Origin of Politics

5 06 2016

Thursday seemed to be the last final piece of the Trump ship, making possible a unified sail towards the White House. Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking elected Republican, after weeks of waiting, hesitation, or whatever it was, endorsed Donald Drumpf’s nomination for the presidential race. The last few paragraphs of the coverage in the NY Times article is somewhat telling:

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said the Republican Party is now “the party of Trump.”

“Speaker Ryan’s abject surrender makes it official,” he said in an email. “The GOP is Trump’s party now.”

“Surrender”. Given the description finds its origin from the keyboard of the opposition, it cannot claim it to be an unbiased critique. But ‘bias’ doesn’t always negate truth, and here perhaps, the word surrender is telling of the nature of what the political system has become.

When modern people think of politics, the initial descriptions that come to mind are ‘corruption’, ‘power’, ‘policies’, and the like. Ryan’s ‘surrender’ seems fitting in such a climate of politics, where power is the overarching drive. Ryan to his credit seemed to be one more for principles rather than power. The Trump ship is more Machiavellian than The Prince, and it’s slogan of power can only be contended by it’s fragile desire for popularity.

Thus, ‘surrender’ is appropriate.

The irony, for one who knows a little of the classics and the origin of politics, is that power was not supposed to be centerstage of any well politically functioning society. Politics was a word representing polis or the city. It was about the city and the good of the city. Aristotle hints at what happens when power finds itself in the spotlight:

When states are democratically governed according to the law, there are no demagogues, and the best citizens are securely in the saddle; but where the laws are not sovereign, there you find demagogues. The people becomes a  monarch, one person composed of many, for the many are sovereign, not as individuals but as an aggregate…such a people, in its role as a monarch, not being controlled by law, aims at sole power and becomes like a master, giving honour to those who curry its favour.

Us moderns like to think ourselves advanced, but in the current realms of politics, I daresay, we have devolved from even the standards of the ancient Greeks. Politics will never be void of power, but politics will never be helpful if power is an object to attain rather than dispensed for the good of the city. And though I am pointing a finger at Ryan for choosing power over principles, perhaps I will stop. Because I still want to a have hope. And hope rarely thrives in the bed of blame shifting, it thrives among the responsible. And so, I stop with the blaming and move to do more optimistic pointing. Without negating the importance of the federal government, I want to spotlight the importance of the polis, the city. And Mayor Kasim Reed can do a much better job than I at that, so to conclude, here he is: “How Are Mayors Better Poised to ‘Get Things Done’?


Let’s Vote… but know what we are voting for…

3 11 2010

My housemate and I had a great laugh watching this hilarious clip that he found on Justin Taylor’s blog. I blame this as an effect of the politicians’ irresponsibility in campaigning only with ads full of detraction and slander and not helping inform the public in any substantial way.

Here is the clip:

Who did you vote for? No…. How did you vote?

7 11 2008

During this year’s presidential campaign, I occasionally asked friends for whom they were going to vote. The common response I received, with a few exceptions, was, “Why? That’s a very personal question.” Now, at first, this response puzzled me. The concept that a choice involving the public arena was a private issue was a bit foreign, but eventually I understood that there were personal reasons such as fear of heated debates, lack of a desire (or strength) to defend one’s choice. So I stopped asking. Well, that is, until after election day.

As I suspected, people were a bit more open after than before election day. People who cast their vote for Obama proudly told me for whom they voted, probably conscious of the fact that their vote helped bring about a monumental moment in American history. Those who voted for McCain obviously in a disappointed tone told me who they supported on election day. Then there were some, no just a few, who still refused to tell me their vote. And this time it wasn’t because “it was a personal question” but rather it was because they were in a position not to endorse a candidate, meaning they think they have a great sphere of influence and don’t want to sway voters. Now, pastors (or religious leaders) do this quite often and I think it wise that they do. It is wise to let individuals come to a decision of their own on who they will vote for without authoritarian influence which mostly likely will override or cause neglect to the research of issues and candidates, and if endorsement of a particular candidate is done in the name of Christianity (i.e. “If you’re Christian, you should vote for….”) then those religious leaders have not only committed an unwise act but have failed as a leader. But I wonder about after election day. Is it ok for a religious leader to disclose, post-election day, for whom they cast their vote? I suppose there still is a danger for misinterpretation, for people to say, “Oh that candidate must have been the right choice according to my religion since my leader chose them” but the possibility of misinterpretation will always exist no matter the situation or circumstance. I want to say that it is ok for a religious leader to disclose their choice of vote after the election and in some sense, I think it better that they do do so. To keep their choice veiled, post election, I think, falsely puts too much weight on their sphere of influence and the importance of one election in history. The first builds an unhealthy culture that may give too much influence to the leader and erroneously puts them on a pedestal and the second fails to recognize the place of one election in terms of effecting change, no matter how monumental, in the scope of eternal history. Mark Driscoll, in his blog entry (In God We Do Not Trust), helps us to see the correct scope of presidential elections in terms of fulfillment of hope and effecting change. So to teach thus as leaders I think, after the election, a nuance disclosure (with education) is more favorable than silence.

