A Nightmare in Elm City

Please note: this story includes many things which are not real and relies on some stereotypes to make its point.

Seth O’Malley had lived all his life in Elm City.  So had his grandparents, and great-grandparents and their parents before them.  No one in the family was really sure when their ancestors had arrived in the metropolis, or even exactly where they had come from, except for the clues left by their Irish surname and the pale, freckled skin that was so common among them.

All Seth and his family knew now was that they were afraid.  Their lives might never be the same.  And there wasn’t a thing they could do about it.

When Seth O’Malley and the beautiful Emma Hansen had kissed at the altar just 8 years ago, things seemed like they were going to go well for the new O’Malley clan.  Seth was taking over the family business, a neighborhood grocery store the family had run for 75 years.  Like many of the white people in the city, the O’Malley’s had found success in business.

Unfortunately, this success was a constant irritant to the majority black population.  Generations ago, the O’Malley’s had faced boycotts by their black neighbors, who were determined to drive them out of the neighborhood.  Seth’s father could remember going through the protest line as a child to get to the family store, being spit at, shoved and insulted by the angry crowd.

Since that time, things had settled down.  The ugliness of the protests had disgusted the moderate majority in the city, and the government passed ordinances protecting the rights of people of all colors to own businesses without the fear of harassment.  It had been an uphill climb, and Seth had plenty of his own memories of dirty looks and whispered slurs, but generally things seemed to be going in the right direction.

Eight years ago, when he and Emma were married, the city had elected its first white mayor since the Civil War.  The city had a preference for Democratic mayors, but the previous administration had been so incompetent that people turned to a Republican, and a white Republican at that.

Mayor Jimmy Thorvilson had electrified the city with his promises of change, but those promises remained mostly unrealized.  Sadly, the hope and change he represented was long forgotten.  This was due in no small part to the opposition of the Democrat-dominated city council, which had vowed to “take our city back.”  Seth knew that his black Democrat friends meant they wanted a Democrat-led government again, but to him the phrase “take our city back” seemed to have dark undertones.  “Take it back from who?” he wondered, “the majority that voted for a Republican?”

The mayor faced constant rumors that he was secretly a Mormon, which many black residents of the city despised due to the church’s former racism.  The mayor’s biological father was a Mormon and he had lived in Provo, Utah for several years when he was a child, until his parents divorced.  Rumors were rife that he had attended Primary and secretly still believed what he had been taught there.  People even claimed that he was not really a resident of the city when he ran his campaign–which was against the city charter–and no amount of evidence would convince them otherwise.  What seemed odd to Seth was that all these rumors happened after Democrats first claimed the candidate wasn’t “really” white because he had spent been raised by a black step-father, just so they could reduce his appeal to white voters.  Like always, his black Democrat friends said the opposition to Jimmy Thorvilson was entirely political and had nothing to do with his race, but, like always, Seth suspected otherwise.

Mayor Thorvilson had managed to win reelection four years later, but many Democrats blamed that on a lackluster campaign by his polite, Seventh-Day Adventist rival.  They had been sure that election was theirs to lose.  This time around, they were hungry for someone more aggressive.

They had found just such a man in David Henry, a rich, black real-estate developer.  David Henry had been a celebrity in town for decades, known for his lavish lifestyle and his no-nonsense manner.  Democrats swore he was just the man to break up the deadlocked city government and turn the city around.

David Henry made Seth nervous.  As a candidate, the man regularly said things that Seth and his family thought were anti-white and anti-Catholic.  Decades earlier, he had been sued by the government for refusing to do business with whites after the city ordinances had banned such discrimination.  His most enthusiastic supporters belonged to anti-Catholic groups, the Black Panthers and the Black Vipers.  This last group was a shadowy organization that claimed black people were genetically superior to whites because of the Neanderthal DNA that all white people carry.  They sought to turn the city into a blacks-only paradise.

David Henry had started his campaign by calling illegal businesses predators and vampires who sucked the life blood out of the city.  He said he would shut down all the illegal businesses in town and make sure none started up again.  It was his signature issue.

