I Actually Used “Encouraging” and “Politics” in the Same Sentence!

The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately from the world of politics came in the wake of the tragic shooting at the Republican baseball practice on June 14. I was pleased by a number of news reports covering multiple politicians from both sides of the aisle calling to dial back the disrespectful, inflammatory rhetoric that incites this kind of behavior.

Most of us are unaware of how short and steep the slippery slope is from damaging words to damaging actions.

It’s actually a good thing that we disagree with each other on a range of issues — that disagreement leads to more thorough, healthy exploration of possible solutions. The problem begins when we make assumptions about the motives of our opponents and escalate that in our minds to assumptions about their character.  We find ourselves painting them as evil people with evil intent instead of as human beings deserving of respect even if we disagree with their views.

Wouldn’t it be great if the standard in politics was Socratic discussion of issues instead of building support by super-charging people’s emotions around the issues? But politicians need to maintain their support base, and dramatic rhetoric works for that purpose, even if it is counterproductive for the health of our nation.

High drama also makes for more exciting media stories, and that makes money for the media.

Thus the needs of the politicians are served by inflammatory rhetoric, and the needs of the media are served by inflammatory rhetoric. So what if that disrespectful speech creates a culture where it’s a small step across the line to physical assault?  Is that an acceptable price to pay to assure political and media success?

But as I’ve said before, the blame doesn’t really lie just with the politicians and the media.  They’re listening to their audiences — the rest of us — and giving us what we’re asking for. They’re doing what works because we allow it to work.

Let’s work this chain backwards: A gunman shoots people he disagrees with because he’s constantly hearing how evil these people are. He’s hearing how evil these people are because that language raises support for politicians and the media. That support comes because we rally behind the people who make the biggest media splash instead of those who demonstrate respectful and rationale exploration of problems and solutions.

We like things that stir our emotions — and that’s a good thing. But we’ve lost the self-discipline individually and as a society to restrain our thirst for emotional satisfaction when reason would better serve all involved.  Remember that the next time you assume the guy who cut you off on the freeway is of low character instead of extending the grace you would hope for when you make a bad driving decision.

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When Character Takes a Back Seat

I’ve never written a political opinion piece before, but the issue at hand goes way beyond politics, so please forgive my rant. What’s my point?

Character matters. A lot. When leaders of low character are in charge, there’s only one way any organization (or country) can go.

Case study: Donald Trump. If Mr. Trump and I agreed on every single issue, I still couldn’t vote for him. He hasn’t demonstrated any character traits that I look for in a leader. Character always trumps issues (no pun intended).

I’m sure someone defends his character, but I don’t see how. So why does he have so many followers? I have a theory about that…

I’m not comparing Trump to Hitler’s as some have done, but watching how people align themselves with Trump gives me insight into the mindset that might cause people to follow leaders like Hitler, Pol Pot, or Stalin. It’s not that they like the leader, but they believe any radical change will be better than the status quo. I suspect many people aren’t voting for Trump as much as they are voting for radical change. That’s an understandable but dangerous path.

Lack of character has led to the downfall of the two-party system as an effective democratic mechanism. Party loyalty is now more important than finding the best solutions for America. It should not be so difficult to recognize a good idea just because it came from across the aisle. Politicians represent their party more than their people.

And while I’m on my rant, ignoring character has created a media machine that doesn’t seriously attempt to be unbiased. News organizations and journalists are motivated to create drama and promote agendas rather than discover truth – unless the truth creates drama or promotes their agenda. Instigative journalism has replaced investigative journalism.

Where does this lead? Never in history has a world power retained that status forever. Why, besides blind patriotism, would we expect America to be the first? Political, economic, and moral indicators all suggest the decline of America is well under way. That’s no surprise — Biblical end times prophecy mentions other nations but not America. That only makes sense if we’re not a superpower.

Enough doom and gloom. Whether America has a bright future or not isn’t what drives my hope and joy. I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Whether I live in prosperity or suffering may change my momentary happiness but not my underlying joy. My fulfillment in life comes from revealing God’s glory to others and equipping them to be sources of pleasure to God. In the words of the Apostle Paul:

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Philippians 4:11-12 (NASB)

God has blessed America. Too bad America doesn’t bless Him.