I love America.
I was born here. Raised here. And I intend to live out the rest of my life here.
These days in America, love-of-country often gets conflated into accusations of racist nationalism. I don’t agree with that. Not all patriotic sentiments are tainted with racism or geo-narcissism. (I might’ve just invented that term, so if you know any good trademark attorneys please have them contact me.)
Two things can be true simultaneously. America can have atrocities and injustices in its past/present, and still occupy its place in history as a dominant force for enormous good in the world. I cringe at our past mistakes, yearn for improvement, and feel no qualms about celebrating the good.
Yesterday I watched the inauguration ceremony for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Let me be clear, I am no fan of either of those candidates. But that is no surprise because I’m no fan of most politicians. Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I’ve had severe and intense disagreements with our last 4 presidents. In fact, if you ever feel like melting into a puddle of pessimistic despair, just sit down with me and ask what’s wrong with our political systems today.
So why did I still get goosebumps today listening to the national anthem and hearing familiar phrases like “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”? It’s because I love my country. Warts and all, I’m proud to be an American.
Nobody asked for the following advice, but I’m going to give it anyway. I’d like to share a few thoughts with some of the groups who have been at the center of our political turmoil as of late.
To the MAGA crowd, Republicans, & Conservatives:
You have been through a lot. It’s no small thing to back an outsider who was more targeted and vilified than any other presidential candidate in our lifetime. Many of you had to keep your political opinions to yourself because you were afraid you’d be labeled a racist or fascist simply for having conservative values. Some in your camp have behaved very badly, but many of you are honest, hard-working, patriotic Americans who just want to live your lives in peace without excessive government intrusion. However, the uncomfortable truth is that while most of you are in fact not racists, the accusation is not entirely unfounded. There are some among your ranks that have too high a tolerance for anti-Semitic, anti-black, and anti-immigrant ideologies.
Your candidate was not re-elected despite overcoming so much opposition in his first term. Most of you know there were many shady irregularities in this last election that, had the shoe been on the other foot, would’ve received much more credence and media attention. You believe your side was not given a fair shake by the courts. Maybe that is because most judges and state legislators were Trump-weary and ready to move on. Perhaps they were willing to look the other way by dismissing the majority of the court cases on technicalities rather than the merits of the evidence. Or maybe, the campaign’s legal team did an inadequate job implementing the best legal strategy. Either way, it is now officially spilled milk. And you remember what they say about spilled milk, right?
Some of you are vowing to never let this go. I hope that is partly true. If there’s one thing we can deduce from last November it’s that confidence in the integrity of our elections is at an all-time low. I join you in your frustration, marveling at how poorly certain states run their elections. I hope that you are energized to hold your leaders accountable by reforming our election processes so that the ridiculous loopholes are corrected and the massive vulnerabilities are fixed.
The hard pill to swallow is that it’s time to let the conspiracy nonsense go. It’s not a good look and it undermines the credibility of your valid concerns. I say that as one who believes that roughly half of all conspiracy theories are either true or partly-true. [If you don’t believe me just google “Operation Northwoods”, “The Gulf of Tonkin”, “MK-ULTRA” and “Operation Midnight Climax” and you can thank me later for ruining your ability to trust the government.]
Don’t lose your skepticism and critical eye, but please, exhibit some common sense and ground yourself in facts, not fiction. And though there are some remarkable things that Trump accomplished, there is no shame in condemning his misdeeds. Blind loyalty is not bravery.
To the Progressives, Democrats, & Liberals:
Congratulations. You won. Your candidates promised that by hook or by crook they were going to take back the White House and that is exactly what they did.
My admonition for you is to simply be cognizant of the shift. Your team has been on a mission these last four years, but now your crew is in charge. Many of you spent the last four years #resisting and speaking-truth-to-power, but in the process you brutalized and unfairly slandered millions of your fellow Americans on the other side of the aisle. I’m sure some of it was unintentional, but in the pursuit of defeating hate, you failed to look in the mirror. Your disdain for those with different convictions was on full display.
Some of you have called for unity and healing, bringing an end to all the political division. Most good-hearted people on the other side want that as well. But others of you are calling for retribution, and re-education camps. Some on your side are pledging to punish any/all Trump supporters and ruin their future careers. Might I suggest that this is not a path toward healing and unity.
