Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Politics of Hate - or Love

I’ve been knee deep in democracy this week.

On Monday evening I drove into Philly for a televised debate between senatorial candidates Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty.

On Tuesday I had my photo taken for a WHYY story on how gerrymandering impacts Pennsylvania voters.

On Wednesday afternoon I took the Chester County poll worker training.

Thursday evening I went to a criminal justice conference co-hosted by our Chester County League of Women Voters to hear once again the tragic statistics about incarceration in our state, to hear stories from families affected by the intersections of abuse, addiction, mental illness and crime.

Saturday I timed for a debate between an incumbent state representative and a much younger local mayor eager to take his place.

I’ve had lots of interesting conversations.

One conversation stood out.

Arriving early for the debate Monday evening I walked around the corner to buy dinner at one of the food trucks parked along a side street.

Most of the trucks were closed for the day, but one was still lighted, counter still opened.

I placed my order then watched people hurrying by.

The sole worker reappeared at the window to make conversation while my quesadilla cooked on a griddle somewhere behind him.

“Are you a professor?”

“No. I’m here for the debate.”

“Will Hillary win?”

“Do you want her to?”

“If she doesn’t I’ll have to leave the country.”

The man was probably Middle Eastern. Probably in his forties.


“Listen.” He leaned on the counter. “I own this truck. I own 17 trucks. Here, other places in the city. I’ve been here thirteen years. I work hard.  But if Trump wins, I’ll sell it all. I’ll leave the country.”

Sometimes when I’m not sure what to say I simply wait.

So I waited.

“It’s because he hates. He hates immigrants. He hates women. He hates minorities. He hates gays.”

He disappeared to flip my quesadilla, then returned, leaning on the counter again.

“I hate HIM. He hates too much. Too much.”

Most of my week I spent rejoicing in the good will of reasonable people eager to see democracy work.

But I heard the pain in the voice of the man in the food truck. I’ve heard it other places: from African American friends stunned at the way colleagues speak of Barack Obama. From Hispanic friends wondering how many generations it will take before they’re accepted as “real Americans.”

We live in troubling times, with hate crimes on the rise and hate in our daily speech accepted in a way I’ve never seen.

It’s become almost accepted for reasonable people to call candidates things like “Shady Katy” or “Crooked Hillary.”

It’s become almost accepted to repeat unsubstantiated lies.

Mockery and false witness are early symptoms of hate. 

Scapegoating and violence are rarely far behind.

Yes, we live in a troubled time. But Christians have found themselves in troubled times before.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians in just such a time:
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality,or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. 
The city of Ephesus sat at the crossroads of trade routes that spanned the ancient world, a multicultural metropolis with flavors of Greece, Persia and Rome. Paul’s letter was written to urge unity in a church fractured by cultural difference and to address the hostility and self-interest that threatened spiritual growth and witness.

The words of Ephesians 5:2 are often repeated in our church as an offertory sentence: 
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.
 When I think of who we’re called to be as Christians, that sentence leaps out: we’re called to be people of sacrificial love, willing to offer our comfort, even our lives, for the sake of others, even our enemies.

It’s as dearly love children that we do that: as dearly loved children unafraid because we’re held so firmly in the care of our loving Father. As children embracing brothers and sisters who, like us, are held in God’s love: brothers and sisters from other countries, other races, other backgrounds, other political parties.

I listen for echoes of that love in the political discourse swirling around me.

What I’ve been hearing from those who claim to speak for God has been, far too often, mockery and false witness, misuse of prophecy, manipulative twisting of sound bites and bluster.

Judgment, anger, accusation.

And hate. Unguarded, unapologetic hate.

For almost a decade, Christians have been practicing hate.

It started with hatred of Barack Obama, spread to hate of his wife and daughters, picked up speed with Hillary Clinton’s announcement of candidacy.

Reasonable Republican candidates had no chance against a candidate so eager to pander to hate.

Beyond love, Paul says: 
among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed . . . Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking. . . Let no one deceive you with empty words . . . do not be partners with them. 
I wonder what Paul meant by “partners.”

Endorsers? Supporters? Surrogates? Defenders?

I hear Christian leaders excuse the actions of a candidate who embodies Paul’s concern: sexual immorality? Impurity? Greed? Obscenity? Foolish talk? Coarse joking? Empty words?

