questing for equilibrium in a querulous age – a personal reflection

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On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States; this following a tediously contentious (or was it a contentiously tedious?) presidential campaign season. Through it all, myriad political pundits, social savants, mass media, and people spanning the spectrum of humankind seemed to be able, even willing to assent to one thing: the zeitgeist, the spirit of this age of America is tempestuous.

I agree. Wholeheartedly. Meaning completely, not enthusiastically. Two words I have begun to employ when describing my sense of the dis-ease affecting, afflicting America: calamitous and fractious.

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln, accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as United States senator (an election he lost), gave an address that has come to be known as The House Divided Speech. Casting an image of American disunion rooted in powerful antipathies regarding institutional slavery, Lincoln said, in part: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

It may be an overreach to aver that the current state of contention in our nation is comparable, whether in the depth of animus or the breadth of involvement of the populace, to Lincoln’s time. However, as I wasn’t around in the mid-19th century so to assess by experience the possible equivalence, I’d say it’s close enough.

And I seek equilibrium. Not peace necessarily, if by peace I desire and define it as a countrywide calming of the roiling waters of our national temperament. I don’t see that happening. Rather I long for balance, a personal equipoise in our querulous age. For, as one who, with soul-deep and heartfelt compassion, strives, at times struggles to understand and accept “the other”, all others who think and feel differently than I…

I am disturbed by the clamor of strident voices on all sides. Many (blessedly not all), as I listen, seem to belong to folk who seem to see the world through a monocular lens. Seemingly able to espouse one point of view or one set of points of view, they seem unable to acknowledge as valid or principled any other. For example, as I have friends and associates on each side of our national political divide (and, truth be told, they always have been on each side), I’ve heard it said or written: “To vote for Donald Trump is to vote for an isolated America.” and “To vote for Hillary Clinton is to vote for a perpetuation of politics as usual.” These are the kinder statements. For to paraphrase what I’ve also heard said and seen written: “To (how could you?!) vote for Trump is a sign of a mean-spirited, sexist, racist, nativist mentality.” “If you’re not outraged and taking to the streets in protest, you’re not paying attention (read: “You’re either blind and deaf or dumb!).” and “To (how could you?!) vote for Clinton is a sign of a capitalistic, godless immorality.” “If you’re in the streets protesting, you need to get over it and let us get on with it (read: “We won and you didn’t!).”

In this, I am distressed that many (again, blessedly not all) seem to have parted company with family and friends, associates and acquaintances – seeing and speaking with one another less or not at all, disengaging from long standing activities, traveling no longer in the same circles, unfriending one another on Facebook.

Now, it’s not that I don’t have deeply rooted opinions, strong beliefs, and durable political preferences. I do. And it’s not that I don’t think and feel, speak and act on them. I do. Still, at the proverbial end (and beginning and middle) of this day and age, praying we survive it, people and relationships are more important to me. Hence, by my faith in the Jesus I follow who, in the most unconditional expression of love, in the name of his and my God, forgave those who were killing him, I, at the least, choose to love and to listen to “the other”, all others. And in my loving and listening, I find my equilibrium.

America’s divided house

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Following a long and tedious, tortuous presidential campaign rife with insult and innuendo, counterfeit story lines of candidates’ illnesses and inabilities, conspiracy theories of media favoritism and rigged election processes, and virulent threads of racism, sexism, and nativism, Hillary Clinton carried the popular vote and Donald Trump, winning the Electoral College, is America’s 45th President-elect.

The election is over, but no one’s happy.

Not Clinton stalwarts, many, perhaps most viewing Mr. Trump, at best, as unseasoned in governance and unprepared to govern and, at worst, a personification of a wholly self-interested, ethnocentric, exclusionary ugly America.

And not Trump supporters. To wit…

On Thanksgiving Day eve, a Michaels arts and crafts store customer in Chicago, proclaiming, “Yes, I voted for Trump, so there!”, erupted into a profanity-laced, racial-tinged tirade protesting discrimination at the hands of African American employees.

This past Wednesday, a Florida man, berating a Starbucks barista as “garbage” and “trash”, made the accusation of “anti-white discrimination”, though ostensibly for poor service, linked to his self-identification as a Trump supporter.[1]

This past Thursday, Clinton and Trump chief strategists joined in the now, since 1972, traditional presidential election post-mortem at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The customary civil character of the gathering quickly evaporated in the heat of mutual verbal fusillades of anger, if not also contempt, some of it markedly personal.

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln, then the state Republican Party’s nominee as Illinois’ United States senator, channeling Jesus,[2] delivered what became known as his House Divided Speech. Lincoln, as a latter-day prophet, speaking of America in the light and shadow of the idea, the reality of institutional slavery, said, in part: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free…Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it…or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States…”

The presidential election is over and no one’s happy. There are few gracious losers. There are more sore winners. Depending on where one stands, hope is shrouded in varied shades of doubt and fear and civility trumped by schadenfreude-esque self-satisfaction. America again is a house divided, and, according to Lincolnian and biblical wisdom, cannot stand. Which way will we go?

 

Footnotes:

[1] In a nation of over 325 million people, I would and could discount these two incidents as anomalies; considering them to be peculiar expressions of individuals at particular and isolated moments of personal stress or distress. However, in light of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tabulation of 867 acts of intimidation and violence, most unabashedly motivated by racial or religious animus, coming within ten days after Election Day, I view the Michaels and Starbucks episodes, reflective of a larger and most worrisome malaise, as manifestations of a communal, national psychic disorder.

[2] When Jesus was accused by the religious authorities of casting out demons by Satan’s power, he answered, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3.23b-25, my emphasis).