Monday, January 6, 2020

One Year from Today

One year from today, as the law dictates, the Congress will meet in joint session to carry out the prescriptions of the 12th Amendment, which stipulates: The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;—The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed. And with that legal formality, barring some even more dramatic system failure, the endless 2020 presidential election will finally come to its conclusion. 

How satisfactory that conclusion will be remains to be seen. As I wrote here a few days ago, whatever the result it will likely leave about one-half of the country's population pleased but still very angry - and the other half just very angry!

In one sense, that may be the most important point of all. Despite the ubiquity of politics in contemporary American life, despite the ways so many other aspects of life have been corrupted by polarization imported from secular politics, our politics seems increasingly incapable of fulfilling our communal needs in anything like a satisfying way.

Meanwhile, what impact will our latest foreign-policy imbroglio have on the increasingly fragile state of our international relations? In the Middle East? With our European and other Allies? And what impact, if any, will that have on the election? What about impeachment? Will it be forgotten by election day? Or will the Republicans successfully use it as an issue in their favor? What other surprises will happen along the way, and what difference, if any, will they make in the election's outcome. 

Will the Australian apocalypse catch fire (so to speak) with the American public and push the escalating climate crisis more to the center of our election-year debate? Or will one more danger sign be ignored, wasting that much more preciously limited time before the United States awakens (let alone responds to) the peril that threatens the planet?

And, of course, who will be the Democratic nominee? Will the front-runner remain the front-runner all the way, or will his campaign falter?  Will Biden successfully advocate a Harding-like "return to normalcy" (exactly 100 years after Harding's election)? Or will the Democrats nominate someone with a more ambitious agenda for America after Trump? 

Of particular interest to me, what role will religion play in the coming campaign, given the patterns of religious politicking we have seen so much of in recent decades? Preaching about the Epiphany yesterday and reflecting on the collaboration of the chief priests and the scribes with King Herod, I was reminded of Psalm 146, Put not your trust in princes. Then as now, supposedly religious people, like those Jerusalem chief priests and scribes allied with Herod, presumably knew the words of that psalm, but somehow they totally and tragically missed its point! They remind me of something Reinhold Niebuhr famously said half a century ago about clergy who got too close to unworthy political leaders (in that case, President Richard Nixon): "It is wonderful what a simple White House invitation will do to dull the critical faculties."

In his 2018 Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsulate (101), Pope Francis warned against the "harmful ideological error" of dismissing or relativizing certain forms of social engagement "as superficial, secular, worldly, materialist, communist, or populist," as if "the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend." In a sentence which ought perhaps to be seen as foundational for authentic political engagement, the Pope asserted: "We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty."

One year from today, how much will any of this have mattered?

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