Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin
Saturday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time
We’ve got problems. There are a lot of problems that you might feel on a more deeply personal level than I do. There are some that I might feel on a more deeply personal level than you do. The most profound problems neither belong to you nor to me though; they affect us all, even as we experience them in different ways.
The time that passes between me writing this blog post and you reading it will likely bring projected outcomes of the 2020 presidential election. I have begun to suspect that partisans on both sides were motivated by fear of the other more than they were by genuine hope for any particular champion. None of us want to lose economic security nor our civil liberties. We want neither crime nor infectious disease to run amok. Many of us were convinced that a win by Candidate A would make one set of fears come true, while others of us thought that a victory by Candidate B would guarantee a different nightmare scenario. Maybe they’re wrong about which set of fears are more reality-based. Maybe I’m wrong. Regardless, we had such great fears and malicious assumptions about those with whom we disagree that many predicted widespread rioting as election results came out, regardless of who won. Although I sometimes speak from naïveté, I must say that I have not yet seen reports of significant electoral violence, nor do I expect to.
What would it take to lose a few of the apprehensions that some of our tribes have developed about each other? What would it take to burst our favorite myths that we use to denigrate the other? I am one of those who honestly recoil at the blatant racism and misogyny I see so frequently expressed by our incumbent president. Yet, this man who I perceive to be such a bigot appears to have done better with voters of color and also with white women in 2020 than he had in 2016. How then can we honestly imagine all of his supporters to be racist and sexist? On the other side, let me assure those anxious about a Biden victory that his supporters encouraging people to stay home during the pandemic is simply a public health precaution rather than the first step in asserting total governmental control over your lives.
Perhaps instead of looking for the easiest way to demonize large swaths of political opponents, we need to replace our biases with actual learning about what values truly motivate them. Coming to better understand those we disagree with is difficult and unsettling work, and it doesn’t happen by merely watching the rival television network. We need personal encounter if we want to truly listen and engage—empathy doesn’t come easy. Ideally such encounters would bring urban and rural communities together for dialogue; I continue to be amazed at how much condescension and prejudice I hear from truly kindhearted city-dwellers once the topic turns to folks living in the country’s breadbasket. If I lived out in the farm country, maybe I would hear similar misunderstandings directed toward urbanites.
If we don’t know where to meet with amiable people of different persuasions, let’s at least start with a mental exercise. How could a good, intelligent, empathetic, and informed person vote differently than I do? Surely not all my opponents meet those high standards of human excellence (just as many of my allies fail to), but it’s still a starting point. So, what do we hope for when we vote?
Can we imagine that different struggling families seeking greater economic certainty could honestly disagree on which party might better toss them the lifeline they yearn for? Everybody cares about access to quality healthcare—could people honestly hold different opinions about what that entails and how best to achieve it? Can I see the need to improve our public schools while also seeing how many parents yearn for school choice programs that will provide better options for their children right now? Can we see the room for honest disagreement between individuals about which party’s platform comes closest to honoring the dignity of life at all stages?
I certainly have my own beliefs, ideas, and opinions that form my conscience and lead me to vote a certain way. But while I can abhor a candidate who I think I know because of his high degree of media exposure, what gives me the right to form any particular opinion about individual supporters of his that I have never met? There are true differences that are important to explore between us, and it is not the case that all ideas are equally valid. Some positions are clearly wrongheaded or outright objectionable. Still, wouldn’t it be less exhausting in the long run to dialogue without name-calling?
My preferred candidate is not perfect, and neither am I. Even if he wins, he will disappoint me at times and anger me at others. As much as I hope he can improve a number of difficult situations, he will probably make some things worse. Our greatest societal ills will doubtless be beyond his power to cure in any significant way. When you get down to it, the programs we build are never foolproof and their implementation is never immaculate. There are things we cannot fix, so we just do the best we can with the biggest heart we can muster. I simply hope that the candidate who wins is the one best suited for this moment.
When you get down to it, I wasn’t looking for a messiah in this election anyway. That role is already taken. Ours is simply to act in good faith as loyal stewards as long as we have the power to do so.
This week’s “ear candy” and “brain food” may seem to be working at cross purposes. First, a song urging the listener not to worry followed by an article telling us that we need to worry no matter what! Both are true in their own way.
Ear Candy: “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley & the Wailers
Brain Food: “Either Trump or Biden Will Win. But Our Deepest Problems Will Remain.” by Yuval Levin
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!