The votes are in, though some races may not be decided for some time due to run-offs. So, the phone might stop ringing, the mail box will empty out, and it will again be safe to watch the TV! In the end millions of dollars will be spent by candidates, political parties, and outside groups, many of which are funded by shadow groups, with one goal in mind – tear down the opposition. The purpose of these efforts is essentially to suppress turnout. If you’re totally disgusted you might just stay home, and a smaller electorate is easier to manage.
Running for political office is not for the faint of heart or of thin skin. As a child I once thought about the possibility of being a politician. My parents were politically involved, so I thought it would be a great opportunity. I don’t think I’d want to put myself or my family through the wringer. As a result many who would like to be public servants shy away from service, and that’s unfortunate.
So what should we make of the election? Some of the people I voted for won (most did not); others did not. I would have liked to see a different outcome last night not just in Michigan, but across the country. Hyper partisanship doesn't get us far, nor does poor leadership. As we look at the realities of our political systems, it is good to remember that those who lead and rule are imperfect human beings. They are often tempted by vanity and greed. Self-interest is often paramount. Term limits and abolishing earmarks was supposed to make things better, but they actually made things worse.
Democracy is a better system than most, but it is as imperfect as its participants. As Reinhold Niebuhr observed:
The doctrine that government exists by the consent of the governed, and the democratic technique by which the suffrage of the governed determines the policy of the state, may actually reduce the coercive factor in national life, and provide for peaceful and gradual methods of resolving conflicting social interests and changing political institutions. But the creeds and institutions of democracy have never become fully divorced from the special interests of the commercial classes who conceived and developed them. [ Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics), p. 14].
Where once it was those with land who ruled, now it is those who own the corporate interests. Citizen’s United may have upped the ante, but it didn’t create this reality! Niebuhr put his finger on it in 1932!
The aftermath of elections always lead to handwringing, finger-pointing, and hysterics. For some the world has ended. But has it?
As a Christian, my trust is placed not in the electorate or the government. My trust is placed in God, who creates, redeems, and sustains us. It is to God we give our ultimate allegiance. I have argued in my book on the Lord’s Prayer [Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer] that this prayer many of us say each week, if not daily, serves as a pledge of allegiance. As we pray this prayer, we ask that God’s kingdom would come and that God’s will would be done – on earth as in heaven. So, rather than bemoan the electoral realities, let us go back out there and get to work. We have a world out there that needs to hear good news. It needs people working for a new reality. Yes, as Niebuhr would remind us – we must beware of romantic ideals. If we can do so, we can make a difference. One of the reasons why I am active in community organizing is that I believe that the church can be a voice of change. It can advocate for justice. Of course, the church is composed of imperfect human beings, and so we have to attend to our realities, even as we enter the world with a message of grace and transformation. And remember, no matter how the election turned out, God still reigns!