WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
For a few hours on the morning of Nov. 7, things seemed remarkably and almost unbelievably tranquil.
“Today,” said Nancy Pelosi, “you have to like being a Democrat.” “Everyone,” said Republican Karl Rove, “gets a ribbon. Everyone leaves with something to brag about.”
Or call it “politics as usual”—but defining “as usual” the way we did 30, 40, or maybe 50 years ago. Back then, we’d just forget the agonies and miseries of the midterm campaign and get on with the nation’s agenda.
It would be nice to think that’s what’s happening now. It would be so refreshing to know that—at least for a few months—we might set aside rancor, acrimony, and bitterness while we join hands in addressing our nation’s needs. I’ve read at least a dozen columns in various media calling on Americans to study the concept of “civil discourse.” And indeed, a large dose of polite civility on the national political stage is something Christians should work for and pray for. After all, don’t polite and politics come from the same root?
The challenge, however, is enormous. “I don’t want ever—I mean never—to go through another campaign like this,” a visitor to my office after Election Day said. Then he started weeping. And he told me how politics has divided his workplace, his church, and now even his family. “We can’t talk about things the way we used to,” he said. “I remember when it was actually fun.”
But maybe it’s a mistake to paint the past with an overly rosy hue. If we think the midterm campaign of 2018 has been especially ugly and mean-spirited, we should keep in mind that it was not unusual for some of our “statesman” forefathers to use pistols as tools of argumentation. And the pistols were loaded!
Yet neither should we suppose that “civilizing” our society is a simple matter of calming our rude and boorish behavior and conversation. Nor is there any real future in precisely counting my episodes of ugliness, then counting yours, and then—armed with the numbers—definitively announcing who moved first and who responded. Everyone is the champion of rudeness.
In the recent scuffle in the White House press briefing room, for example, the video record is clear that CNN’s Jim Acosta went way beyond presumptive propriety in demanding over-the-quota questions and in attempting to make his own policy speech. But then, President Trump returned the arrogant favor by calling Acosta “an embarrassment” and disabling the reporter’s right to attend future presidential press conferences. On exhibit here was much more than the need for two grown men to get a little further exposure to Amy Vanderbilt’s book on etiquette. Both men knew exactly what they were doing.
So while all this talk about civility certainly includes our culture’s need for better manners, it in fact involves much, much more. Specifically, it involves Jesus’ penetrating teaching in what we call the “Golden Rule”: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Do we want to be treated in genuinely warm and civil terms by our political opponents? Then that’s exactly how we need to treat them. Keep in mind that Jesus’ instruction fits in both directions—regardless of our political and ideological alignment. So if you want those opponents to go beyond superficial kindness, try sizing up your own heart. As He did again and again, Jesus speaks to the inner person.
One friend told me he’s not so sure this part of Scripture is meant to apply to something so dark and ugly as politics. But if it doesn’t, what aspect of our sinful nature does it cover?
Either way, let me hear from you with brief, real-life examples of what happened when you applied the Golden Rule to something as wild and woolly as American politics. I’m eager to report back to you in a future issue.