As the midterm campaigns end, I suspect that no matter who wins, many people will sigh with relief. The breaks in our television shows — for those who still watch live TV — will return to just airing cheesy local car commercials. The ominous music, unflattering photos and outright lies of political ads will leave us for now. The level of junk mail in our mailboxes will cut in half. And people will stop terrorizing my dog by ringing the doorbell to drop off one more tacky flier they thought justified killing another tree.
But I worry we will not return to healthy politics.
During the 2016 campaign, then-First Lady Michelle Obama responded to attacks by declaring, “When they go low, we go high.” Politicians on both sides now seem to prefer what Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General, said in October: “When they go low, we kick them.”
Echoing that sentiment, Hillary Clinton in October rejected the idea of being civil as long as Republicans are in power — as if losing elections justifies incivility. She added that “if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”
Not to be outdone, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, Scott Wagner, declared to his opponent, the incumbent governor, in October: “You’d better put a catcher’s mask on your face because I’m going stomp all over your face with golf spikes.”
Then President Donald Trump joked at a campaign rally in Montana about Rep. Greg Gianforte physically attacking a reporter on the eve of an election last year. (Gianforte pleaded guilty to assault.) Trump added, “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy.” Trump’s remarks came at the same time he was defending Saudi Arabia for killing and dismembering Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post writer.
And, as often occurs, things moved from heated words to dangerous actions. In late October, someone sent explosive devices to Holder, Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, former CIA Director John Brennan and others. The package to Brennan was sent to CNN (apparently as a mistake since he instead is an analyst for MSNBC).
We have a sickness in our politics. Protesters scream at politicians trying to eat at restaurants with their families. The president curses and mocks people he dislikes — and the crowd laughs, claps and chants their own attacks on politicians or journalists.
Worst of all, Christians often add to the inaccurate and mean-spirited attacks. If our interactions on Facebook are any indicator, we are not following Paul’s advice in Romans 12 to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
And we are clearly far from living out the “fruit of the Spirit.” Perhaps I’m naïve, but I don’t see a disclaimer in Galatians 5 that says we don’t have to live out joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control when involved in politics. Will that kind of fruity politics win elections in today’s culture? Perhaps not. But as Jesus asked, “what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, and forfeit their soul?”
If Christians cannot model civility, then why should we expect anyone to? If we’re not light in the midst of dark political ads, then what good are we? If we’re not salt in the midst of hateful political rhetoric, then what good are we?
As the nation split apart at the start of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln argued in his first presidential inaugural address, “We are not enemies, but friends.” He then urged people to follow “the better angels of our nature.”
If a politician talked like that today, I suspect their opponent would respond by showing up with a machine gun in a TV ad and mowing down cardboard cutouts of angels. And then probably get elected!
But I believe there is a better way. And followers of the Way should lead.
I’m Brian Kaylor, and I approve this message.
Brian Kaylor is editor & president of Word&Way.