Tolerating Competing Truths in Politics

In his compelling book The Last Politician, Franklin Foer asserts that “Politics is … an ethos that requires tolerance of competing truths” (pp. 3-4). He portrays President Biden as tolerant of “competing truths,” which leads to Biden resorting to “old-fashioned politics: deal-making andcompromise.”

Since the words “deal-making and compromise” have fallen on hard times. I will attempt to explain how I believe President Biden is using these words as an expression of his tolerance of competing truths.

I don’t believe that the words “competing truths” mean that here are “alternative facts” about a given issue or situation; a non-sensical idea perpetrated by Kellyanne Conway. There is only “one truth” about the issue or situation at hand. To be sure, only an all-knowing God has a complete grasp of that truth. And the fact that I am not God presents a considerable challenge.

As a finite and fallible human being, I, at best, have only a partial glimpse of the full truth that only God can comprehend. My partial glimpse is deeply informed by “who I am,” which includes the particularities of my social location, such as my gender, my race and ethnicity, my socioeconomic status, and my sexual orientation, as well as the history of a lifetime of experiences that comprise my “life story.”

And the same is true for you. Your partial glimpse of the truth is deeply informed by your unique particularities and life-story. And because we are different unique persons, you may have grasped a portion of the “truth” that I have missed. Likewise, because of the unique person that I am, I may have grasped a portion of the truth that you have missed.

In summary then, what I mean by “competing truths” is that we have differing partial glimpses of the “complete truth.”

Therefore, to gain a more full-orbed understanding (albeit still imperfect) of the full truth, we need to tolerantly “compare notes”; sharing with each other in a loving and respectful manner our respective partial glimpses of the “truth”; the goal being to uncover some common ground.

The looming question then remains as to how to interpret President Biden’s commitment to the “old-fashioned politics” of “deal-making and compromise.” If you accept what I have said above, a constructive meaning that can be given to those four words is that whatever the political issue at hand, finite and fallible human beings on both sides of the political aisle must seek for some common legislative ground by means of loving and respectful conversations regarding their agreements and disagreements. The result will be “compromise,” in the best sense of that word, where the legislation that emerges from that conversation will most likely reflect only a portion of what those on either side of the aisle had hoped for prior to the conversation.

Of course, this result will not sit well with those politicians on either side of the aisle who will not settle for less than ALL that they are advocating for. Such dissatisfaction is increasingly the case in our tribalistic culture characterized by a rampant us-versus-them mentality where it is erroneously believed that my political party possesses the whole truth about the political issue at hand. Therefore, President Biden is surely “swimming upstream” in his admirable commitment to practice politics the “old-fashioned” way. More power to him! It is my hope and prayer that he will not be the “last politician” to do so.

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