The issue of illegal businesses was a long-running problem in Elm City.  The city had significant regulatory barriers to starting a business.  Fees were high and, except in rare cases, only a lawyer could navigate the system successfully.  People with a dream but little money often started a business anyway, in the shadows.  David Henry and many others claimed the businesses siphoned off tax money from the government and blamed them for making it hard for legal businesses to compete.  Seth knew that many businesses used falsified permits to get past government inspectors, permits which were regularly tracked for payment of taxes.  He knew that many illegal business owners paid plenty in taxes, but they could not apply for the subsidies and government contracts available to legitimate enterprises: the government didn’t check very carefully when it was taking tax money, but it was extremely careful when it paid money out.

Seth thought the illegal businesses filled niches that the larger, less-flexible legal businesses did not bother with.  He thought their owners were often more creative and innovative.  He knew them to be honest, hard-working people, who simply wanted to fulfill a dream, but had been stopped by a bureaucratic nightmare.  He couldn’t imagine the well-connected, well-funded legal businesses bothering with the kinds of risks and sacrifices that his illegal business owner friends dealt with on a daily basis.  There was a reason those market niches were open, after all.

Seth worried about the children of his illegal business owner friends.  The city had several years earlier promised college scholarships and living expenses to allow every resident born in the city to get a degree.  His illegal business owner friends were counting on those so that their children could thrive in the city legally.

They had few other opportunities in the city.  Unions had a stranglehold over hiring, and you had to know the right person to get a job.  The network of contacts was dominated by the black majority, which was why most of the illegal business owners were white.  If their businesses were banned, some of them would leave their children behind with one parent while the other fled to another city, where regulations weren’t so tight and they could work or do business legally.  Others would take their children with them and leave behind their dreams of a better life.

Once again, it seemed to Seth that the candidate David Henry was against the illegal business owners because of their race.  The way he talked about them as predators and vampires was revealing, and at his rallies he always whipped up the Black Panther and Black Viper attendees into mouth-foaming anger.

David Henry said he wanted to wanted to put Elm City first and make it great again, but Seth thought that things were actually going fairly well and, in any case, reducing business regulations and loosening the union’s grip on hiring would go a long way towards making things better.  Quite a few of his black friends agreed with him, but their moderate voices were drowned out by the seething anger at Henry’s rallies.  Henry claimed he was fighting for the real Elm City people, those who had lived here for generations, like Seth had, but with a different color of skin.  Seth thought this was ironic because Henry’s grandparents had themselves immigrated to the city from Haiti, where their surname had been Henri.  Still, his supporters feverishly promoted his goal of making the city great again, calling for a return to the city’s glory days, which happened to be the time when boycotts of white businesses like Seth’s were common.

David Henry was running against the wife of a former mayor, Sheila Jackson.  Her political ambitions were well-known.  Her husband had been a popular Republican moderate, but Democrats did everything they could to bring him down, dragging him through the mud at every opportunity.  She had run for mayor in the Republican primary eight years ago, and had lost to the great white hope of Jimmy Thorvilson.  The Democratic city council had had four years to prepare to run against Sheila Jackson, and they had kept her name in the papers as much as possible with accusation after accusation.

Seth thought that the accusations against her weren’t all that serious.  The evidence didn’t really support them and what it did reveal didn’t seem worse than what previous mayors had done.  Sure, she wasn’t the inspiring, good-hearted Jimmy Thorvilson that Democrats hated so much, but someone like him wasn’t coming around again any time soon.

Seth thought she had good ideas for the city.  She seemed to have a good head for business and a genuine understanding of what was needed.  He thought the problems were that she was a woman, a Republican and a Jackson, and that the Democrats had had four years to plow the ground for scandal-mongering.

In any case, David Henry was not exactly a role model.  He was in his third marriage, each wife younger than the last.  He had cheated on his first wife with his second wife, on his second wife with his third wife, and rumor had it that he had cheated on his third wife, but a local paper that was allied with him had bought the story to keep it quiet.  He had left a long trail of cheated partners, lawsuits and bankruptcies.  His success seemed to be built on nothing more than flash and salesmanship.  He had inherited quite a bit of money from his father and Seth knew that if the man had just invested his inheritance in the stock market and left it alone, he would be worth several times more than he was.  The candidate refused to release details about his business dealings and told lie after lie, but his supporters loved him.

