The Daily Hope

If decency doesn't matter, what does?

It’s pretty hard to get passionately excited about the Biden-Harris presidential ticket… but in a strange way, that’s a good thing. What I do find exciting is the unity that is forming around that candidacy in the face of a clearly overriding need to do so, embracing a broad spectrum of constituencies from moderate Republicans to devoted Bernie supporters. When the house is on fire, it’s no time to be an ideological purist about the most correct way to run for a bucket of water – I think most of us are getting that, this year.

I hear some bemoan the lack of political sexiness in this ticket – “all Joe Biden has to offer the voter is that he’s a decent guy”. All?  In times like these, to offer basic decency, willingness to evaluate, consider and discuss – is everything. If we treat this as just another political beauty contest, or a competition of who can raise the most money to buy the most media influence over the largest number, we’re missing the point. And even when we speak of who has the better plan for the future of our country, we’re only partially on point. Here’s why:

Let’s say “our team” does win in November – decisively enough to overcome any bogus claims of ‘rigging’ from the Trump side (or at least make such claims look ridiculous) – and is able to take office next January (again, not a given – but we won’t dwell on that right now). What happens after our great collective sigh of relief? Do we go back to our ideological islands and do a lot of hair-splitting over policy, accept a crawling pace of real progress towards a better nation, and set things up for the next big wave of attack from those who just need something big to happen (or the appearance thereof) to offset a sense of futility or fear? Or do we stay unified over what – to my mind – is the real issue in this election?

I’m not saying that it’s enough for Joe to say “vote for me because I’m a nice guy”. Of course he needs to offer cogent and plausible policy alternatives, and of course he needs to challenge the rabid fantasy world spun by the Trump team and Fox News – but keep in mind that those on the blue side of the fence are already convinced that the Trump team lies constantly, and those on the red side either believe the fairy tale or don’t care that it’s false. In today’s America, whether something is true or not is relative to whose ‘facts’ you trust, and so to pour one’s resources into fact-checking won’t change much. And in a time of such extreme uncertainty, even the best policy proposals carry limited weight. Who knows what kind of world we’ll be living in next year? A policy proposal is like a blueprint for a house, and it’s hard to approve the blueprint if you don’t know for sure that the building lot will be above water.

So that leaves character and decency, and to me they are not incidental, they are the point. They are not products of whose ‘facts’ you happen to believe, but of a sense of goodness and human connection that one feels in the heart, in our sense of wisdom, of knowing goodness from non-goodness. It’s about whether or not it matters that someone tells the truth (did we ever doubt that? Could we have imagined a country where ‘honesty’ as a value seems to be out the window?). It’s about what’s more important: Agreement around specific political objectives, or agreement that there is such a thing as dialog, as listening, as speaking with as much clarity and integrity as possible. It’s about whether governing with “consent of the governed” has real meaning – informed consent, based on perception of real choices, not under threat of punishment  – or is simply another political commodity to be bought, manipulated, enforced or simply overridden.

I see only one path back to democracy in the United States (and I say back to, because the democracy we learned about in Civics classes – those old enough to have had Civics classes – is already lost to history): Through a restoration of active citizenship based on respect – for our democracy, for each other – and for ourselves… because a society based solely on “I want what I want and I want it now” – the Trump anthem – is no society at all. And political objectives based on fantasies, or a sense of righteous vengeance against those whom one has been convinced to see as “enemies”,  doesn’t come from a place of self-respect, but from a deep confusion about who one is and what one needs – and what the world is and needs. And so, to make character, integrity, decency, the main points in an electoral choice, is a statement that we want to move into the future as a society: Let’s agree to disagree, then we can sit down together and talk about what’s needed and how to resolve our differences. But first there needs to be willingness to have such a conversation, and that’s what I’m voting for this year. And if American voters can’t be reached with the message that common decency and dialog are better than jungle law, then maybe we are lost… but I don’t believe it.

This year’s election isn’t about Democrat vs Republican – or even, primarily, about coronavirus response, affordable health care, racial and economic justice, environmental policy, safe streets, or any of a score of issues dear to our hearts. It’s not even about democracy vs autocracy – if there’s someone out there who sincerely believes democracy is no longer workable and there’s a better way to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number, I’m happy to debate it with you – and then we can shake hands and agree to disagree. This year’s election is about civilization vs the abyss. Not civilization vs “savagery” – because many whom we’ve habitually called “savages” have enjoyed societies that are a good deal more ‘advanced’ than our own in some ways. But literally, the dark pit of meaninglessness, disconnection from all that is true and nourishing, from the promise that life may offer growth, fulfillment and joy. The only agenda that can come from a mindset that ‘truth’ is just a matter of convenience, is the Void.

Before we part, I’ll offer up my personal faith that we are not  headed for the abyss, no matter what happens this year. It might feel  like that – and we would not be fully human to contemplate our current circumstances with anything other than shock and dismay. But we have been in a very long period of national self-deception – about our society’s goodness and fairness, and about our system of government, which staggers along under the most archaic constitution in the world and shows it. Collectively, we’ve been dying the “death of a thousand cuts” for a long time. It may take a bullet wound to the gut of our shared fantasy of ‘American exceptionalism’ before we seek the medical intervention that’s been needed for decades: A rebirth of realism about ourselves, a humility about who we are as a nation under the Divine – not in place of it – and a readiness to join the family of nations and the web of life in responsible partnership – because our myth of superiority is killing us. I, for one, am ready for America to re-join the human race.

Leave a comment