Considering I’ve only been able to vote in 4 presidential elections, my time as a citizen in the political world has been short. What I’ve come to realize is my struggle isn’t so much why I should or shouldn’t care, but how should I care. Even still, it’s been a meandering path and I’ve often wondered why even walk it at all. As such this post is more an exercise in catharsis than exposition and, not surprisingly, that’s been reflected in the meandering path this post has taken in it’s numerous drafts and edits, re-edits and scrapping.
But let’s begin with that meandering path…
I grew up in a Democratic household. Like most kids, I uncritically assumed the views of the household. Not that it was ever talked about that much. I’ll gladly admit I was pretty shielded from the adult world’s drama in all things political, financial and relational. So there never as an indoctrination or education, if you want to call it that, when it came to politics, which is why, upon on entering college everything changed.
It was there that I was met with a group that was about indoctrinating/educating on political positions and had more founded explanations than I. Having nothing else to go off of, I began to hold these positions that connected politics and faith for me. I wouldn’t say there was much critical reflection, but the offered explanations were digestible and I came to see myself as far more conservative than the positions I had unknowingly assumed. Likewise, I moved my politics to the right.
In all truth, however, I was never very comfortable in the politics I moved toward and thus began the beginning of my disillusionment with politics. At first my conservatism was social, but quickly found the moralism of those positions distasteful (chalk one up to the education my parents did give me). So, I shifted to a more economic/civil conservatism, i.e. libertarianism. By this point in time I was far more critical of myself and the views I held and eventually came to see my held positions as ineffective starting points (thanks partially to my social sciences education, but mostly to the 2008 recession that was precipitated by such policies), believing that, though the ideas were good, they were were overly simplistic and detached from reality.
That’s not to say I immediately moved back toward the left. I would say at this point I became full-on disillusioned and politically unmoored …then I went to seminary.
I should also note, that my interpretation of politic’s purpose has meandered as well. I went from holding no view in high school to college where the aim was instituting God’s politics in social conservatism. This also meant Christians could/should only vote for those politics and if instituted then we’d have a perfect America, a veritable heaven on earth. As I was never quite comfortable with the Christian subculture’s interpretation and became more and more disillusioned, I went the libertarian route. For one, it removed the specter of all oppressive, moralistic politics thus, two, laissez-fair policy made politic’s only purpose to hold us back from anarchy by only offering everyone a ground floor, no picking/determining winners and losers from a policy stand point. Then came my full throated disillusioned netherworld …then seminary…
I never felt comfortable at seminary when it came to the political culture. It felt like I walked into the Christian subculture’s bizarro world. Instead of conservative social policy, it was liberal social policy that was God’s politics and the beacon of hope that would usher in God’s kingdom. Being already jaded by this point in time, I already believed that progressivism’s good ideas were much like conservative/libertarians good ideas: poor starting points, even if they were more complex ideas and accounted for the complexity of the problems.
As it stands, I still feel unmoored. There’s no possible way I could support whatever conservatism is these days. Even the conservative party doesn’t know what conservatism is, but any political option being offered is utterly repugnant, rooted in conspiracy, delusion or angry religious idealism.
That’s not to say that the other side of the aisle is offering up anything worthwhile. They too are split on a progressive vision. …Well that’s not true, there’s the loud cadre of Bernie-type progressives and then… nothing. A lot of policy perhaps, but no captivating way forward.
Yet I still care.
In this meandering I’ve realized that I can’t not care about politics.
After all, politics matters. I must care. 1
It doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nor doesn’t it go into a vacuum, politics affects society. Citizen’s lives are affected. Business is affected. Foreigner’s lives are affected. When politics becomes law it informs and shapes structures and systems. It’s woven into the social consciousness, becoming part of a collective narrative and faith (see Bronfenbrenner’s exosystem). It doesn’t matter if it’s small government or big, laissez-faire policy or centralized, isolationist foreign policy or interventionist, people’s well-being and worldviews will be affected one way or another.
Even still, politics is meaningless.
After all, politics is a game and the thing about games, is that there are winners and there are losers. Just because some policy position won at one point and was instituted, doesn’t mean it won’t lose at some point and see the powers at be run the policy into the ground. People’s lives may be affected either way, but how they are affected lies in the whims of those who hold political power at the time.
It may be crushing for one to see some good policy go to waste, but it was just as crushing for someone else to see that same bad policy ruin everything. Let’s even say you could get policy implemented, never changed and perpetually fully supported, life and the world are not static, political needs change which is why you don’t see any politicians touting a fuedalist economic policy.
So I care, but meandering challenge has been learning how to care.
I love it when Samuel ridicules the people’s desire for a king in 1 Samuel 8, he’s speaking my language. Though having a king might have been politically significant and perhaps important, it would become more a burden than fulfill their hopes and dreams. When it comes to putting hopes and dreams in elected officials or the policy platforms, on the left or the right, I’ve been there and I’ve been disillusioned by it. But I’ve also been disillusioned by my own disillusionment as totally disengaging does nothing.
I can’t not care about politics, even if it’s meaningless, because lives are impacted… so how then do I orient myself to it? If calling Medicaid a covenant with the poor (as the UMC’s General Board on Church and Society did) moralizes a policy far too much, but abolishing such a welfare program altogether is turning a blind eye to the structural realities of poverty, then what am I to do?
I suppose it’s ultimately come down to what I see the purpose of government to be: to organize civil society. Combined with what I see to be society’s problem: in short, sin, (which I would call humanity’s inward turn) which lends itself to tribalism (me and mine) which itself begets more problems such as poverty and partial justice from which most societal problems stem.
That’s not to say I think government can cure society’s ills, just that government must be organized according to an awareness and understanding of them. Unfortunately, I am sure that our ills will always work against government’s organizing purpose, because it forces disparate aspects of society to be organized alongside one another, which forces them to account for one another – rural/urban, wealthy/impoverished, progressive/conservative, religious/unreligious/nonreligious/other-religious.
At least this gives me hope that the messiness and imperfection of politics and policies for all involved means it’s working. After all, if all sides of society are going to come together to determine the best way to organize society accounting for it’s problems according to their different ideas – then that should be a mess. It’s a mess in relationships, I can only imagine that it should be a mess in any larger gathering of people.
However, if it’s only a mess for certain aspects of society and not the others, I’d say something is wrong with the government’s organizing as it’s not accounting for society’s disparities, nor the problems inherit to it and is becoming tribalism writ large.
Even in this hope, I don’t hold out hope that society will ever be perfectly organized. So, even though I’m about to espouse an idealistic view of democratic-republic society, I’ll vote (luckily, because I live in a decently strong democratic society) for the policies that I think will best organize societyand account for our disparities, which will be informed by my experiences, education and theological convictions. In that voting, I’m very aware that I could be wrong or that circumstances will change and require me to reassess my policy and political views, which is fine, politics is meaningless after all, but I would hope that anyone would else would see it the same.
1.To be honest, I’m still waffling over whether or not it’s the politics or more specifically the policies that matter more. Although, I do think that how the sausage gets made has an effect on the sausage that one is fed. Politicians that ignore the game of politics, like early in Obama’s first term, do so at their own peril.