Relative to the current struggle for the soul of the Republican party, one political pundit said that the Trumpian vision for that future form of Republicanism “prefers to unite behind a lie [That the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump] rather than stay divided over truth.”
Saving my rejection of building a future Republicanism on a lie for my next Musing, I will now argue for my belief that “being divided over truth” is an inevitable aspect of our humanity that should be acknowledged and embraced and should be the starting point for respectful political discourse.
The fact that we are divided about the nature of truth about any given public policy issue reflects the fact that as finite and fallible human beings our beliefs about that issue are deeply informed by the particularities of our differing social locations, such as our gender, our socio-economic status, our sexual orientation and our life-stories. So, it is an inevitable aspect of the human condition that we often disagree about the truth regarding any public policy issue.
Social media is replete with recriminations from citizens on the right side of the political spectrum as to the “far left” political agenda. Not to be outdone, those on the left side of the political spectrum bemoan the “far right” political agenda.
Such recriminations only serve to eliminate the possibility of a genuine respectful conversation about disagreements because of their generality. What, exactly are the “far left” or “far right” agendas? Genuine respectful conversations about disagreements will be possible only if those on either side of the political spectrum stop talking in generalities and begin talking about specific public policy issues. In what follows, I will attempt to outline the contours of a potential respectful conversation about public policy issues that focus on the problem of poverty, being careful to introduce the voices of those who are actually experiencing severe poverty; thereby introducing the need to exercise empathy (putting yourself in the other person’s shoes) when embarking on such a conversation.
All of us take the position that what we believe about a given issue (in politics and every other area of public discourse) is true, and we are prepared to give our reasons for taking that position.
But what many of us are slow to acknowledge is that our believing that our position on a given issue is true is deeply informed by what scholars call “the particularities of our social location.” In plain English, this means that what we believe is true about a given issue is deeply informed by “who we are.”
For example, our beliefs are deeply informed by our gender, our socio-economic status, our sexual orientation, and a lifetime of experiences that comprise our personal biography; all elements of our “personal stories.” It is because our personal stories differ that we may hold to differing beliefs about the issue at hand. My personal story may help me to see and understand things that you miss because of your differing personal story, and, similarly, your personal story may help you to see and understand things that I miss because I am not you.
I never tire of saying that you cannot predict beforehand he results of a respectful conversation. This truth makes a charade of calls for international diplomacy that stipulate up-front what the results of that diplomacy must be. It also helps to clarify that the elusive word “bipartisanship” needs to be viewed as a process and not an end result. I will illustrate by considering the current debate as to whether President Biden is being bipartisan in his attempt to get Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.
As I have argued elsewhere, the unyielding pre-condition for a respectful conversation to take place is that the conversation partners embrace that rare combination of “commitment” and “openness” that combines a willingness to express one’s beliefs about the contentious issue at hand with clarity and deep conviction at the same time that one is willing to listen carefully to the contrary beliefs of conversation partners and the reasons they have for holding to those contrary beliefs and a willingness to re-examine one’s own beliefs in light of this careful listening; which could lead (but doesn’t have to lead) to changing one’s beliefs.
America’s Founding Fathers had the wisdom to set up checks and balances between the three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. This balance of powers has served our country well over most of our history. But it came under severe assault under the presidency of Donald Trump; who made decisions as if he has unlimited power to do as he pleases to satisfy his own self-interests. At the same time, with few exceptions, a hyper-partisanship has flourished in the halls of Congress that has led to legislative gridlock. The result has been a frontal attack on the checks and balances needed to maintain a robust democracy that would have been fatal to the American Democratic experiment had it not been for the courageous public service of members of the judiciary; from both sides sides of the political aisle, who would not cave into the autocratic commitments of President Trump. Their meticulous commitment to the state and local laws governing election returns revealed the nonsense of President Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud. Although they were true to their callings as public servants without seeking applause, they are heroes who deserve our applause.
But this victory for democracy has a deeper dimension upon which we need to focus. It points to the possibility of a return to a way of doing politics that is centered on building unity rather than creating self-serving divisions.
I believe it is fair to judge that President Trump’s way of doing politics focused on creating divisions. Consider, for example, President Trump’s approach to NOT addressing the rampant racial inequities in America. From the earliest days of his presidency when he declared that there were “good people on both sides” of the protests in Charlottesville, he has played to the fears of white Americans that people of people of color will erode their white privilege, thus creating unbridgeable divisions between white Americans and Americans of color. In the process of doing so, he has created a stark asymmetry between how differing groups of Americans view constitutionally permitted protests over racial inequalities: The protests on those in the “Black Lives Matter” movement are viewed by a significant group of Americans as inciters of violence, while another significant group of Americans view those who oppose the elements of the “Black Lives Matter” movement as “peaceful protestors,” with the result that nothing is done to address existing rampant racial inequalities,
This Musing will appear as an Addendum in a book I have written that will be published by Cascade Books in the Spring of 2021. Therefore, you will find references to various chapters in that book, which is tentatively titled “Let’s Talk: Bridging Divisive Lines Though Inclusive Respectful Conversations.”
