Ripon College Prof. Brian Smith:
Glenn Beck said recently in an interview on “Meet the Press” that he was gravely concerned about whether the new president could govern effectively. How can we all come together, he asked, after such a bitter and divisive election?
The divisiveness has gotten even more extreme due to recent claims by several women that they were molested by Donald Trump, and in light of the Wikki leaks of purported emails by Hilary Clinton indicating that what candidates say in private may be different from their public positions.
Will 40% of the electorate whose candidate loses say, “That is not my president”? Will the Congress continue to be gridlocked no matter how many seats change hands? Will representatives in the losing party announce from the beginning that they will fight to make the winner a one-term president and do all they can to block his or her agenda before even considering it?
The percentage won’t be 40 percent, it will be more than half. Hillary Clinton seems unlikely to get half of the popular vote. (The rest being Hillary’s “deplorables” and others.) Donald Trump certainly will not get half of the popular vote. So more than half of the electorate will be disenfranchised after Nov. 8. And as for the losing party, their purpose to defeat the winner will be just like Republicans in 2009, Democrats in 2001, Republicans in 1993, Democrats in 1981, Republicans in 1977 … you get the picture. Since the first purpose of politics is to win, and politics is a zero-sum game, Smith’s previous paragraphi is a seriously naïve point of view.
This divisiveness has very serious implications for the future of the nation. Many commentators have not been addressing this concern in the heat of a closely contested and nasty campaign, but it is a very critical question with far more lasting effects than who wins on Nov. 8.
When asked at the end of his remarks what was the solution, Beck responded by saying reconciliation among citizens, beginning at the local level.
Here is where the moral and religious leaders of the country have a crucial role to play over the next several weeks, before and after the election. They have the moral stature to speak credibly to our “better angels” and to remind us that we all are citizens of the same country with a responsibility to come together and treat one another with respect.
Respect, of course, is a two-way street. Opponents of Barack Obama can cite a long list of things that have gotten worse in this country since Obama took office, including Obama’s rhetoric against his political opponents. Hillary has doubled down on this (“deplorables”?), and has not apologized for anything she’s said and done. Trump has done the same thing to his political opponents, including those within his supposed own party. Exactly how do you get past that — an apology? Saying you really didn’t mean it?
Beyond the rhetoric, the Democrats and Republicans (sometimes but not always including Trump) can’t even agree on what the problems are (for instance, police shootings), and if you can’t agree on the problems you’re wasting breath talking about solutions.
Some clergy already have taken sides in the partisan struggle, appearing at party conventions or endorsing particular candidates at rallies. Others participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday recently, calling for an end on IRS restrictions on clergy from endorsing candidates without losing tax exempt status for their churches.
No matter what one thinks of these tactics, there is a larger and more important role for religious leaders of all faiths to play at this critical time. They need to speak to the deeper moral bonds we as a people share with one another and that protect the vitality of our republic.
The Founding Fathers wanted a separation of church and state. They also wanted religion to play an important role in educating citizens with a moral conscience so that they could work for common goals in society. Without that foundation, they knew the new republic would not survive.
We are at a critical moment in our history. Some feel we have not been this divided politically since the eve of the Civil War. It may not be that dire, but many certainly have lost almost total respect for those who disagree with them politically, and this bodes harm for effective government after the election.
Again, respect is a two-way street. Hillary’s “deplorables” were described by Obama eight years before as “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Why not a Pulpit of Reconciliation weekend in the next few weeks in which clergy of all faiths remind us that we have far more in common than what divides us and that respectful dialogue is needed to keep us together as we face a challenging future?
This is not a violation of the clergy’s role. It is fulfilling clergy’s responsibility to the nation as moral leaders, a role our Founding Fathers expected of them.
Scripture teaches us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Let us hear from religious leaders some vision right now, some hope for political reconciliation.
Ironically, both major candidates for president are not particularly religious. That should make a bigger difference to Republicans than Democrats.