The problem with a no-win election is, of course, that there is no circumstance in which everyone wins. But the more that is at stake, the more the winner wins and the more the loser loses. We have many no-win decisions in our life that don’t bother us. I can’t tell you how many highway exits I’ve taken and all the times I’ve had to choose between fried fast food and Subway. I don’t much care for either, but I don’t lose much in that situation. It’s just a meal.
When much is to be won or lost
That’s not the case in federal politics. As the size and scope of government has dramatically increased since the second half of the 20th century, much more is now gained and lost at the federal level. Originally, the intention of increasing the size of federal government was to provide more things for people in need and to coordinate large and audacious goals among a vast people. Although this may be a noble ideal, Christians should be shrewd through realism about human nature. Wherever more is to be gained, more attention is paid. The more there is to be won and lost in Washington, the more Washington attracts people looking for a special deal, an angle to cheat, or a way to get a once and for all win for themselves or their ideology. So increasingly, very much against the intention of the American founders, the federal government has become the most intense battle in our society. It has become a winner take all war, and war terrorizes everyone.
As this process polarizes, as it naturally must, the winning and losing becomes more frightening, more triggering, more terrorizing, and more disenfranchising for the losers. Conversely, it becomes more emboldening, more self-affirming, and more advantageous for the winners, who are often perfectly ungracious in their winning. I have witnessed about seven presidential elections, and that many midterms, and have found that neither side is particularly conciliatory when they win. Presidents usually give at least one unifying acceptance speech, but their voters are often unsympathetic to those they have “beaten.” Conservatives are often unsympathetic to their Democratic rivals since they believe that conservatism is morally superior because it produces better results for more people in the long run. Democrats and progressives are often unsympathetic towards Republicans and conservatives because they believe that when conservatives lose, the vote is an act of justice that takes away power from the oppressor classes. Everyone is good at feeling self-justified and self-righteous.
In the present case, as this conflict becomes more and more intense, it was inevitable that either way the election went, a large group of people was going to end up feeling disenfranchised. Had Secretary Clinton won, many conservatives, deeply religious people, and people of historic majority demographics would have felt very much that America had slipped into a “special interest state” in which a new progressive, demagogic, anti-religious, and ethically expressivistic secularism had finally taken hold of American society, and was now bound to destroy it. Now that Mr. Trump has been elected, progressives, groups of immigrants, and many minorities feel as though a white nationalistic and theocratic, demagogic and unsympathetic utilitarianism will now destroy all the progress wrought from the 1880s to the changes of President Obama.
In addition, real people are also being mean to real people. I have already heard reports of people saying things like, “Trump will get the blacks out.” Now, I’m not even sure what that sentence means, but I have heard it. Some non-white families have already heard about minority children being harassed in the few days since the election, and are afraid their own kids will face this kind of harassment. During President Obama’s administration, I had secular people in Madison tell me that the church’s days were numbered in Wisconsin, that the “thievery of religious nonprofit status” is finally going to be torn down, and other secular threats against the normal life of religious people. I believe in both cases the groups that engage in this kind of thuggish bullying are small minorities in their voting blocks. Sometimes they are tiny minorities, and sometimes not so tiny; 1,000 mixtures exist on both sides.
How should the Church respond?
If we are gospel-believing Christians who follow the Jesus of the Bible and are trying to stay in step with the Spirit, here’s how we must respond in no-win elections.
- Know that Jesus is Lord and don’t give in to hysterics.
Much of the angst, anger and triggering that people are feeling will not have a direct relationship with reality. That’s just human nature. We are prone to fear all possible evils and perseverate on the supposed black-heartedness or our enemies. We have made ourselves emotionally fragile by trying to protect ourselves from real conflict. Much of what leads us to hysterical and obsessive feelings is how we have framed things in our minds. If you are on the losing side this time, work at checking your own hysterics and obsessive concerns that do not have direct confirmation in reality. Bring everything to God in prayer. Then you will be able to bring comfort and some semblance of peace to those around you.
- Love your neighbor as yourself and empathize with their feelings.
Empathy doesn’t mean legitimacy. You don’t have to agree with the basis of your neighbor’s feelings to recognize that something very similar could have very easily been your feelings had your roles been reversed. How would you have wanted to be treated? That means no gloating. It means trying to understand their feelings. Even offering sympathy can be legitimate—we should hate the fact that elections are winner-take-all, and that the control of our lives is delegated to something so removed from us personally. We should hate that our winning may mean they feel like they are losing. If we do not wish to dominate our neighbor or coerce them, we should at least regret the fact that the election is what it is, for many reasons.
- Be prepared to contradict your own side, especially if your side won.
If you voted for Trump, you need to stand ready to oppose him if at any point he fulfills the fears of those who voted against him. If he were to do anything truly against women, minorities, the rightful human or legal claim of immigrants, even his most ardent Christian supporter must stand up against it. Because our most fundamental allegiance is to Christ, our support of any human figurehead must be relative. This is true whether we think that Donald Trump will make a good president, or that Barack Obama has been a good president, or neither.
We must be similarly ready to oppose other people in our party for the same reasons and not only the figurehead of our party. If we don’t find ourselves critiquing our party on the basis of our Christian faith pretty regularly, we may be more captured by our party’s ideology and propaganda than we are by Christ’s teaching and kingdom.
- Make arguments and demand arguments—once it is confirmed that people are physically safe.
If a kid is actually getting threatened at school, our first priority is to stand in solidarity with that person and make sure that they are safe—even if we stand up to people who voted for the same person we voted for. But after that primary consideration, Christians should stand against demagoguery in all its forms, on both sides of the aisle. This is one of the reasons I think classical education is so important for Christians—logic is always part of the curriculum. I believe Christians should know when somebody is making an argument versus when people are just trying to score points or pressure their enemies. We should know the difference, and we should demand that people on both sides of the aisle make arguments so that we can actually have discussions rather than just exert verbal power plays. Arguments are loving because without appeal to truth power is all that’s left. Without argument, the coercion of pressure triumphs over the earnest relating of persuasion.
Any time someone tries to push their agenda without making an argument they are being totalitarian. They are trying to create a winner and a loser. Arguments can be successful or unsuccessful, but they are always shared. They are out in the open. They aren’t hiding. They can be verified or falsified. Even if you are against the other, you are still inviting them into your claim, and allowing them to examine your work. You are implicitly opening yourself to their scrutiny and criticism. You are inviting them to relate to you by refuting your argument or being persuaded by it. In this sense, the argument is the only way to peace. It is the only way people win and lose on merit and in relation to truth. Every Christian must learn to demand an argument and to reject demagoguery. We must be disinterested in our application of this demand to all parties everywhere. It is a fundamental necessity of honesty. No consideration of power supersedes it. Invite persuasion and abhor pressure.
- Pray for President-elect Donald Trump.
The apostle Paul, in 2 Timothy 2, tells us to pray for all people, then highlights a group that we often either forget about or disdain. He says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every good way.” We won’t agree on who is best for office, but we can always leave our leaders in the hands of a God who knows them and can direct the paths of men.
Captivated by the kingdom of God
Christians should always be quick to empathize with those around them. We should always be considering the feelings of others and the basis on which they feel those things. Although we cannot legitimize every feeling that our neighbor may have, we can find a way to love our neighbor.
This means standing with our neighbor to protect them. It means talking down their hysterics. It means being either meek and gentle in our victory over them or virtuous and patient when our views are defeated. It means standing against demagoguery and demanding argument for the sake of truth.
And it always means not being captured by anything in the world, because we are captivated by the kingdom of Jesus. He is the one who had all the power to coerce, yet he gave everything to persuade in grace and truth.