Seth was even more concerned by the foreign money that seemed to come into the campaign.  Some of Henry’s support came from Zimbabwe, which was ruled by Robert Mugabe, a man who had fought against the white Apartheid-like government there in the 1970’s when it was called Rhodesia.  Mugabe had made a career out of demonizing white landowners, finally taking their land from them and plunging the country into economic chaos.  He was elected president of that country and kept power through control of the press, intimidation and other dirty tricks.  Seth was bothered by the fact that David Henry was so complimentary to Mugabe, and to Raul Castro in Cuba and the socialist government in Venezuela, as well, but many of his black friends thought he was just a nutty conspiracy-theorist.

David Henry threatened to sue the newspapers who criticized him.  He had banned a few of them from attending his press conferences and rallies, simply because he didn’t like what they said about him.  He later relented and allowed them back in, but only when it seemed like he wasn’t going to win the election if he didn’t improve his image with moderate black voters.  That was the same time period when he uncomfortably spoke to a gathering of Catholic voters, who practically booed him off the stage and tried to woo white voters by telling them “What have you got to lose?”  Henry regularly said the election was rigged against him and said he might not concede if he lost.  He told his supporters to go to white neighborhoods and “watch” the polls there.  Some of his supporters said there would be a revolution if he didn’t win, and they had plenty of guns.

Henry had also proposed to ban Catholics and Mormons from having positions of influence in the city.  He claimed they all did the will of either the Pope or the Prophet.  No one but his supporters believed this was constitutional, but the threats and the talk scared Seth and his Catholic family.  He talked about enacting harsh penalties on business owners who broke obscure regulations, penalties that could destroy Seth’s family and everything they had taken generations to build.

The long electoral campaign had been dominated by Henry’s angry rhetoric and offensive words about whites and Catholics.  Henry had even hired the editor of an anti-white, anti-Catholic newspaper to run his campaign.  To Seth, it looked like the Democrats had abandoned everything good they ever stood for and had only kept the anger and the hate.  And with that anger and hate and big promises (half of which he couldn’t deliver and many others Seth thought he might not keep, given his unscrupulous business record), Henry had won the election.

The Black Panthers and Black Vipers marched in victory.  Whites protested the new mayor.  Henry immediately began reneging on some of his promises, but he did make his hate-mongering campaign chairman his new chief of staff.  Anti-white, anti-Catholic sentiment seemed to be the one thing that Henry and his biggest supporters were really committed to.

Seth was scared.  His hopeful life had become a nightmare.  He didn’t know what was going to happen to his family and his city.  There were no options.  All he could do was pray.  And he did so, fumbling his rosary as if even it would soon slip out of his hands.

Please note: Much of the content of this story is frighteningly true.  It candidacy of David Henry parallels real events that have actually unfolded in the United States.  The darkness present in it is real.  The unreal features in this story include a level of anti-white, anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon sentiment that does not actually exist.  Any actual anti-white, anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon sentiment in the country has been greatly, greatly exaggerated here to vaguely resemble the level of racism, antisemitism and anti-Islam feeling that really does exist.  Additionally, this story deliberately relies on some stereotypes commonly accepted by white conservatives in order to make it more impactful.

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Love, Hate, Religion and Politics

Religion in the United States is a declining business these days. People are less likely to identify with an organized religion and membership in many churches is declining. My own church likes to say it is keeping its numbers steady in an era when other churches are declining. Personally, I don’t think that is something to brag about, given our above-average birth rates and impressive proselytizing efforts.

Conservative Americans have said for some time that liberal churches have declined because they don’t demand enough of their members and have loosened the moral code that Christianity represented. They used to point to their own growing numbers and claim them as evidence that their preachers were speaking deep truths that liberal preachers were ignoring or denying. I, myself, once believed this was true.

It seems clear now that such an analysis was a mistake, and a rather unfair judgment of liberal churches. Now that major conservative Protestant churches, like the Southern Baptist Church, are also in decline, and my own conservative church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can only hang on by having more children than average and sending out tens of thousands of missionaries, it seems that we may have been greatly and unkindly mistaken. I would like to offer my apologies to Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and others for ever believing their brand of Christianity was somehow weaker or less appealing.

