Why is the negative so powerful?
It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted anything, and in that time, there's been plenty happening that probably deserves comment. I'm going to focus on one bit of all I've heard in that time, in the interest of keeping this post of reasonable length.
Specifically, I want to offer this one Christian's perspective on one bit of simple-minded negativity, and what it says about the people who utter it, and their comrades who repeat it.
I'm speaking of a statement by former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin: "How's that hopey, changey stuff working out?" She asked this rhetorically in a speech at the first Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday, February 6, 2010. I saw a version of this on a yard sign yesterday, so I know it's not the only instance of someone asking it. In fact, if you google the exact phrase "hopey changey stuff," you'll get almost 680,000 hits. Try "hopey changey thing" and you'll get around 2.3 million.
This is obviously a play on President Obama's book title, The Audacity of Hope, and the slogan of his campaign, Change We Can Believe In.
So, what's so wrong with that? The Republicans are out of power, having been turned out by the majority of Americans in the 2008 elections. Political campaigns never really end, and they're doing nothing more than energizing their core partisans by attacking the current administration with whatever weapons present themselves. This is just good hardball electoral politics, right?
As I said above, I want to comment on this as a Christian. I'm not exempting the Democrats from criticism, but it does seem to me that the Republicans are more likely to come up with phrases or actions that are worthy of some severe examination and critique. So, let's get to it!
In the first place, Sarah Palin calls herself a Christian, so I expect some consistency between what she says and what she says she believes. Christianity is nothing if not a faith defined by hope, and praying for change. We Christians hope in our resurrection after death, in a liberation from the destiny of every person who has ever lived - the grave. We pray for change in ourselves, another liberation from our weakness and inability to live righteous lives, just as we pray for a change in the way the world operates. A world of war, of abortion, of slavery, of murder and oppression and hate and dehumanizing rhetoric aimed at the "other" is not the world that we want to live in. We hope in a better world, one brought about by God's Spirit operating in his faithful, and we're doing what we can to bring it about. Admittedly, we stumble around a lot, and we bicker and disagree over exactly what that world looks like, but we sooner or later get it right. We have seen an end to slavery in parts of the world, we've seen people saved from starvation, we've seen people rescued from tyranny, and we've seen truth and reconciliation triumph after horrendous oppression.
I expect some consistency between utterances and beliefs. I demand it, in fact, if I'm going to take the speaker seriously. If Sarah Palin is who she claims to be, why is she belittling the very thing that we Christians claim as our own? Hopey changey stuff is our stock in trade; we can't separate ourselves from the fact that the status quo is not where we want to live.
More to the point, there are other things that she typifies that deserve to have a bright light shined on them. Things like how much we depend on our guns. Things like never having anything positive to say about our leaders, including the sitting President. Things like always being reactionary and negative. Other GOP luminaries say the same sorts of things, some of which are half-truths and some of which are out and out lies. What really makes the Republican Party tick, if these utterances are typical, and why are Christians drawn to it?
Republicans have wrapped themselves in the cloak of integrity and family values, even as a multitude of Republican senators, representatives, and governors has indulged in sexual behavior that's either dishonest to their spouses or absolutely illegal. I'm not singling the Republicans out, however, because there are numerous Democrats who have fallen off their self-erected "role-model" pedestals through the same dumb behavior. However, we had almost come to expect this of the Democrats; with the support of the Christian Right, though, suddenly repentant GOP politicians have fallen from grace with a lot of noise.
Oh, what the hell! No group seems free from angling in the wrong pool for their nookie. Republicans, Democrats, Christians of Protestant and Catholic denominations - all these groups are without excuse for their moral failures. Why should we trust any of them?
Why should we trust any of them, indeed? Why do we even give a shit? We've fallen so far off the wagon that we don't trust anyone. We don't trust our government, we don't trust our churches, we don't trust our bosses or labor leaders, our teachers or any paid experts that so easily will try to assure us of this or that.
Trust seems to be extinct. In this vacuum of trust, how is that hopey changey stuff working?
Well, I said this was my perspective on "hopey changey stuff," written as a believing, confessing, practicing Christian. My perspective is, basically, that it's working pretty well, actually. Politically, I got a tax cut last year. My country is viewed in an entirely different light now, as compared to a couple or three years ago. For all its flaws, I can actually believe that the administration is trying to return to a civility that has been lacking from political discourse for almost twenty years. I can even believe that there are some Republicans who feel betrayed by the "Christian" demagogues who have co-opted and reshaped their party. We've got people at least recognizing the fact that the government we have today is not going to exist as it is forever unless income and expenditures are brought into some sort of parity. Either we're not paying enough taxes, or our government has gotten too large, but we can't go on borrowing against tomorrow indefinitely.
How's that hopey changey stuff working? As a Christian, I'm not fazed. My belief is in a God who looks down at the trivial posturings of all of us as we strut around acting so important, and laughs. He laughs, but he loves us regardless. He laughs, but he has put into motion a rescue plan, a bail out, if you like, that I believe will not fail. It may not reach completion in my lifetime; it may take multiple lifespans to accomplish. But my God has set it in motion, and all the forces of negativity and denial and hatefulness will not prevail against it. His rescue plan involves the Christ, the man two thousand years ago who died, killed by the imperial power of his time, and then rose three days later to sneer at that paltry effort. Hopey changey is my creed, and it's my marching orders. It isn't all political, but hopey changey is where I live, one foot in the divisive rhetoric of the present, and one foot in the unlimited future.
Screw them all, and forgive their adherents, because they don't know what they do!
And hope and change the world instead!