By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The fabric of America’s democracy is coming apart at the seams. Contentious identity politics have polarized an electorate that has forgotten its responsibility to protect the fabric of democracy. Today’s America has fragmented into hostile partisan minorities—one being the remnants of a former middle-class white majority that has taken refuge in a radicalized GOP.
America is experiencing a crisis in its political morality. While 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians, most of them have supported Donald Trump, who represents the antithesis of Christian moral values. It seems that America has lost its moral compass, and it will take a revival to restore legitimacy to its politics.
America’s politicians unanimously proclaim America the greatest nation on earth, with no need to repent. I must dissent. Our culture exemplifies a lust for power, materialism and hedonism. Our obsession with competition and disdain for cooperation have corrupted our culture and politics. Both candidates for President exemplify a lack the virtues and integrity needed for that high office. They provide irrefutable evidence of the need for a moral revival.
America the Beautiful is a patriotic hymn that reminds us that we need to be reconciled and redeemed as the nation God would have us to be: America! America! God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. We need to acknowledge the moral corruption of our politics. We cannot blame God for that. In our democracy we must accept personal responsibility for the quality of our politics if we expect to retain our liberty in law.
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the members of Congress who share their partisan politics are not the cause of our moral decadence and corruption—they merely reflect it. We enabled their ascent to political power, and without a moral revival America will continue its moral decline. What can we do to restore moral legitimacy to our corrupt political process?
We must first acknowledge our unrealistic political expectations. We expect unlimited freedom and the opportunity to achieve our many wants, with a strong military to protect our national security interests overseas and law enforcement to protect us at home. We expect quality education, health care and generous social security—all with low taxes and a balanced budget. We expect too much from too little investment in our nation—and that’s a moral issue.
A moral revival should be based on the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus lamented the moral corruption of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago (see Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35). The remedy for us today is the same as it was for the ancient Jews. We must repent and experience a moral revival in order to balance our love for ourselves with the love for others—all others, even those we would rather ignore.
We can start with economics. Americans might be considered as the rich and the rest. The rich are getting richer by exploiting the rest in a shrinking middle class, and politicians have long pandered to the rich and relied on their contributions to stay in office. A moral revival in politics must address the evil of the rich buying political influence and power and focus on restoring a healthy middle class and helping the poor. That will be a daunting challenge.
The rest of us are complicit in the demise of our democracy. We have elected politicians who lack moral integrity in exchange for their promises of lower taxes and more benefits, and we have demanded more rights for ourselves at the expense of the rights of others. Fundamentalist Christians have claimed the freedom to discriminate against homosexuals, whom they consider sinners, and to desecrate other religions. It may be legal to burn the Qur’an, but it’s not moral.
A coalition of minorities now has more political influence than the shrinking white majority, and racial discrimination continues to be a clarion call to address the inequities and violence of a black subculture in urban areas. It is the most divisive issue of identity politics. The problems are real and there is a legitimate need to curtail police brutality, but anti-police and anti-American rhetoric and hostility to promote racial justice do more harm than good.
We are a nation divided by contentious identity issues. Political reconciliation in an increasingly pluralistic nation will require balancing our individual wants and rights with our obligation to provide for the common good. That will require elected officials of moral integrity and trust, and our two-party duopoly has failed to provide them. Additional political parties are needed to provide the choices that are necessary to restore legitimacy to our politics.
A moral revival of our politics will require subordinating identity politics to a revitalized sense of patriotism that can reconcile us and redeem our great experiment in democracy. That will require protecting our shrinking middle class from further exploitation by the rich, and rejecting the further polarization of our politics by issues of race, religion and sexual preference.
If this moral revival sounds religious, that’s because it is. Most Americans are religious, and their faith provides them with moral standards of legitimacy based on loving others as they love themselves. For Americans to be true to their faith, they need to apply its moral principles to their politics. In that sense we need to mix our religion and our politics to restore legitimacy to our politics. That will enable us to be reconciled and redeemed as America the Beautiful.
Notes and References:
On the extent of voter pessimism, partisan division and political hostility in America, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in-every-state-pessimism-about-trump-clinton-and-the-impact-of-the-election/2016/09/06/ecff15d0-739a-11e6-b786-19d0cb1ed06c_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On Fareed Zakaria’s commentary on identity politics as the cause of political polarization, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-no-longer-the-economy-stupid-our-identity-politics-are-polarizing-us/2016/09/15/7bb61f9e-7b75-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html?utm_term=.672847e137a9&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
On The Elusive Ideal of Political Reconciliation, see http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2016/07/the-elusive-ideal-of-political.html.
On Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America, see
On morality, politics and economic issues, see Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/03/wealth-politics-religion-and-economic.html;
also, Liberation from Economic Oppression: A Human Right or a Moral Obligation of Faith? at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/05/liberation-from-economic-oppression.html, God, Money and Politics at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/10/god-money-and-politics.html, and Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics, at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2016/06/christianity-and-capitalism-strange.html.
The greatest commandment not only summarizes the Christian moral ethic, it is also a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. See The Greatest Commandment as a Common Word of Faith at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/01/the-greatest-commandment-common-word-of.html.
For an example of a call for a moral revival in politics in the context of a liberal agenda, see Higher Ground Moral Declaration at http://www.moralrevival.org/moraldeclaration/. The political objectives advocated are ideals that should invite healthy political debate, but that is not likely in the current polarized and hostile partisan political environment.