This is the strangest and most worrisome presidential election I can remember because of the temperament of the GOP candidate Donald Trump. Personalities matter but American elections go beyond the individual candidates. We have become so politically polarized that people support their party no matter what and live in echo chambers where they only listen to people who reinforce their beliefs. This is especially true when our sole sources of information are the internet, talk radio, and certain TV channels.
Presidential elections become horse races. The media loves the excitement. The more they hype it the more viewers and advertising dollars they get. Partisan commentators from both sides spin all the bad stuff they can dig up on the other candidate while praising the accomplishments of their candidate. Half-truths or outright lies are exaggerated and repeated over and over again until many accept them as true.
The rhetoric becomes so shrill. We’re told that this election is a crucial turning point or even the last chance to save our country. We should always question such claims. Fortunately, cooler heads generally prevail. Nevertheless, we need to take a step back—breathe in and breathe out—and seriously consider how our faith values guide our politics.
We need to remember what a presidential election is. We’re choosing the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military and the leader of the dominant economic system in our world. Who that person is and how she or he assumes that leadership can make a big difference. Nevertheless, that person will always be beholden to those systems of domination. That goes with the job.
This needs to temper our hope that a new president will somehow usher in a radically more just, secure, and prosperous world. Even though a president can make big differences, more radical and lasting change will necessarily come from elsewhere. For followers of Jesus, change and new life begins with the good news that Jesus lived and proclaimed. This politics of Jesus shapes our political engagement. Core gospel values include:
- Respecting the basic dignity and worth of all people
- Honesty and truth-telling
- Generosity and simple living
- Religious freedom and respect for people of all faiths
- A special concern for the poor and most vulnerable among us
- Caring for the earth and all creation
- Peace, justice, and reconciliation.
In my next blog post I will discuss how these values inform our political engagement, including how we vote.