I would, however, like to offer a different analysis, and one that still takes liberal churches to task, along with conservative ones. I would submit that the problem with religion today is politics. Not the politics in Washington, D.C., but the politics in the pulpit.

There was a time when evangelical churches avoided politics. They apparently saw the whole business as corrupt. They woke up in the 1970’s and 1980’s when they decided that this necessary evil offered a way of saving the country’s moral soul. Today, we are told they are declining because they are out of step with society and are preaching hate. I, myself, had relatively recently accepted such a viewpoint…until I actually sat down and thought about it. (Perhaps, just perhaps, I have been too willing to believe conventional wisdom.)

Liberal churches, in contrast, heard their calling to politics during the civil rights movement, a generation or so before conservative churches heard their calling to save the country’s political soul. Liberal churches saw themselves as called to protect the weak and helpless. They did so, and they helped carry the day, but even though they were in step with society and preached love, their churches still declined.

I am convinced that the problem is not what politics a church preaches, the problem is being involved in major political issues at all. My church famously led the charge against gay marriage in California. Even though it stopped telling us how to vote on the issue or what position to take on it, at least one of our leaders manages to remind us during every semi-annual General Conferences that gay marriage is a horrible, awful development. And this is what leads the news reports about the 12 hours of talks, hymns and prayers that make up the meetings: the one talk or one comment about gay marriage.

When the church began its high-profile fight against gay marriage, a friend of mine from college who had already abandoned the church posted on Facebook that the church would lose members for involving itself in gay marriage, comparing it to the loss of members the church experienced when it adopted polygamy, which, as he pointed out, also involved the legal definition of marriage. It seems now that he was at least partly right. The church seems to have lost members in the United States since he posted that comment. The church is not saying how many have left, but it is clear to everyone that active members of the church have been leaving it in numbers not seen in generations.

I do not claim to know the will of God concerning gay marriage, or what he would want the church leaders to do or not do, but I am quite certain that some loss of members was inevitable once they decided to get involved in a high-profile political issue. I believe there is simply no way around it.

I don’t think it matters what kind of politics churches embrace; once they jump into the pit, they are going to get dirty. The involvement of the Roman church in the affairs of empires and kingdoms did nothing for its reputation, even if it did give the church protection and influence. The involvement of modern churches in the affairs of nations is not going to aid their reputations, either, whether they help carry the day or whether they only postpone the inevitable.

My advice to all religious leaders is this: pick your issues carefully, because even if you win, you will lose.

How Life (or Politics) is Not a Game of Chess

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Chess is a great game, but it is very different from life.  Yes, it is complex, like life.  Yes, like life it is surprising. And winning a game of chess does require you to think further ahead than your opponents, anticipating what they will do and how they will respond to your moves.  Yet, it is still not like life.  It is not even like politics or international relations.  As a matter of fact, I believe that referring to world leaders’ interactions as a game of chess is probably harmful.

Here is how I came to that conclusion:

For a time I played a game called Go.  It comes from China, although it is played in other Asian countries, too.    For those who are not familiar with the game (almost everyone who might read this), it requires surrounding your opponents’ pieces with your own.  The object is essentially to control as much territory as possible with as few pieces as possible.  The rules are simple, but they create a complex game with many possible moves at any given point.

For a while I played Go on my Kindle Fire during my lunch breaks or any time I had a few minutes of down time.  Even though the computer opponent in the app was rather foolish and weak, it was still a struggle to beat it.

As I played Go and struggled against my digital opponent, I found myself thinking about the human conflicts I was involved in, feeling like I was struggling to win them as well.  I thought about human conflict, about winning and losing.  My mind was repeatedly drawn to the sitcom husbands who think they are winning arguments with their wives until suddenly things turn and they find they have completely lost.  I wondered why those TV moments seem so realistic.

Gradually, it occurred to me that cause of these husbands’ problems is the whole idea that there is going to be a winner and a loser.  They were treating the argument and the relationship like a contest, and it was the very fact that they thought there would be a winner and a loser that caused their downfall.