If you really want to promote peace and healing, stand up and defend the Constitutional rights of your opponents. Rebuke any of your teammates calling for their utter destruction. And do so publicly so that all can see your unifying efforts. If this is truly your desire, then please extend an olive branch of true friendship to those on the other side.
If not, please don’t be surprised if you start receiving the same unfair treatment over the next four years that Trump supporters feel like they endured. The target will now be on your back. Your team will have the reigns and it is incumbent upon you to broker the peace. You cannot walk up to a stranger in a bar, hit them with 4 surprise sucker-punches, and then before they have a chance to retaliate you throw up your hands and call for peace and unity.
I hope that conservatives take the high road and do not set their sites on getting even. All I’m saying to you is, don’t be surprised if they do given how most of them were treated over the last four years. If those on the right are expected to own and repudiate the worst actors on their side, it is only fair that we should expect no less from those on the left.
To the Politically Indifferent:
I don’t have much to say to you. I actually don’t blame you for being disinterested in politics. It is a dirty game that, though boring at times, is largely cumbersome to the soul. All the talk about stopping to smell the roses and enjoying the little things in life is true. In one sense, political leaders should not be so paramount in our everyday lives.
My one caveat is that you should stay in the loop. Centuries ago the philosopher Plato said “If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.” I think that is still true today.
To American Christians on Social Media:
This is a much more nuanced group, but since my circle overlaps with many of yours, I thought I’d include a few thoughts for you.
There’s no other way to say this: some of you went nuts this election cycle. I understand your earnest solemnity because the stakes felt so high. And since your beliefs are such an integral part of your life, it’s no wonder why your faith got all tangled up with your politics. The problem is that they became indistinguishable.
To the ones who felt convinced that God had selected a particular candidate and anointed prophets to predict the outcome, perhaps it is time to sit down and reflect. Maybe your church leaders aren’t as infallible as you thought. I’ve always appreciated those with a heavy layer of modesty on top of their dogmatic certainty.
And to the ones who suddenly piped up the last 4 years during the Trump administration, where was all of your moral outrage during the Obama years? There are plenty of admirable traits about President Obama, but if we’re being fair, many of the criticisms you leveled at Trump were also true of Obama. And yet, so many of you were strangely silent during his two terms.
Some of you fawned all over certain political figures, while sneering and judging those who fawned over different figures. Again, not a great look.
The truth is that the Christian faith is not perfectly embodied by any of the major political parties. Each party elevates certain Christian values while neglecting others. I disagree that Christianity is not political. Rather, I’d say Christianity is not partisan. It was always meant to stand apart from the political philosophies of this world and operate as a moral conscience rather than being co-opted and leveraged by one group over another.
It’s no secret we’re in bad shape. The division is real. The animosity is real. The pandemic is real. The looming financial crisis because of the lockdown is real. Pressures have been mounting and many are ready to blow.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to love America and love your fellow Americans regardless of who occupies the White House. Let’s just all try to be a little more humble and consistent.
If Donald Trump deserved to be called out for racism when he described African nations as “sh*thole countries” then Joe Biden deserves to be called out for racism when he tells black Trump supporters “You ain’t black!”
If Trump was rightfully investigated for alleged collusion with Russia in 2016 election interference, then Biden ought to be investigated for alleged illegal business dealings with the Chinese Communist Party.
If the Democrat members of congress were brave for objecting to the electoral vote count in 2000, 2004, and 2016, then Republicans reserved the right to do the same in 2020 without being labeled treasonous insurrectionists.
If the media was justified in hounding the Trump administration, then they ought not take their foot off the gas but apply the same level of scrutiny in their coverage of the Biden administration.
If Trump deserved to be called out when he was lying, then Biden deserves to be called out when he is lying.
I could list 20 more comparisons, but you probably get the point.
Let’s take this one day at a time. There are several doomsday pundits who have said that the fuse on a 2nd civil war has already been lit and it’s only a matter of time before things blow up. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe they’re wrong. Maybe we can change the political climate by changing the way we treat each other. If you’ll excuse the occasional snarky tweet, I’ll agree to do my part if you’ll agree to do yours.