AMID POLITICAL DIVISIVENESS
WE NEED TO TALK AND LISTEN
John Pavlovitz is a minister, a writer, and a rising star of liberal Protestantism. His blog, “Stuff that Needs to Be Said,” has a wide readership, and his books are prominent among Amazon.com’s Christian Living titles.
He seems like a thoughtful guy, someone who’s made a transformative journey from “mainstream,” religious complacency to motivated, progressivist Evangelicalism. And, while I don’t know him personally, a quick perusal of his writing suggests that I’d enjoy sitting down with him to discuss the two topics people generally tell you to avoid: religion and politics.
We’d undoubtedly disagree on several counts. I’m a Catholic convert, he’s Protestant; my political inclinations are generally conservative, his very much to the left. But I value open discussion, and I think we could have a good time sharing thoughts over coffee.
I’m not sure he’d want to do that, however. A recent post on his blog expressed his view that the Trump presidency is making honest discussion difficult — if not impossible — and destroying friendships and family ties in the process…
“The relational fractures are everywhere,” he writes.
“Unspoken silences now replace what once was deep intimacy between people, as they try to salvage some semblance of connection, in unions now marked by a million things they are no longer able to talk about.
“Once easy relationships have become deadly minefields to gingerly navigate; email exchanges and table conversations and social media discussions now fraught with quiet coldness, passive aggressive salvos, or outright disdain.”
Such stresses apparently present themselves in his pastoral work…
“Every day people share with me the grief of all that they are losing or having to walk away from. …”
“It isn’t political disagreement, it’s divergence on a fundamental level; as people realize they may need to let go of relationships in order to hold on to the deepest contents of their hearts, to be their truest selves, to use their most authentic voices.”
What a sad state of affairs he sees. It’s a deeply spiritual problem. And its cause?…
“Every day the President indelibly carves into the expanse between them and the people they love.”
Really? Is the President really responsible for all of this? Has the Age of Trump made differences of opinion so painful?
I don’t doubt the sincerity of this deep sense of loss expressed to Pavlovitz by his congregants. Nor do I question the pain he clearly feels at his own alienation from friends and family members he now views as lying beyond a great philosophical chasm.
In fact, I think he’s right — about the awkwardness of conversations, that is.
Honest sharing of views on Trump, his personality, and his policies is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. There’s a definite guardedness, an unease about the possible reactions of others to anything that approaches a political judgment.
It’s even been reported that people are seeking psychological help for emotional symptoms which some therapists are calling “Trump Anxiety Disorder.”
But can all of this discomfiture really be attributed to The Donald?
I think the awkwardness has been growing for awhile. Back before the presidency was a twinkle in Donald Trump’s eye, I was accused of racism over my reservations about Barack Obama. That was a jab I didn’t expect from someone close, someone with whom I had shared confidences, who knew me well, and therefore, should have known better.
I understand the hurt Pavlovitz describes.
People’s feelings are hard these days. And I’m not necessarily talking only about those at the political extremes. The discomfort is pervasive.
We’re all wearing our hats — whether it’s the “Make America Great Again” hat or the “Revolution” hat (and that “Revolution” hat is real, by the way; you can buy it online).
We’re all taking sides, and to my mind the division is only secondarily about Trump. I think the basic disagreement is about something that’s been a point of contention since the founding of our country. It’s the tension between liberty and equality.
I have always been more sympathetic to the liberty side. I believe that when freedom is maximized, individuals have greater opportunity to advance themselves and improve the conditions in which their families attempt to thrive. This openness creates opportunity in general and benefits the country as a whole.
I would imagine, however, that Pavlovitz’s take on the question would be somewhat different. If he read my words, he would probably respond…
That’s all well and good, except that some people haven’t fully enjoyed this liberty. Because of prejudice, unjust restrictions, and even a significant degree of actual persecution, their opportunities have been limited. Therefore, we need to place greater emphasis on equality in order to level the playing field.
And that view has validity as well.
The election of Donald Trump has brought this liberty-vs.-equality conflict into sharp focus. Not that The Donald is a shining example of principled conservatism.
Hardly. His unique brand of mouthy populism embodies many contradictions.
Much as I see the need for a more orderly immigration system, it could be argued that Trump’s push for tighter controls contradicts the American tradition of liberty that’s attracted untold millions to our shores.
Likewise, imposition of tariffs is a risky way of advancing the cause of free trade, even if (as I believe) it’s only a tactical maneuver.
You can point out contradictions in other issues as well.
Trump’s combative nature makes it all the more difficult for some people to accept him. While I’d say it’s high time we had a President who’s willing to fight for our national interest and the legitimate prerogatives of the presidential office (as opposed to Barack Obama’s extra-constitutional executive orders and policy czars), all too often The Donald’s efforts come off as crude and petty.
Nevertheless, history has cast Donald Trump in the role of liberty’s champion at this particular moment. And so he’s become a monster to those committed to egalitarian ideals.
John Pavlovitz is clearly in that latter camp, and I think his ideological inclinations set him up to see Trump as the great divider. It may also dispose him to ignore — or want to ignore — the actions of those truly wicked players on the left who are fanning the flames of division in order to weaken our country in the hope of changing it fundamentally. (There are players of dubious motivation on the right, as well, though they’re fewer and less broadly supported.)
In truth, I think Donald Trump is the one trying to promote unity. Although, given his single-mindedness (which is prodigious) and his ego (which is equally so), he probably has a hard time understanding why some people resist getting with the program.
And of course, with so many of those wicked players trying to drive him out of office, one can hardly blame him if his notorious tweet storms make him look a little thin-skinned.
There’s a lesson to be drawn from the Bible, especially the Old Testament. It’s that conditions change. Political tides ebb and flow. Read the accounts of ancient Israel’s various kings, and you’ll see what I mean.
The tensions of this moment will pass. And if — God willing — our nation survives, then the people who have been important in our lives will still be there, and we’ll need them.
Don’t let politics drive them away. Whatever hat they’re wearing.
That’s a word of wisdom John Pavlovitz could preach to his congregation.
I hope he does.
As my regular readers know, I love exploring the world of online tweets and memes. These little graphic vignettes attempt to mock their intended targets. More often, they reveal much about who created them.
So if you want to talk about divisiveness…
…not to mention outright threats…
…or demeaning stereotypes…
…or just general nastiness…
…these are images to ponder.
Perhaps more than anything else, anti-Trump memes reveal an unyielding preoccupation with race. These examples illustrate…
Not that Trump supporters are afraid to strike back. I’m not enamored of the expression “lib-tard” and other such childish epithets. But I’ll give points to the clever folks who created these memes…
…and my personal favorite, a slick bit of ideological juijitsu that enlists the Russia collusion claims in support of election security…
Giving credit where credit is due, this hat image is noteworthy for its subtle literary poke at the Age of Trump. Do you get the reference?…