This then brings me to raise something in the very same blog mentioned above. Driscoll rightly analyzes why people are so hopeful (falsely, he says) in a presidential elect to solve the problems of the world. I agree completely, but I am not somehow completely satisfied. I feel his blog correctly orients us to realize the cause of the problems of this world and where the ultimate solution lies, but it lacks something. For a moment I think maybe it’s unavoidable to leave out but then, I come to my sense and realize that it is important to at least attempt to answer the question, “How do Christian engage in politics?” Or maybe the better way to phrase the question for some would be, “How do you participate in the redeeming of politics?” I don’t think disengagement is the answer. Voting is a good thing and we are, at least socially, responsible to cast a ballot. It is clearly wrong to not vote on the basis of apathy or sloth, but even to not vote because neither candidate is favorable to oneself, seems borderline disinterest. Then, if to withhold your ballot is irresponsible then what is responsible voting for a religious person? Are religion and politics irreconcilable? No, that’s probably not the right question. So then, how are we to vote in such a way that participates in the redemption of politics? It certainly doesn’t seem to be the method of gang mentality that Chris Rock (in the HBO special, Never Scared) mentions, which is to vote solely according to party alignment. I think we threw that option out the window a couple paragraphs ago. Then would it be to participate in, as John Piper explores the difficulty of voting while juggling many issues, ‘One-Issue Politics’ (One-Issue Politics, One-Issue Marriage, and the Humane Society) where he considers the validity of eliminating a candidate from your possible choices based on your commitment to one issue? Possibly. Noah Toly seems to offer another nuanced answer using the story in 2 Samuel 6 (or 1 Chronicles 13) about Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant (Evangelicalism, Realpolitik and the Gospel). He suggests that, “not only at the substance of our political commitments, but also at the style of our public engagement because in it, the medium is the message. The form communicates where we’ve placed our hope.” True, yet still not a tangible method of engagement that I can clearly grasp. Am I erred to look for a tangible way (of voting)?

Quite honestly, I do not know if I have an answer, but one thing that does come to mind which I believe points us (or at least myself) in the right direction of exploration is to explore ‘wisdom’. Once we know what wisdom is and if we channel our interests and passion for politics in wisdom, then I think we’re stepping forward in the right direction. I don’t think religion and politics is incompatible, rather it must necessarily be considered together. Like Jesus famously replied, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (NIV)

Emotionalism in Politics?

30 10 2008

Usually I get annoyed when I listen to Republican politicians talk about economics. Mostly because I don’t agree with the general Republican economic ideology of “freer market the better” (This is partly due to the fact that I’m not an economics expert and to me an income tax cut for less than 250,000 just makes more sense, but if you care to enlighten me, I’m always willing to learn). For the record though, just because I am against Republican economics I do not consider myself a Democrat. I’m registered as non-partisan and do not align myself automatically with the democratic party. But coming back to the subject at hand, I was listening to NPR’s Radiotimes with Marty Moss-Coane and she was hosting two political consultant/analysts to discuss Obama’s 30-min Infomercial: Dan Payne, a Boston area media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates and Todd Domke, a Boston area Republican political analyst, public relations strategist, and author.

Surprisingly I wasn’t getting annoyed at Todd the Republican but more at Dan the Democrat. I was annoyed at Dan the Democrat because the comments he made were rather reactionary and seemingly filled with emotion. Todd the Republican commented in the discussion with a very wide-viewed encompassing manner. He would give credit to Obama in his political strategy where he thought commendation was required and yet he would try to be critical when necessary. Dan the Democrat just seemed to want to endorse Obama with his comments and defend any accusations that would arise against the Democratic candidate. Now I know that I cannot stereotype neither Democrats nor Republicans as more or less reactionary, that has to be a case-by-case analysis. But I wonder then, if it is valid to question the place of emotionalism in politics, and in turn, if it does have a place, is my annoyance at the ’emotional’ reactionary comments by Dan the Democrat invalid? At least in the arena I am familiar with, i.e religion and theology, emotionalism has been wrongly downplayed probably since the Enlightenment. But more and more scholars and pastors are indicating that, in the right manner, emotion has a crucial, even necessary, place in religion. Then what of politics and emotion. Can we be stirred by emotion in deciding our candidate or political alignment? Or is it more human to truncate emotion from our political life?

Todd the Republican commented interestingly that when he was watching the Obama 30-min Infomercial, though he doesn’t agree with the Democratic candidate, he found himself being stirred and motivated from the effect of the music. He didn’t say the use of music was manipulative but he didn’t affirm that its affect was an essential part in political decision. We all are emotionally affected by issues that are important to us, and to react emotionally doesn’t seem illegitimate. So maybe the question of whether emotionalism is valid in politics is not as important. Maybe the better question is does our emotionalism impede our ability to see the other side? To honestly consider the opposing view, learn and critic in a constructive manner? Yeah, maybe we’re too quick to state our opinions, maybe we should learn how to listen more. As Augustine once wisely said, “Hear the other side.”