I wrote this concluding addendum to my book shortly after the Associated Press declared that Joe Biden has defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. I am assuming that the courts will not find sufficient merit in the lawsuits being filed in various states by Trump’s lawyers to overturn this result
In the reflections that follow, I will first explain why I am pleased with this election result. I will then present my vision for the future of America, starting with the presidency of Joe Biden. A critical distinction that will inform all of my reflections is between the “ends” one hopes to accomplish through the political process (the goals of one’s political agenda) and the political “means” one uses to seek to accomplish one’s desired ends. For reasons that will eventually become apparent, I start with the issue of “means.”
Since I plan on voting for Joe Biden in the upcoming presidential election, my first target audience for this reflection consists of those citizens who consider themselves to be “progressives”; having supported Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the early primaries.
Having talked with a number of such “progressives,” I sense that many citizens who situate themselves in that category are thinking of not voting because they will not vote for President Trump and they don’t believe Joe Biden is progressive enough to warrant their support. I will now unpack why I think such a decision by these progressives “not to vote” is a bad idea.
I believe I understand the reasons these progressives have for not wanting to vote. They are strong proponents of the progressive agendas advanced by Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, and they do not wish to settle for the “less progressive” agenda that would likely emerge under a Joe Biden presidency.
I am writing to express strong disagreement with the assertion by Bonnie Reinders that the Democratic party “calls riots peaceful protests” and “justifies vandalism and violence in our cities.”
Bonnie fails to acknowledge a clear and indisputable distinction between two groups of people who have been out on the streets, in Portland and numerous other cities in America, including Orange City, where about 400 local residents participated in a peaceful Partnership for Justice march.
To be sure, a small minority of protestors, representing unacceptable extremes on both the political right and political left, have been vandals. Those in Portland who have damaged a Federal building have clearly broken the law and should be held accountable. I agree completely with President Trump that they should be punished in accordance with the laws of the land.
The first step that led to my commitment to listen to the pain of others came when no one was willing to listen to my pain.
It was in the summer of 1993 when I was called into the office of the President of Messiah College (PA) and was told that my services as Vice President for Academic Affairs was being terminated immediately because of my “lack of deference to the President and Board of Trustees.” From my perspective, the reason for my being fired was that my collaborative leadership style was diametrically opposed to the command-and-control style of the President and Board.
A bruhaha resulted amongst my faculty. In an attempt to calm the troubled waters, the Board solicited the services of a mediator, who, I was told, talked to a lot of people, but never talked to me.
How could that be since it was my firing that led to the turmoil? The pain of being fired was amplified significantly by the fact that this mediator was not willing to listen to my side of the story; not willing to listen to my pain. I had been silenced.
Media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic is ubiquitous. Much of this coverage focuses on the respective roles of politicians at both the federal and state governments in addressing this crisis, a topic for a possible musing at a later date.In this musing, I will focus on those media reports that are often reserved for the end of newscasts; reports about the on-the-ground heroes among us.
I am encouraged and moved to tears by the media reports on those many citizens, irrespective of political affiliation, who are actively serving fellow Americans in dire need. These heroic Americans include doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners serving Covis-19 victims in hospitals, emergency rooms and nursing homes, often putting themselves in danger while doing so; persons volunteering at food pantries seeking to provide adequate food supplies for those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic; those working in grocery stores; those providing delivery services of food and other necessary goods; those first responders, such as paramedics, policemen and firefighters; those participating in drive-by birthday celebrations or singing to their neighbors from their apartment balconies; those making encouraging telephone calls to elderly friends who are house-bound; those providing for the education of the children of America by means of virtual learning; and those parents caring for their children round-the-clock at home. The list could go on.
It is indisputable that Christianity, as practiced by the institutional church, is thriving in the global south (centered in Africa, Latin America and Asia), where the majority of Christians now live, and is declining precipitously in the western world, especially among those many millennials in America who now designate their religious affiliation as “none.”
Given that reality, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, in his excellent book Future Faith, calls Christians in the Western World to listen carefully to their brothers and sisters in Christ in the global south about their views regarding the Christian faith that are at odds with dominant Western Views.
I applaud those church congregations who have made a commitment to the core value of “acceptance.” One such church that I know well has been criticized as the church where “anyone can go.” That should be taken as a compliment.
But I propose two challenges for such “accepting” congregations and for Christian colleges that claim commitment to the Christian value of “acceptance.”
Richard Mouw, President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary, points to the rarity of Christians combining deep convictions about their beliefs with gentleness and respect toward those who disagree with them in a fascinating and disturbing reflection on the many sermons he heard during his boyhood days in a Christian Reformed Church in New Jersey on the last two sentences in 1 Peter 3: 15.