If you were addressing the nation on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the DAY AFTER the election, what would you say? What advice would you offer to your fellow Americans about the next four years?
Since I speak to evangelical Christians mostly, the first thing that comes to mind is what the late James Montgomery Boice (Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia) once said: “The kingdom of God does not arrive on Air Force One.” Those evangelicals who conflate the identities of the nation and the church need to be mindful of this. It looks like it’s going to be a close election either way which means neither candidate can claim a mandate from the people. Whoever won did so by a thin margin—not a ringing endorsement of the incumbent or the challenger but just enough votes to win.
If your candidate lost find something to be constructively grateful for rather than grousing about destructively. That’s not only a waste of energy but courts belief in caricatures. And if your candidate won don’t gloat. Historically considered, elections are usually contentious, presidential elections foremost. This is because governing ideologies matter and have definite consequences. That’s why I vote in every presidential election. The presidency is as important a global office as national. But the president is still only a man who usually gets too much blame for what doesn’t work and too much praise for what does. It’s become an almost impossible office in many ways, astronomically expensive to win and witheringly scrutinized. As a pastor I know well what it is to work amid competing expectations as to who I should be and what I should do. I got over the idea I would (or could!) please everyone long ago. The presidency is that experience exponential.
I mentioned that governing ideologies matter and have definite consequences. The ideas the governed take to ourselves matter too. In my lifetime the willingness to believe the worst about public officials has only gotten more pronounced. Again, elections have historically been contentious (see nineteenth century political cartoons) with enough hard feelings to go around. But hard feelings set in now to the point where the political landscape looks like the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, only there’ll be no cleanup effort. The consequence of too much anger unabated for too long is the flood waters never recede but stagnate, blame and recrimination becoming ways of life. People end up preferring to be lied to, even lying to themselves. It’s the cultural inertia we reaffirm every four years. I hope it changes in my lifetime—we need a kind of civics Reformation—but I don’t anticipate it will without some crisis that forces us to redress the experiences of winning public office, holding it, and respecting it.