08 November 2016

Feeling Good About America


It’s easy to get cynical about politics. We live in an age in which rational adult human beings can’t disagree with one another’s political positions without demonizing each another. For example, it’s not enough for people to disagree with Hillary’s politics. The latest thing in the news apparently is that she is not only wrong, but also, literally, SATANIC. Probably offering virgins right now on some bloodied altar in the name of her dark lord, Beelzebub. And, of course, we know that Trump supporters are ALL RACISTS and hate women. And amidst all the purple faces, loud voices, and pounding veins in temples, it’s hard to hear anyone discussing any of the actual issues that need to be discussed. Also, those of us whose opinions fall somewhere outside the rigidly-structured, two-party system are weak, spineless, and ignorant.

It reminds me of what Thucydides wrote about Athens during the time of the Peloponnesian War: “Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal supporter; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, incapacity to act on any.”[1]

I would also like to direct your attention to the fact that no one ever, ever enjoys standing in line at a government institution. Think back to the hopeless, lost faces of the people in line during your last trip to the DMV. Think back to the Dante’s Inferno of doomed souls when you had to stand in a long line at the US Post Office in order to mail a package before it closed. Government doesn’t make people happy, but people are more than willing to spew the most vitriolic, poisonous rhetoric imaginable at one other on behalf of their preferred government candidates.

And that is why my trip to the polls today was such a magical event. My local polling location is the church down the street. It was more crowded this morning than I’d ever seen it for an election before. And yet, there was none of the soul-draining quality of the formal institutional government about it. The people working the tables were volunteers, serving happily to help people vote. The entire room had the feeling of a town meeting in Mayberry. People were smiling at one another, striking up conversations with strangers while waiting in line, and generally seeming excited to be taking part in this local expression of their civil government. And the diversity of people was astonishing, people of every race and social class. There were men in business suits who were clearly heading to the office right after they voted. There was a twenty-something guy in sweatpants and a t-shirt who looked like he hadn’t bathed in weeks and had probably just come from an epic Call of Duty marathon in his mom’s basement. There was an old lady in her eighties behind me, feebly holding her walker and chattering about her grandchildren, while being helped along by her nurse. There were young moms with strollers, bikers in leather jackets, respectable, churchy-looking ladies, construction workers, and all other manner of people. And there was a guy there with tennis shoes, plaid pants, and a green bow-tie; wait, that was me.

I talked to the guy standing in front of me, a college student voting for the first time. He was excited to be there, getting to cast his vote. All around, people were shaking hands, introducing themselves, and getting along marvelously. And here’s the thing: no one knew who anyone else was voting for, and no one asked! Here, standing in a government line, waiting to cast a vote about the thing that has been making Americans treat each other like Orcs and Zombies for the last six months was a feeling of community and goodwill that the world-weary among us think is only a product of Norman Rockwell nostalgia.

How can this be? What accounts for this paradox? It’s because that… there…what was happening at the polls…that was America. America can’t be found in the endless bureaucracies inhabiting drab buildings like parasites. It can’t be found among our elected dictators and petty tyrants in Washington, D.C., that Leviathan entity that presumes to call itself “Government”. It’s here among the people. Because despite being weak, foolish, sinful, and often confused, human beings can somehow usually figure out how to treat each other like fellow humans, fellow partakers of the imago dei. Without our political handlers on talk radio, on CNN, and in public office reminding us of who we’re supposed to be hating right now, it seems like we often default to treating each other like people. And when community volunteers take the lead instead of a government monopoly organization, waiting in line doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

And in the end, this is why America is not ending tomorrow. Whether your candidate wins or loses tonight, just remember that what we let our politicians get up to in that capital city of theirs doesn’t make up the biggest part of human life. You still have the freedom to treat others with dignity and respect. You still have the freedom to love your community. You still have the freedom to be a part of “We the People”. Sleep well, America.


[1] Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides, Robert Strassler, ed. and Richard Crawley, trans. (New York: Free Press, 1996), 199.

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