That passage ends:
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.
If light includes truth, we are truly in trouble.

Conservative columnist David Frum, once speechwriter for George W. Bush, has described the way Republicans and conservative “have found it impossible to protect things they hold dear—in large part because they have continued to fix all blame outward and elsewhere.”

On the question of truth, he says: 
Outright lying . . . happens more rarely than you think in politics, especially in high and visible offices like the presidency. Political scientists estimate that presidents keep about three-quarters of their campaign promises. When presidents break their word, the reason is far more likely to be congressional opposition than the president’s own flip-flopping. If politicians really did lie all the time, voters would not be so outraged on those occasions where a politician is indubitably caught in untruth—and yet voters are outraged. . . .
Donald Trump’s dishonesty, however, is qualitatively different than anything before seen from a major-party nominee. The stack of lies teeters so tall that one obscures another: lies about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11, lies about his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan war, lies about his wealth, lies about the size of his crowds, lies about women he’s dated, lies about his donations to charity, lies about self-funding his campaign. “Whatever lie he’s telling, in that minute he believes it,” Senator Ted Cruz said of Trump in May 2016. "But the man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.”
Another conservative columnist, David Brooks, has attempted to understand and explain Trump’s emotional landscape:
Trump seems to be denied all the pleasures that go with friendship and cooperation. Women could be sources of love and affection, but in his disordered state he can only hate and demean them. His attempts at intimacy are gruesome parodies, lunging at women as if they were pieces of meat.
Most of us derive a warm satisfaction when we feel our lives are aligned with ultimate values. But Trump lives in an alternative, amoral Howard Stern universe where he cannot enjoy the sweetness that altruism and community service can occasionally bring.
Bullies only experience peace when they are cruel. Their blood pressure drops the moment they beat the kid on the playground. 
Imagine you are Trump. You are trying to bluff your way through a debate. You’re running for an office you’re completely unqualified for. You are chasing some glimmer of validation that recedes ever further from view.
Your only rest comes when you are insulting somebody, when you are threatening to throw your opponent in jail, when you are looming over her menacingly like a mafioso thug on the precipice of a hit, when you are bellowing that she has “tremendous hate in her heart” when it is clear to everyone you are only projecting what is in your own.
Trump’s emotional makeup means he can hit only a few notes: fury and aggression. In some ways, his debate performances look like primate dominance displays — filled with chest beating and looming growls. But at least primates have bands to connect with, whereas Trump is so alone, if a tree fell in his emotional forest, it would not make a sound. 
I don’t hate Donald Trump.

I pray for him: for God's powerful grace to break through his disordered, overactive mind.

I don’t hate those who support him.

I pray for them: for deeper insight. Deeper wisdom. Deeper love.

I don’t support or endorse or hate any of Trump’s opponents. I pray for them as well, for Hillary Clinton, caught in a wearying spiral of compromise, conspiracy and confusion. For others, principled and unprincipled, wise and unwise. I pray for wisdom, strength, protection, rest.

As I pray, I grieve.

I grieve at the way hate cripples Congress, makes compromise impossible, creates suspicion, shatters the guardrails that safeguard democracy, leaves so many feeling fearful.

I grieve at the way reasonable discourse has been clouded by the fog of lies, at the way repetition of mocking untruths damages trust and destroys Christian witness.

I’ve often wondered how communities can spiral so quickly into holocaust or genocide, into inquisition and destruction.

I’ve caught a glimpse of unfettered hate and no longer wonder.

Instead, I pray.

And grieve.

And repeat, to myself and anyone who can hear: walk in the way of love.

This post is part of a continuing series on What's Your Platform
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016
A Different Way July 31, 2016 
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections, August 10, 2016 
How Long Will the Land Lie Parched? August 21, 2016 
Walls, Welcome, Mercy, Law August 28, 2016
Workers and Their Wages, Sep 3, 2016 
Educating Ourselves On Education, Sep 10, 2016 
Let's Talk, Sep 17, 2016
The Language of the Unheard, Sep 24, 2016
Maintain Justice, October 9, 2016
Defending the Indefensible, October 16, 2016 
Plan Your Vote: Platforms, Parties, People, October 23, 2016