Thursday, January 19, 2017

Post Election Political Philosophy

I'm disappointed, but it doesn't change my mind. I had a lot of people subtly and no-so-much ask, "Are you happy now - your privileged non-involvement got us Trump?" I mean, yeah, it's almost impossible not to have a preference when presented with the choice between two things - and the candidate I would've preferred to win, lost - but as Brian Zahnd is fond of saying, "Does anyone know the name of the 45th Roman Emperor?" (It was Probus, by the way, but the point remains.)

I don't think its necessarily wise to elect a sick person President of the United States, but Lord knows he's not the only narcissist to ever hold the most powerful office in the world (you can go back to that Roman Emperor list and throw darts). I certainly don't agree with his overarching philosophy or "me (or 'us') first," but that political philosophy is hardly new, it's just been stated more plainly.

This isn't an apology for Trump, either - I think those "respect the office, if not the man" arguments are way misguided. Our tradition has been "respect the office, if not the politics." Personal moral failure has been cause for resignation or impeachment in modern Presidencies.* I do think, though, people have too thoroughly conflated politics and personal morality, using Trump's abhorrentness to justify a vilification of everything he says. This is typical practice in political debates (regardless of whether the person in question has questionable morality or not) and thus holds little weight with the other side.

What I've been saying, and continue to believe is that there is no such thing as good and evil when it comes to gov'ts and elections. The pure pursuit and wielding of power is harmful to the world, unless its rejected and given away. Pope Francis is confounding everyone simply because he's refusing to use his power for anything other than loving people. Neither the conservatives nor the liberals can quite understand why he's not using the power he's been given to do more - of anything. I suspect he's just trying to wield power in a way that might be consistent with the theology that is supposed to run the Church.

We get seduced by celebrity and by power. It's no different if its Obama or Trump, just because we happen to like the ways in which one or the other uses that power. As I've said all along, the emperor has no clothes - the position is so revered and powerful because WE, THE PEOPLE, have made it that way. When we play into the power games, we support them. It can't just be something we pick or choose depending on our perspective.

In that sense, I have no problem separating Trump the man from a Trump administration. Power is generally nameless and faceless anyway, despite our desire to personalize it. I feel it will be pretty easy to critique both without having to mix them. It's different for my generation certainly because we've had Presidents our entire lives who were generally kind and decent people. Yeah, nobody's perfect - and one of them was, at best, super creepy, and at worse a serial sexual predator - but we've not generally had real moral issues with the personal lives of Presidents. It's new, and it's hard to deal with. I don't know that I'll ever be able to say the phrase "President Trump," out loud - it just doesn't compute with my life experience - but that's an entirely different thing than critiquing power or how its used.

I see it as the same kind of debate as abortion - the popular practice is to argue over its legality, but people rarely pause to consider its place within a larger moral framework of life and death - we're too individualized. When it comes to Presidents, we're much too consumed with arguing the minutia of bills, and executive orders, and judicial precedent, than we are about how these fit within the large framework of humanity and our responsibility to each other.

This power, and participation in it, is seductive. It makes us forget that the Affordable Care Act is, and always was, a giant travesty of legislation, argued by committee and amended piecemeal to get passage, and never really tackling the core issues of healthcare costs in the first place. It was, however, a grand step forward for the philosophical ideal that all people should be taken care of. Read the stories; people were well aware of that difference at the time; few are today. It's become a political football, not representative of the issue itself, but the struggle for power. That doesn't make it unimportant, but it does, perhaps, I'd argue, illustrate that the halls of power are not the means by which we should work to achieve whatever large ideals we hope to see embodied in the world.

The very magic of power is that it leads people to forget that other options exist. It is the Turkish Delight that blinds us to reality. That doesn't change just because it starts going badly. In fact, it's much easier to have an emperor who's an enemy than one who seems like a friend. Just look what Constantine did to the Church the first time around? Or Henry VIII? Or King Cyrus?

It's far too easy for us to imagine that power and empire are the way to get things done.

I am certainly a pragmatist at heart - in many ways, too much so - but I've learned, through this faith journey, that idealism matters. Not even that one should take precedence, but that one should never be sacrificed for the other. You have to do that in power politics, which is why I like to steer clear - and why I'd recommend others do also.

We are not called to do big things - maybe the creation of the nation state is our modern Babel - we are called to love those around us, and whatever we do in the realm of elective politics, those personal, everyday relationships can never take a back seat.

I've been thinking all along I'd just avoid the Inauguration coverage - and I'm not going to go out of my way to see it - but it is interesting and it feels almost like ignoring something both historcially significant and personally fascinating out of, I don't know, spite or personal offense, is playing directly into the hands of power I just spent all this time denouncing.

I have to get a haircut today. If I miss a speech or two, oh well, and I'm headed out this afternoon to the giant, public, welcome home party for Joe Biden - someone I respect a lot for keeping his sanity in the midst of insanity (even as I regret his choice of where to place a lifetime of energy and effort). I'm going to treat it like a regular day, because that's what it is.

During this week of MLK celebration, I agree with his famous quote, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." I just feel its far too limiting for politicians to invoke it as support for policy. Justice and peace and goodness and love are much bigger than that - we have to remember.

*And the revelations of Kennedy's bedroom antics took him off the list of "great Presidents" and put him on the list of "interesting historical celebrities."

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