I realized that human relationships are not a game of Go, nor are they are a game of chess or any other game.  In human relationships there is never a winner and a loser, at least in the long term.  In the long term either everyone wins or everyone loses, and if one person tries to come out the winner, both parties will lose.  I now think that in a human relationship, just trying to win guarantees that you will both lose, eventually.

I think this may be true of all human relationships, whether they are personal or just economic.  I think it may be true of conflicts between groups: nation vs. nation, management vs. unions, even Republicans vs. Democrats.  I think it may be true that in these situations there are only “win-win” or “lose-lose” outcomes, that there is no “win-lose” possibility.

I think it’s when we forget this that human disasters happen.  We always declare winners in war, but there really aren’t any:  everyone loses.  Wars happen when we forget that fact.  When we forget that we all have to get ahead economically for any of us to prosper, we take unusual risks, lie and cheat.  In the process, economies shake, even crumble, and we all lose.  When employees and management forget they are in it together, the business declines and ultimately fails.  When political parties forget that we all win or lose together, they fight until we all lose.  In a family, if someone tries to win, everything can fall apart.

I think this is a result of the most basic fact about human relationships: we’re in them for our own benefit.  As a result, if we want to “win” in a relationship, it means getting more out of the relationship than the other person or group (getting our way, for example).  Most people will tolerate getting less than the other party for a while, because they know the benefits they receive will always vary. Sometimes things will go your way and sometimes they won’t.  People will wait it out until things get better.

But the minute we begin to treat human relationships like a competition, all that changes.  Suddenly one person or group is trying to win.  They want more of the business’ profits than the other person.  They want more favorable terms in the treaty than the other nation.  They want to get more of what they want in the negotiations.  They simply want more benefits from the relationship than the other person.

This works great for the winning side, at least for a while.  They get more than they would have if they hadn’t competed and things look great…until the loser finally withdraws from the relationship.  Employees quit or management declares bankruptcy.  Nations quit trading with each other or even go to war.  Political parties quit negotiating or just destroy each other and make room for new ones.  Friendships end.  Marriages are dissolved.  One way or another, competitive relationships all end and somehow the “winner” becomes a loser, too.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m advocating communism or that I favor a world where winning is banned, because I am actually arguing the opposite.  Communism treats relationships between capitalists and laborers as a simple contest about who will reap the benefits of labor.  The communist worldview is extraordinarily competitive.  In it, the 99% fights the 1% for the world’s resources.  And just as in every competitive relationship, in the end everyone loses.

We can’t win if we only advocate for the 99%.  We can only be sure to win if we advocate for the 100%.

So, no matter how many similarities chess or Go may have with the conflicts we encounter, life is not a game of chess.  It is not any kind of game.  Over time, we can only win if we make sure everyone wins.  And one of the saddest facts of life is that it only takes one group or one person to turn a relationship into a competition where everyone loses.

Please don’t be them.

“Imagine” (if Everyone Thought Like Me)

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”

by John Lennon
John Lennon painted a beautiful picture in this song.  In some ways it was revolutionary, arguing for finding peace by ending religion itself (among other things), but to me it seems like the same old argument that has been used for millennia to justify oppression.

We can find peace, if we only give up our differences, the song seems to say.  Fighting will stop when there is nothing left to fight about: no religion, no nations, no possessions.  To me this seems like an argument that is almost as old as government itself, as kings and emperors sought to establish peace in their borders by eliminating differences among their subjects.

Renaissance-era Spain is an example of how far this can go.  In the name of national unity, the rulers of Spain threw out families of Jews and Muslims who had lived and practiced their religion on the peninsula for centuries.  The Spanish Inquisition actually started as a way to uncover closet Jews, Spaniards who had given up their religion in public for the right to stay in their homes and country.  At the time, Spanish rulers believed a country had to be united in religion to be strong.

To me, John Lennon makes a similar argument.  He was not religious, after all, so when he asked others to give up their religion he was essentially asking them to believe like him.  It seems very much like he was saying “if everyone believes like me, we will have peace,” something the Spanish monarchs might also have said.

