Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Factions. Nothing New Under the Sun

Close up cat pic that has nothing to do with this blog post
I have a confession: When I first learned of the Congressional Baseball Practice shooting, one of the first things I wanted to know, if not THE first thing, was the political party of those hurt and the political party of the shooter. I was actually secretly hoping for liberal/democrat victims and a conservative/republican shooter.

I am not proud this.

And when I step away from that fantasy for even just a moment it seems downright crazy.

Feel free to criticize me if you wish.

I’m curious, though you don’t have to admit it, how many of my liberal friends had similar fantasies and thoughts. And once the facts emerged, I wonder how many of my conservative friends were secretly relieved or even felt justified knowing, of course, that the shooter was a deranged Bernie supporter. That makes perfect sense, right?

It’s a strange thing, our identities these days, and how much importance our political alignment matters. I’m trying to remember when someone’s political allegiance became so important in our identities. Growing up in South Jersey, a mostly white, rural, with a conservative tilt area, we used to innocently “label” each other by religion, and maybe ethnic background mostly. Someone was an Italian Catholic, or German Catholic, or Methodist.
“Do you know the Joneses?”
“Oh, yes, they are the Methodists who live across from the Harrises.”

Now it’s:
“The Joneses—are they the ones that had the Trump/Pence sign in their yard?”
“Mmm, Hmm.”

Now I hear people talk about not taking vacations in certain parts of the country because it's too "Red." Not because it's too hot and humid.

Have you ever been to coastal Alabama? The beaches are really nice.

Plenty has already been written about our political polarization. We blame talk radio, late night television, and gerrymandering. We blame the influence of money. Mostly we all blame the other party. But I wonder if that is the cause or more so the effect? Or is it just part of who we are?

"A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points . . . have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."

-Publius (James Madison), Federalist Paper Number 10

Madison argued for the passage of the Constitution to help mitigate the risks that came with our natural proclivity towards factions. And yet, here we are, inflamed with our mutual animosity towards each other.

As I see it, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Republicans who are right or the Democrats who are right. To read Madison’s words makes it clear to me that when we ask that question we have lost. Rising above faction, that’s the key. Can we still do it? Can we, as Abraham Lincoln said in his First Inaugural Address get beyond our hatred "by the better angels of our nature?”

Of course, one month after he spoke those words, the first shots on Fort Sumter were fired.

As bleak as our political discourse seems these days, there is some comfort in Madison's words written 230 years ago. It's the recognition that this is nothing new under the sun. Though Madison's words are prophetic to us, he was writing of history and the factions that had bedeviled England for hundreds of years. So the comfort is that we are not, somehow, unique in our troubles.

Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.

Ecclesiastes 1:4-11