Our son Mark recently asked me to describe my politics. Here’s the gist of what I told him.
With Inauguration Day coming up (January 20), it’s a fitting time to talk politics. I like to think my politics reflects the original meaning of the Greek word polis, for city. My wife Kathy and I live in Annapolis, the City of Ann, named after Lady Ann Arundel (1615-1649).
Politics is how we as individuals cobble together our city, or community. In this sense, everyone is political, whether or not we recognize it. Even the Amish, with their almost total separation from the wider world, are political, putting their into practice how they understand what makes for healthy communities.
A rather extreme example I grant you, but it underscores Vaclav Havel’s point in The Art Of The Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice. Politics is morality in practice. And that’s why it’s impossible, for achieving a consensus on a moral (i.e. good) society is never perfectly realized.
That’s because consensus requires accommodation, compromise, give-and-take. It’s art more than science. Lyndon Johnson understood this, both as Master of the Senate and President of the United States. I say this even though I disagree with much of what he considered moral.
Havel had a better understanding of politics as morality, although he was not religious in any formal way. In his first major address, he told Czech citizens, “I assume you did not propose me to this office so that I, too, would lie to you.” We could use some Havels today.
And so I describe my politics as political in the best sense of the word: Seeking to achieve a consensus regarding what makes for a flourishing community through respect, accommodation, compromise, give-and-take; understanding it’s largely unachievable in terms of ever being complete. But it can form what the preamble of US Constitution calls “a more perfect union.”
In other words, better than before but never perfect. I like to think my politics runs along the lines of an ancient tension between things we ought to conserve and things we ought to change. The former is a hallmark of being conservative, the latter of being liberal. I believe Christians ought to hold to both, conservative and liberal, both/and, while recognizing we lean one way or the other.
I lean toward the conservative, as conservatives have a better grasp (or used to anyway) on the macro issues including economics (conservatives also have historically held to the sanctity of unborn life). But I have to come to see how liberals are better at the micro, touching human hearts with moving stories of, say, inner-city families devastated by crime.
Put another way, liberals tend to talk people while conservatives tend to talk policies. We need both. But in 2020 I’ve felt pulled toward the liberal side as I’ve experienced firsthand how Covid-19 has disproportionately crushed Hispanic occupations and lives. I’ve felt this in the pop-up pantry my wife and others pulled together for the Hispanic community. Most of the pantry leaders, those most in touch with Hispanic lives week in and week out, tilt liberal.
[btw, this past Friday morning, January 1, MSNBC featured a story on one of the pantry’s leaders. Click here to watch the interview, as well as the pantry in action.]
I feel that all of us working the pantry, conservative and liberal, see firsthand Damian Barr’s great observation of 2020 that he recently shared on Twitter. “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some were in yachts, some rowing alone in small skiffs. Some would sail through, health and professions intact; others would lose both.”
Most of my conservative friends are sailing through, including me. But upward of 80 percent of the +500 Hispanic families at our most recent pantry have lost work. What we’re seeing is a K-shaped recovery. But I wouldn’t feel it if I wasn’t getting my hands dirty on stinkin’ hot summer days and freezing winter mornings. I’m not patting myself on the back. I likely wouldn’t be at the pantry week in and week out if I wasn’t married to Kathy. I probably would have just written a check (what conservatives tend to do more than liberals).
So I describe my politics as conservative/liberal. But I recognize this doesn’t appeal to most Americans, as most are politicized. This includes Christians right and left who see their party as the end-all for making a better world. These believers tend to be deficient in respect, compromise, give-and-take. They’re poor at loving their neighbors.
Our politicized nation means hardly anyone today is conservative or liberal. Politicized conservatives tout conservatism, which advocates “trickle-down” economics (which hardly ever seems to trickle down to Hispanic families). Politicized liberals tout progressivism to help the poor, advocating government redistribution of wages (all while progressive leaders typically enrich themselves off the redistributed revenues that hardly ever reach everyday people.)
In terms of political parties, this makes me Unaffiliated. Washington is broken. Can it be fixed? I don’t know, but I doubt it. We need a third way. We might start with Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. Haidt’s a liberal atheist. But he’s respectful of conservatives, noting they score higher than liberals on three of five moral foundations for a flourishing society. If Haidt’s right, a third way would be conservative/liberal.
And it would correct what the writer of Ecclesiastes warns against: Do not be excessively righteous. Why would you ruin yourself? (7:16). Politicized Americans, including Christians on the right and left, are excessively righteous. They’re ruining our country. A third way, one that’s conservative and liberal, would offer all Americans a way to not be excessively righteous.