Election Eve

Here’s what I know. There’s a presidential election tomorrow and it feels like the entire world is collectively losing its mind. I’m only 31 so the first presidential election I can actually remember is Bush vs. Gore, but I know in my short history of election awareness that it’s never been this crazy. The hyperbole from all sides is staggering (and doing nothing good for my anxiety, I might add). It is just a breathtaking display of anger, fear-mongering, vitriol, and fighting that I’ve never seen before. 

But today as I ran errands, I interacted with all kinds of people. We smiled (behind our masks), spoke pleasantly to each other, and chatted about my girls. Alice asked for stickers pretty much everywhere we went. Amy Jane got a few new fans. I’ve been struck today (and many other times in the last few years) that as people practically foment online over the political division and strife, the conversations I have with people I see on a regular basis (at least pre-covid) like my librarians, Target/Chick-fil-A employees (yes, these are my people) and Y childcare workers are all based in a friendly and open and genuinely caring place because we are humans who share spaces together and are just trying to do the best we can. There is a huge disconnect, at least here in my Texas town, between the rhetoric online and the real-life sense of general goodwill that seems to permeate the average American community. 

It’s so pervasive in the media that it seems like it must be true: we all hate each other! But then I go out into the world and see that actually, we really don’t. Moms exchange sympathetic glances as one or both of our children have a meltdown. A lady stops to ask me my opinion on which Christmas tree she should buy for her elderly mother. I notice a book a man is considering at Costco and tell him it’s a good one and he should get it. The cashier at the mall jokes about needing her coffee. None of these interactions are really more than surface level, but they are friendly, warm, and rooted in a basic goodness and rightness. The Panera employee and I don’t stop to trade political blows before he hands over my bagel. 

I know that some of this is a low bar and just the way people behave in a civilized society. (Hint: Twitter is not real life!) But that’s the point, isn’t it? All of our social constructs are based on a certain expectation of how civilized humans are supposed to treat one another. I won’t try to enumerate the ways that social media has contributed to a breakdown in these social contracts (there are many excellent books on the subject written by people far smarter than I am) but the fact is, the keyboard warriors of today are wielding a pretty powerful weapon that is finally, over a decade into the use of these apps and platforms, is spilling out into the real world in a disturbing and dangerous manner.

I’m not excited about this election. While I am hoping for a particular outcome for the good of our country in some aspects, I think there will be negative consequences no matter who wins. But as believers, Americans, and humans, we can choose to rise above the nasty comments. We have the ability to disengage with or diffuse hateful words. As one writer friend put it today, “Pass on the invitation to the late debate.” I’m all for exchanging ideas, digging into topics with a lot of nuance and grace, and allowing good and godly influences to help shape our thinking on tough issues. But the anger, the battleground mentality, and the deeply unkind spirit has to go if we’re going to get better. Getting back to that level of common human decency seems like a worthy goal at the moment. As Saunders says in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, "You had plain, decent, everyday common rightness, and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cockeyed world."

It’s important in these days to maintain some perspective; division isn’t new here, and never have we been on the brink of it as much as we were just before the Civil War. In his inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the goodness of Americans: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every heart and hearth-stone, all over this brand land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” It seems often (daily… hourly!) As if our “better angels” have taken flight in search of a resting place less fraught with seemingly irreconcilable differences. But if we are truly going to think on (and speak) things that are “true, honest, just pure, lovely… and of good report," then we are going to have to dig deep into the love of God that dwells in us and pour it out to our neighbors this week and beyond. 

I’m not saying that we can’t speak the truth. There are difficult and important topics being discussed and voted on. We can address problems and stand up for what is right. We are called to do that very thing. But we are called to speak the truth in love. Without love, the truth becomes far less palatable, even when it is necessary. And loving those with whom we vehemently disagree does not come naturally, whether our disagreements are political or not. 

Few things offer a dose of cultural and historical perspective like revisiting the Holocaust. In her wonderful book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom describes the Nazi guards who committed atrocities against her, her sister, and the countless other victims during their time in a concentration camp. Knowing that she is speaking of mass murderers (and not simply political or ideological opponents in our modern sense), her words are even more meaningful:

“When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” 

I’m trying to keep that in mind in these days. I’m not some saint who never gets worked up about issues or rolls my eyes or huffs and puffs at the absolute insanity going on. But these are people, and I am called to love them. God loves them. He loves Donald Trump and he loves Joe Biden. He loves the candidates you love and the candidates you despise. If you bristled when you read that, you’re not alone. I bristled a little writing it. But it’s true. And the good news is that He doesn’t ask us to love others and also summon up the courage and fortitude and emotional margin to do it. He provides the love. He’s just that good. 

Pray. Breathe. Love. And be good. 

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