“Manning Up”? Speaking the truth with courage and conviction
Guest post byCamillus
Camillus, a former Republican Party officer in his home state in the Northeastern United States who was involved in campaigns at both the local, state, and federal levels during the 2010 elections.
Disclaimer: All guest posts are the opinion of the poster and do not necessarily represent the views of moonhowlings.net administration. M-H
Joe Scarborough, a former Congressman who is now a conservative television host on MSNBC, recently called on national Republicans to “man up” and confront Sarah Palin. I want to propose something rather different. The real need is for people of good will across the political spectrum to “man up” and speak honestly about the movement that supports and sustains both Palin and other similar politicians such as Carl Paladino and Sharron Angle- the Tea Party- and the broader cultural forces that have given rise to it and that continue to fuel it today.
Although I agree with some positions held by the Tea Party movement, and share many of its concerns regarding the direction of the country, I am convinced that its emergence represents a real danger to our common future. Indeed, I am persuaded that its course runs inevitably to a dystopian tomorrow.
Why? Because it is marked by anti-intellectualism, hostility to established institutions, resentment, and, most significantly, fear and anger. This fear is inchoate, but ever-present. At its base, I think it is a fear of the future- of the economic, demographic, and cultural changes sweeping both our nation and the globe. In other words, it is a fear of the unknown. And being fearful, it is brittle. As a result, it is intolerant of dissent and the open discussion and debate of ideas. This intolerance is expressed in naked hostility towards opponents- they are not merely wrong, they must be demonized. Above all else, it is marked by the utter absence of love, by which I mean that love of brother- agape- that is for me always truth’s handmaiden.
Devoid of love, and animated by fear and resentment, it is not surprising that another defining characteristic of the Tea Party is anger. Of course, many of its defenders will argue that this anger is the natural outgrowth of legitimate frustrations, of the perception held by many that they do not have a voice in affairs, or an understandable reaction to what they perceive to be the mismanagement of the country. I disagree. Anger is a very dangerous thing- it corrodes, it pollutes, it distorts and it twists. It is ultimately more destructive to its bearer then to its object. In a political sense, there is a difference between anger and a thirst for righteousness, or a hunger for justice.
It would be a mistake though, to believe that the political manifestations of fear and anger are uniquely the province of the Right. The Left has been marked by this as well- it evidenced a similar rush to demonize and vilify opponents, the same withholding of trust and respect, the same incivility, the same propensity to put counting partisan coup over serving the common good, during the Bush years. Indeed, it is remarkable how quickly we went from comparisons of Bush to Hitler, and dire warnings about our descent into right-wing fascism, to comparisons of Obama to Hitler, and dire warnings about our descent into left-wing socialism. Hatred and fear, apparently, can turn on a dime. As one author has aptly noted, “[i]f you only object to the president of your party being compared to Hitler, then you’re part of the problem.”
More broadly, globally, our modern world is marked by the rise of intolerant extremism in various guises and forms. As Prime Minister Razak of Malaysia noted in remarks to the United Nations, “we have inadvertently allowed the ugly voices of the periphery to drown out the many voices of reason and common sense.” This is as true here at home as it is abroad in distant lands.
Given the fact that these proclivities are present across the political spectrum, they must speak to broader problems within our culture, within us. This begs the question- what is it that we are afraid of? Why are we, at this moment in our history, so lacking in hope and faith in the future? Why are we so ready to believe the very worst about each other? These questions call for much further reflection, but I have some initial thoughts. I think it goes back to the depersonalization, the atomization of the individual, that is the hallmark of modernity. That and anomie. We feel alone, beset by forces more powerful than ourselves, lost in a trackless waste unmarked by any path. We sense danger approaching. And we are most fearful of the unknown when we are alone. Finally, we must also admit that many among us have become, in a political sense, extremely selfish, and beset by resentments.
As a result, we become desperate for the semblance of any solution, for some safe harbor. Thus, we flee from “the desert of the real” to the illusive comfort of a false certainty. A world marked by good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, and a clear narrative, a simple story line that we can take hold of and use to orient ourselves and make sense of the confusing static and noise that surrounds us. The problem here is that the Tea Party narrative, while perhaps psychologically comforting, is not a safe harbor. It is in fact a trap. The success of the Tea Party is not a transformative event promising a better tomorrow but rather a step towards disaster.
A public discourse dominated by an “us versus them,” litmus-test oriented, story line focused on ideological purity that views the political process as a zero-sum game cannot advance the common good. It is not conducive to fostering the type of open and honest debate we need in order to find solutions to the problems facing us. It is not conducive to building coalitions, and to working together. It inflames divisions, and expands the crevices forming in society separating us from each other.
As a nation, our only hope is to cast off fear, and to face reality, the world as it is, with courage, and conviction. I am convinced that most of us want a future in which we, and our children and grandchildren, can reach their full potential as human beings. One in which, as much as is practically possible, opportunity and prosperity are open to all. One not marked by grave inequalities in the distribution of wealth and resources. One in which essential human rights are recognized and respected. One conducive both to the development of our intellects and to the formation of our consciences.
Most of all, the key to avoiding a dystopian future is agape. Love speaks to dignity, it speaks to solidarity, it speaks to the common good. It speaks to how we interact with one another, especially when we disagree. It is a bridge across whatever chasms divide us. It is an equalizer, a leveler of distinctions among us. It binds us together in the common project of securing a better future. It replaces atomization with brotherhood, anomie with purpose and meaning. Fear fuels anger and resentment, but love is the kindling for hope. It is the invitation to something better. Our love for each other is the key to everything.
It is agape, then, that, to paraphrase Prime Minister Razak, “will save us from sinking into the abyss of despair and depravation.” It is agape that holds within it the opportunity to “bring hope and restore dignity for all.”
The problems we face are profound, the perils are real. The Psalmist says that when we were children we spoke as children- but now we are at childhood’s end, and so we must put away the things of our youth in order to go forward, and thrive. It is impossible to safely navigate the precipice of the present if we are at each other’s throats. So there can be no more us versus them; there must rather be all of us together. Avoiding a dystopian tomorrow is the life’s work of our generation- it is our common project. And everything turns on our love for one another – that is the great truth that I have enough courage still to say.