The USA has a General Election coming up and, frankly, the result looks to be a foregone conclusion: President Biden will lead a Democrat majority in Senate and House.
But foregone electoral conclusions do not take away from Christian voters the decision(s) we need to make when we mark our ballot papers.
(Here in NZ we will have four decisions: our local electorate MP, the party we wish to see in government and two referenda questions, on "End of Life" choice and on legalising marijuana.)
How should we vote?
I suggest yesterday's RCL gospel reading helps us - Matthew 14:13-21, The Feeding of the Five Thousand, could be our guide.
In this reading we have a vision of the Kingdom of God - a kingdom in which there is compassion (exemplified by Jesus), concern for need (with conspicuous rejection, as it happens, of a "user pays" or "send them off to buy their own dinner" approach by the disciples), inclusion and welcome (all present got fed, there were no tests to pass), service (the disciples distributed the food made available by Jesus) and care of creation (all waste was gathered up in a responsible manner).
Why would a Christian vote for any politician and/or political party which did not offer an approximation to this vision for human society?
I can think of at least one reason!
While this passage offers a vision of human society which is compassionate and which satisfies needs, it is also a miracle story and thus not a guide to the economics of a compassionate, welfare-oriented society. That is, the passage is not a guide to how we might best construct and develop a society in which (e.g.) food is produced, distributed throughout the land and made available to all, rich and poor alike.
Cue the reality that some politicians promise more on the delivery of compassionate care for the needy and less on the funding of that delivery and other politicians focus more on the cost of production and distribution and who will pay for it.
But, important though it is in making our political choices in the ballot box that we have a grasp of economic realities, could a Christian who follows the compassionate Christ of this gospel reading ever vote for that which decreases compassion in society and increases hard-heartedness?
With respect to the country I know best, Aotearoa New Zealand, I am glad to report that there are several parties we can choose from as we exercise our Christian minds in making our choices!
Of course, to ward off the obvious observation, each of those parties will have a policy or three which means we as Christians need to swallow a dead rat if we vote for them.
Politics in the Kingdom of Humanity is always, ahem, "the art of the deal"!
Not close to a foregone conclusion in the States. It is not even a forgone conclusion that Biden is mentally competent to finish the campaign.
Not a foregone conclusion but current polls suggest it looks like it is.
But, sure, Biden could implode.
Also, Trump could finally get a grip on the crisis!
"could a Christian who follows the compassionate Christ of this gospel reading ever vote for that which decreases compassion in society and increases hard-heartedness?"
At one level probably not, but it isn't clear what it means a a decision-making guide/constraint. Short of a Lenin/Hitler/Pol Pot/Xi Jinping standing for office, probably all parties (or their supporters) could interpret - perhaps quite sincerely - their policy prescriptions as not inconsistent with your guideline. Even in respect of welfare policies, "the left" might argue for more spending as consistent with compassion, arguing that alternatives increase hardheartedness, but the right - perhaps paring back welfare - might emphasise the limits of the state, the desire to build up civil society institutions, or even invoke St Paul on the person who will not work. Same perhaps goes for policies around crime or imprisonment, and "compassion" (at least narrowly conceived) clearly wasn't the only value at work in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, or Achan for that matter.
I guess it is a guideline that would have to be applied prayerfully and with discernment - not simply looking to justify one's own priors/parties - but it still seems elusive in application.
Thank you, Peter, for a creative OP that is deeper on a second reading :-)
Messianic banquet metaphors run through the Bible. Geoffrey Wainwright has a fine discussion of them in his classic Eucharist and Eschatology.
Clearly this one, like the others, carries a Judaic commitment to the participation of all. But is the inclusive hospitality motivated by justice or agape? And is the feasting about God feeding the poor especially or about God moving his people as a whole from the mindset of insecurity and scarcity to one of security and abundance?
In US presidential elections, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are usually reliably Democratic. But in 2016, Trump won them and the White House by around 75,000 votes. Last Friday, the campaign to re-elect him suspended its advertising in all three.
And yesterday, the same campaign began advertising in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. These states so reliably lean Republican that GOP presidential candidates have not normally campaigned in them. But this year, Biden’s lead has forced Trump’s campaign to defend even them.
The Economist. (347, 0, 191) https://tinyurl.com/y8ybo5gv
Independent analyst. (319, 0, 219) https://youtu.be/SIRqmN_OZnY
Cook Political Report (308, 43, 187) https://tinyurl.com/y6nk8h7v
National Public Radio. (297, 71, 170) https://tinyurl.com/y2g2lf8g
CNN. (268, 100, 170) https://tinyurl.com/yxwe42ws
CBS News. (248, 120, 170) https://youtu.be/-7V_z90Q5Mc
The litany of the world's dictators listed in a comment above ought surely to include the current POTUS. His use of the presidential prerogative of appointment of 'justice' officials is just obe example of his profligate self-serving administration?
Thank you for a lovely variety of recent comments!
Michael: i accept the critique that my criterion re compassion etc is vague.
Of course if I offered something too precise it could be deemed code for "Vote X"!
