem management. That is, of course, the “my-kid-is-gonna-save-the-world-with-her-ipad!” approach:
Just… please. First, what happens to her precious self-esteem when she’s been working for 10 years and still hasn’t saved the world, and second, what does she have to offer the planet right now, other than a culturally ingrained narcissism? Not her fault of course (this poor girl… I mean she’s just a model, but I still feel like I’m picking on her… I’m sure she’ll be fine!), but we should encourage our kids to… well … do what I’m going to propose that all of us should do.
“Thinking Globally” operates under the assumption that the world really cares about what you think. “Acting locally” says that you have it all figured out and all you really need to do is: get up and ACT! This is a completely backwards way to treat your neighbors, whether they be next door, or a fellow countryman in a state with (shudder) more Trump voters than Biden voters (or vice versa). All of us, at any age, need to be more humble in our thinking, and do a lot more thinking before acting. And the “acting” should start with conversations where we can seek to learn as well as persuade. No. It’s not “kumbaya”; it’s… humility, and friendship, and… society.
Instead, we should look at our communities as something more than a stage in desperate need of our life-changing wisdom and more as a neighborhood where we can put down roots, and be better human beings, and build and maintain relationships. And we should do this not only based on the things we have as common interests or the ways in which we help each other, but through that third-tier Aristotelian style of friendship, where we support each other’s efforts at seeking and pursuing what is “the good.” Not for the world, but for each other, for our families and neighbors and friends. We start improving the world by starting where we are. We should completely ditch “Think Globally; Act Locally” and instead just go with: “Be Good; Be Local.”
Now we should read a few minds here and predict that there are a few who are now saying something along the lines of:
“Here Butch goes with that old ‘let’s-be-more-civil-and-sing-kumbaya-and-just-love-each-other’ hogwash! What a bunch of malarkey! Our culture is being thrown in the trash heap by a bunch of [insert your favorite bogeymen here] and we need to [Fight? Re-educate the backward? Buy more ammo? Speak truth to power? WIN the culture war once and for all instead of giving it up?] if we stand a chance of surviving!”
To that, let me say two things: 1) I’ve never been a fan of nicey-nice, touchy feely, civil discourse for the purpose of hearing each other out and making sure ALL our feelings are heard. I’m supportive of the people engaged in that mission, but am quite convinced the real progress is only made by doing two things at the same time, paradoxically even: telling the truth about what we think and believe and even being so bold as to consider it “the truth” where we believe it as such (coupled with acknowledging that in some cases it can be just a perspective), 2) caring about, showing compassion for, and minding the humanity of those we are speaking to, even those who strongly disagree with our beliefs, and even our “truths.” The reason for this is pretty simple: there is no alternative. What choice do we have but to be loving and compassionate to our fellow neighbors and countrymen? Eradicate? Re-educate? Ignore? There are no good options, anyway.
OUR COMMON PARADOX
For instance, just to take two very extreme example; one longer-running and one very recent (though the recent one is part of something much more long term which is why it is so important).
Let’s start with the LGBTQIA+ movement/community/paradigm (since I’ve already made everyone mad on that issue, why not double down and use it as an example). If you consider yourself (at the least) an ally of that movement and you also think it is an objective “truth” that every aspect of the movement should be embraced and justified because “love is love” or something of that sort… then you may not immediately understand or appreciate someone who has a cultural or religious objection to the tenets of the LGBTQIA+ faith. But since most world religions (yes, even the ones you may feel justified in remaining a part of, and/or the ones that you’ve left in disgust), dating back thousands of years do not share your view; added to the internal contradictions (TERFs come to mind) in the narrative itself; and the fact that the most relevant progressive idol of the age was against gay marriage until after a full term in the White House (and a whopping three years prior to the Obergefell decision); and what you get is a very weak basis for the assumption that you are definitively on the “right side” of history, reason, or justice. Further, you have to approach the issue, and your ideological counterparts not with, “bless their hearts; they’re just behind the times,” but in a way in which you have to believe in at least the possibility that you’re wrong. (Yes, even that gay marriage is doubleplusgood, but most importantly on the extreme that rushing to chemically castrating drugs is somehow always a life-saver to those suffering from gender dysphoria — especially adolescents.) After all, if you are definitively against all religions, then you might be the bigot in this scenario (more on “bigotry” at the end).
More recently, we’re going to talk frankly and directly to the 50+ million people who believe that the election was stolen by the Democrats in November. Here’s the thing: you must be able to live alongside those who believe it was perfectly above board, and folks like myself who… well are unconvinced either way. To the above point, if our Republic is being stolen, it is up to us to restore it, and we must do it by loving our neighbor as ourselves. If, after the last 5 years, we have a limited-government bone left in our bodies, we must know that we have to set the example. We must be the good in the world, and let it make us better. We must pursue wisdom and virtue because it’s right; not because someone else wins or loses an election.
Want to save the culture? Be better. Better in our conversations. Better in our faith. Bold in our expressions. Confident and compassionate. Speak truth…not “to power," but with love to our neighbor. That is our culture. America is more than our Government. It is de Toqueville’s and Burke’s “little platoons” …. America is nothing if it is not a paradox of fierce individuality and a commitment to our fellow man… no election; no matter how contentious, should take that away.
Speaking of presidents (and inaugurations), our second and third Presidents had many vehement disagreements. So much so that the 2nd didn’t even attend the 3rd’s inauguration. They didn’t speak for many years…. but eventually they connected again through correspondence, and exchanged some letters about religious liberty and pluralism (more specifically, trinitarianism and unitarianism), and Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:
“I very much think that if thinking men would have the courage to think for themselves, and to speak what they think, it would be found they do not differ in religious opinions as much as is supposed…”
Doing our own thinking and speaking what we think is paramount, even at the risk of being called a commie or a bigot, for as G.K. Chesteron put it, “Bigotry can be roughly defined as the anger of men with no opinions.”
Don’t be a bigot. Thanks for reading.