Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A political non-rant

In the wake of yesterday's Helsinki press conference, which, like a lot of my fellow U.S. citizens, as well as many people abroad, left me more than a little stunned, I thought it might be a good idea to post something on politics. Please don't bail, it is not a commentary on yesterday's extraordinary event. There's plenty of commentary on that, you don't need me to weigh in. I am writing more generally and trying to set forth where I stand in the presently overheated political climate. While I am sure to fail at times, one of my goals in my renewed blogging effort is to be more succinct.

Like many people on all sides of our presently intense political situation, I lament the polarization that has occurred. The political divide in our country grows daily wider. In this context, in order to establish my less partisan credentials, it's important for me to point out that while I appreciated the way President Obama conducted himself while in office (and since leaving office, which has included being quite circumspect on what he comments on and how he does it), as well as the kind of person he strikes as being, I do not pine away for his return to office. In fact, I don't want any of the living former presidents to serve again, with one possible exception I will address in a subsequent post. I spoke out on issues about which I disagreed with President Obama and there were quite a few. One need only to peruse the Καθολικός διάκονος archives for proof of this. In addition to domestic social issues, my critiques extended to both our Libyan and Syrian misadventures.

I try to speak out publicly on matters that are not partisan. Most recently on social media as well as in person, I was very vocal about the immorality of separating immigrant families. No matter whose policy it is or was, regardless to which party the executive issuing the policy belongs, or the stated reasons for doing it, it is wrong to rip children from the parents. While I've already invoked our Libyan and Syrian misadventures, I will go so far as to say that both Democrats and Republicans need to own up to the U.S.'s complicity in creating situations in places like Syria and Central America from which people feel the need to flee in order to survive. For this reason, I oppose revoking the protected immigrant status of people from El Salvador and Nicaragua.

All of that being said, I am willing to grant that many people voted for President Trump for prudential reasons and did so with some reservations and no little hesitation. In other words, I don't see people who supported Trump as necessarily being more duped than people who vote for virtually any candidate in our broken presidential election system. I imagine, whether they're willing to admit it or not (pride is a strong force), many regret their choice even as they ponder the not-so-great alternative(s). However, the unbridled aggression demonstrated by many who oppose President Trump only exacerbates the matter, making it almost impossible to have an honest and open discussion. On the other hand, there are some alarmingly pro-Trump fanatics who, frankly, worry me. This highlights some of the understandable concerns about the impact of this presidency on the long-term health of our constitutional democracy.

(from the WSJ, used under fair use provision- I do not blog for profit)

Being neither a Democrat nor a Republican - if forced to identify with a political party I would have to go with the American Solidarity Party because in the aggregate the policies and positions they take are most in-line with my own. As a cleric, it is essential to note, I belong to no party and endorse no party or candidate. I don't mind saying I frequently vote for third party candidates and do so with no apology. I am convinced that one of the things that ails our nation the most is the disenfranchisement of many citizens who do not think either party represents their interests or aspirations. One of the contributing factors is the two-party duopoly.

I do have to say that as I was typing this post, I became aware- via my Facebook feed (a post by one of my favorite theology professors)- of the candidacy of Catholic theologian, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman, for a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives (see "Theology professor runs for a seat in the Rhode Island legislature"). When I led a seminar for deacons at Notre Dame back in the summer of 2015, I had the chance to briefly meet and hear a magnificent lecture by Dr. Taylor Coolman. Here's an important excerpt from her interview with Crux:
Above all, I begin with the conviction that human beings have profound dignity, and that each individual person should be treated in a way that recognizes that dignity. Any system that undermines that fundamental human dignity has to be challenged.

Catholic Social Thought also insists that individuals are profoundly connected to one another.

The notion of the common good means that we aren’t just independent agents, navigating, negotiating, or manipulating one another, but that there is a good in which we all share. In the big picture, I can’t really seek my own good without concern for you, and vice versa.

All this has implications for the way I engage with other people, including constituents, political opponents, etc. Politics, just like other systems, falls too easily into simply using people for various kinds of gain. I’m committed to keep reminding myself that, in any encounter with any person, I’m dealing with a human being who is valuable in his or her own right
This strikes me as the only basis for a truly human politics, for what might be called, to borrow a phrase from one of the only politicians I can say I truly admire: Václav Havel, an anti-political politics.

As a result of my views, there are many reforms I favor. To name just two of the most fundamental ones: comprehensive campaign finance reform aimed at getting money out of politics and the expansion of the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. As to the latter, the U.S. lags far behind other democracies in the ratio of elected representatives to those represented (see "U.S. population keeps growing, but House of Representatives is same size as in Taft era"). This leaves us lacking the democratic accountability we so desperately need.


  1. Agreed. "Honest and open discussion" would be a refreshing change of pace.

    On the other hand, I'm not necessarily distressed by polarization. Not when it's defined as distinct differences of opinion among folks in a group.

    I'd be much more concerned if citizens in my country were nearly unanimous about something: or seemed to be.

    If that was the case, I'd wonder if most had actually thought about the issue. Or felt that expressing an opinion was safe.

    McCarthyism was losing its grip on America's reins when I was young.

    Political correctness was in bloom during my last stretch in academia. It's still with us. I think it's using its grip - which may explain the meltdowns I see among those who support the currently-dominant mindset. Dominant, not majority. There's a difference, and that's almost another topic.

    I see differences in detail, but little if any distinction between either's 'you are free to agree with me' attitude.

    Seeing more thought, more rational discussion, and willingness to consider alternatives would be nice. So would much less invective.

    I think Americans will sort the current mess out. Again. I see considerable hope in what's happened to my country's demographics since my youth.

    We've become an increasingly varied people - - - which apparently horrifies some. I see it as having more folks with more ideas.

    As more of us stop screaming and start listening - - - and thinking - - - I think we'll still have very different opinions. But maybe we'll start deciding what needs changing, and how to change it.

    I think that's possible. Not easy, but possible. And certainly worth trying.

  2. What you describe is not, to my mind, polarization. In my view, polarization is when extremists seize control of political discourse and insist on all or nothing. They are intent shout across the distance at each other. In such an environment those who see not just the importance but necessity of compromise on things like health care reform, tax reform, etc., are seen as week.

    I agree that the U.S. is becoming increasingly varied. I think overcoming the duopoly of the 2-party system is the only way to reflect that variety and enfranchise people.

    It is certainly worth trying. It is worth doing.


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