But I think the criterion, even in its vagueness, has some usefulness.
In the States I believe it would currently lead to voting against Trump (and a number of Republican proposals (e.g. that which would undermine healthcare for the poor).
Here I think it could rule out voting for ACT. I think it also raises questions about some Green proposals (which, in my view, lack compassion for people who cannot afford to make certain "green" lifestyle choices).
On January 20, the person who wins 270 of the 538 possible Electoral College votes ** will be inaugurated as POTUS at noon.
The numbers posted above are projected EC vote totals in this order-- Biden, tossup, Trump. The larger its tossup number, the more a projection reflects the long term partisan alignment of each state. The smaller a tossup number, the more a projection has used polls and sometimes other data to forecast the eventual vote of states that are less firmly aligned with a party.
When the incumbent POTUS is running for a second term (eg 2004, 2012, 2020, but not 2000, 2008, 2016), American voters treat the election as a referendum on the state of the nation. Their myriad takes on the realities of their cities and towns frame and drive their choices.
Presidents are elected by persuadable voters in battleground states. By definition, these voters are not thinking about ideology. Especially not in years like this one.
Sometimes priorities and perceptions are debatable. But this year, the plague, the lockdowns, the unemployment, George Floyd, the protests, the secret police, etc are on the minds of the whole electorate.
Persuadable battleground voters seem to know how they feel about dying, being bored, missing money, watching murder, knowing protesters, seeing weird paramilitary units, etc. Those who like all that will vote for Trump to get four more years of it. Those who don't like it will vote for change in the person of the challenger, who happens to be Biden.
It's a simple choice; it appears to have been made. It's essentially the choice that Americans made in 1932. Voters in most countries would make the same choice given the same realities, rules, and options.
Could the race tighten up? Could the polls be misleading? Mathematically, these questions are linked. If many voters were undecided, as in 2016, then theoretically they could break at the last minute in favour of the candidate who is behind. In that case, the polls today would not look like the exit polls of Nov 3rd.
But in 2020, we do not have so many undecided voters. We do not know whether the ones we have will bother to request and mail in ballots. Perhaps most important, most of those hesitating or changing sides are voters that a Republican like Trump would normally count on. A tighter race would probably still be a Biden win, just not a Biden landslide.
Haters gotta hate. Pundits find things to say. Campaigns raise and spend prodigious sums. Candidates do clever things. They say things in debates. Vaccines may be in the pipeline. Voting by mail is new to many voters. Either candidate could die. Why can't one of these factors change voters' minds between now and November 3rd?
(1) Again, a referendum on the performance of an incumbent cannot be shaped much by messaging. You like what you see or you don't. Even the death of a candidate would influence the outcome less than one might expect.
(2) Most of these factors cannot affect votes when the candidates are well-known. Most people have heard of Donald Trump; Joe Biden was elected to the US Senate in 1973.
(3) Even if messaging could help, Trump has never been able to stick to a message that voters beyond his bubble actually like and trust.
(4) There is no time to change minds. Because of the plague, many or most voters will cast ballots by mail. That begins in about four weeks in most places.
(5) Voting by mail is new to many voters, and that will affect the election in at least subtle ways. But as data show that Democrats are more likely to mail ballots than Republicans, some believe that many in Trump's bubble will not vote at all.
(6) As noted, there are few undecided voters, and voters who have decided seem unwilling to reconsider.
(7) Even if good news happens, Trump has positioned himself so that it cannot help him. For example, if a vaccine is ready by the time voting starts, few will credit Trump with its development.
Bear in mind that fortune can smile as easily on Biden as on Trump. Maybe an unforeseen escalation of protests drives some Republicans back to Trump. But maybe Biden wins Texas and Ohio. At the moment, Trump will lose without some extraordinary luck, but Biden is set to win big without it.
In short, the mandate is surprisingly clear. What is unclear is how well voting by mail will reflect it. Different voters may vote. States may take weeks to tabulate the votes on their paper ballots.
Most important to me, we may not have precinct level data for some states until next year. Why is that important? Ask me next year.
** Voters of each state will vote for their electors not later than November 3. Each state's electors will meet in its capital to cast their votes for POTUS on December 14. A certificate of these votes will be conveyed to the US Capitol under seal. The seals will be broken, the votes counted, and the winner certified by the new Congress on January 6.
As A.N Wilson puts it. Make the Essenes sit down, make the Pharisees sit down. Make Judas Iscariot is his brooding greed sit down. Make Simon and his band of terrorist guerillas sit down. Feeding five five thousand is a miracle. The Lordship of Christ in having five thousand (plus women and children, who as Wilson says are generally better at sitting down, see would the Somme have been fought by women?) divers men sit down is a miracle too. Ideology or outright sectarianism, different ethnicities, the individual and the corporate, all hungry, all searching for what they need. Thank God for a parliament where such divers people are sittimg down. Now to the second miracle of the lectionary for this week - keeping the eyes on Jesus. Anglicanism, in its conciliatory DNA might still have a part to play in feeding the multitude.
"In the States, I believe it would currently lead to voting against Trump (and a number of Republican proposals (e.g. that which would undermine healthcare for the poor)"
In principle, Peter, I agree. But to stay with the logic of your OP, we should distinguish between Trump and two tribes of Republicans who have supported him. Up here, a Christian who is inclined to the right over social policy is already at odds with Republican corporatists, but could hypothetically support healthcare for the poor by voting for a trumpy Republican populist.
When the topic of healthcare comes up, Trump himself insists that the government should ensure that even those with pre-existing conditions receive insured care. The Republican Party as a whole tried to repeal America's overall system of government-insured healthcare, the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA, Obamacare). But Trump tried to spin that as a drive to improve on it.
The white working class Republicans (aka populists) who most ardently support the president also tend to support policies in healthcare indistinguishable from those of centrist Democrats. In fact, Republican voters have approved the expansion of government health insurance for the poor (Medicaid) in every state that has put it on the ballot. (Kindly note that these voters include those much-maligned evangelicals.) Hypothetically, a vote for a populist Republican could be a step forward for a stable and inclusive system of care that includes working people and the poor.
But wealthy and corporate Republicans (aka corporatists) tend to oppose any government role in insuring healthcare for the public at large. Most Republicans in Congress are corporatists who have blocked any populist healthcare initiatives that Trump might have favoured. And at the Department of Justice, even Trump's own appointees from this tribe have asked the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA.
Speaking plainly, Trump was elected to the highest office of state by a paper thin margin in three states, but in Washington he has less raw power in his own party than the corporatists who are hostile to his populist program. Much that has enraged people about his administration-- especially Democrats who lean left-- is explained by a Republican division that has left the president even more weak and his White House even more dysfunctional than was already inevitable.
Of all the disorders for a politician in that predicament to have, Trump's authoritarian narcissism is surely the least helpful to him. But even if he had been granted the good-natured temper of an Eisenhower or a Reagan, he would still have faced a terrible dilemma of realpolitik-- either betray his supporters or lose his bid for re-election.
If Trump did not keep the most militant populists riled up with tweetstorms and rallies and his beloved wall, then he could not whip his partisans in Congress to support him in anything, and nothing of his populist agenda could be enacted. (In fact, scarcely any of it has been; the populism we see is symbolism by executive order.) But when he actually did excite his foot-soldiers with the partisan trash-talking they love, he alienated the independent and Democratic that an incumbent Republican needs for secure re-election. Voters have various interpretations of this centre too weak to hold, but they all see it, and most want change.
Back to your OP, this is part of the reason why some-- clearly not all-- evangelical leaders have supported Trump throughout his term. As they saw their part in this drama, if they did not stand with Trump against Democrats and corporatist Republicans, then nothing of populist value would happen in Washington, either in this administration or in others for years to come. They were willing to roast and eat rats for the sake of a future America with more room for scriptural mores bit also less corporatist hard-heartedness toward the poor and working people.
From time to time, your OPs in ADU attract comment from idealists of the right. From 2016, you will remember that Brendan and Andrei were excited about the populist revolution at hand. By the time Trump's weakness was clear, they had moved on. But others showed up, at first to air their aggrieved frustration, and then just to troll. The sad disintegration of seriousness and hope here reflects the one in the Oval explained above.
As you have said more eloquently, an astute Christian politics needs an ear on the right. To hear the right well, it is important to distinguish populists from corporatists, and to listen to the best voices that we can find.
In NZ we tend not to think of “corporatists” as having influence (or needing to be bowed down to).
We have some politicians who (kinda, sorta) look like populists a la Trump, Bolsonaro; and only one such has had any influence (via occasional coalition arrangements) over the past few decades.
Our landscape is much more about the middle class, middle NZ, middle aged (and older) who like things pretty close to “the centre” but are happy to veer a little to the left or to the right. (Much to the frustration of the actual left wing and right wing elements of our political scape!
"Our landscape is much more about the middle class, middle NZ, middle aged (and older) who like things pretty close to “the centre” but are happy to veer a little to the left or to the right."
Thank you, Peter. See-- everything really is better on the blessed isles!
A thought-experiment. If the American political system ignored the top .01 of its citizenry by wealth, the rest of the electorate would still sort into two parties to the left and right of the centre, but the priorities and policies of each would be much closer to that centre. Each party would have its fringe, but neither would be dominated by figures or policies that had no serious chance of being accepted eventually by the other. The US could then catch up to NZ.
We know this subversive truth in two ways.
(1) Polls show that poor, working, and middling Americans-- the vast majority-- have only subtle disagreements about bread-and-butter policy, whilst among upper-middle, wealthy, and billionaire voters, partisan absolutism and hostility are correlated with greater wealth.
(2) In 2016, a nearly lifelong Democrat named Donald Trump captured the nomination of the opposing Republican party by giving the mass of its members the *Bismarck socialism** that they had long wanted.
Entrepreneurial successes have eluded Trump more often than not, but that one may have consequences beyond his presidency.
** Roughly, policies to the right on culture, to the left on social insurance.
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