I strongly disagree.  The only way to find peace is not by eliminating differences, but by respecting them and accepting them.  This is a common refrain today, but it isn’t just about accepting the rights of minorities.  It means accepting that good, intelligent people will have different views on social issues like abortion, gay marriage and gun control…and not demonizing them for disagreeing with us.

We cannot find peace in politics if our goal is to eliminate opinions we don’t like.  Mockery, derision, ridicule, insults and anger will get us absolutely nowhere.  Peace does not come from agreement.  It comes from being peaceful.

Time for a Third Party?

If you think it’s time for a third party in American politics,  you’re not alone.  Gallup has just released a new poll and it turns out that six out of ten Americans now think the choice between Republicans and Democrats is, shall we say, less than optimal.  This is a new high, but it’s only slightly higher than it was in 2007 or 2010.

Personally, I think we have the ingredients for a third party in our political system already.  I don’t think we need new candidates or office-holders: we can just reshuffle the ones we already have.  How about taking the uncomfortable Northeastern Republicans out of the Republican Party and adding them to the uncomfortable Democrats from the South, the Midwest and the Mountain West?  They probably have more in common with each other than they do with the other members of their own party.

The biggest reason that moderate, pragmatic Democrats and Republicans haven’t already joined forces is probably that they are far apart on social issues, which tend to defy pragmatism.  Our opinion on a social issue is generally something we feel more than think, and Moderate Republicans and Conservative Democrats have very different feelings about abortion, gay marriage and gun control.  A party that combined Democrats from Montana, Missouri and Mississippi with Republicans from Maine, Massachusetts and Manhattan could not possibly come to agreement on the cultural earthquakes that currently shake our country.  A centrist party would have to be neutral on social issues.

Perhaps it is time that we dropped the idea that social issues should define our political preferences.  After all, there are few times in any given year when there is a vote on abortion, gay marriage or gun control.  Is it really a good idea to let our feelings about abortion or gay marriage drive our votes on taxes, deficits, social security, national defense, NSA surveillance, food stamps, Head Start, Pell Grants, food safety, etc., etc. etc.?

Wouldn’t it actually be wonderful if we had a party that didn’t take a position on cultural issues?  One that said it is OK for principled people to disagree on these things, that in the end they really shouldn’t drive our political preferences?  Wouldn’t it be awesome if we separated our culture wars from the day-to-day tasks of government?  It is true that this would require us to accept that good, intelligent people can disagree with us on sensitive issues, but that is precisely why I think separating culture from politics would be so wonderful.

My next post will talk about how the utopia described in John Lennon’s song “Imagine” wasn’t quite as different as it seems and was really just one more volley of verbal artillery in our destructive culture wars.

An Amazonian View of American Politics

American Political Dictionary

This is an explanation of American political terms, taken from a weekly newspaper published by a tribe in the Amazonian Rain Forest.  (Ok, that’s a joke.  Amazonian Indians don’t print newspapers.  They publish them online like everyone else.)

President: a man who manages to keep his worst mistakes hidden from the public, avoids having to vote on controversial national issues, runs for election when the other party is unpopular and either has powerful friends, lots of money or both.  Must be either Protestant or a young, charismatic, good-looking Catholic running against Richard Nixon.

Congress: men and women who represent the interests of the people who elected them, otherwise known as corporations, wealthy donors and labor unions.

Elections: a regular contest to see who can get enough money to buy the most ads on TV.

TV: a picture box powered by a gas generator, like the box that the stuck-up Maxingiru tribe down the river put in the middle of their village.  It’s what people used to use before they could hook up to the internet with solar-powered computers and a satellite connection.

Supreme Court: a group of nine people who don’t have to buy TV ads to get in power.  Nevertheless, they must also keep their worst mistakes hidden, avoid having to decide on controversial issues and have some powerful friends.  Additionally, they must be able to go before Congress on national television and say with a straight face that they have no idea whatsoever how they would vote on the hypothetical case of the Devil v. God, Family and The American Way.

Politics: an inedible product that comes from cows, specifically male cows.

Political Party: a group of people who agree on a number of major issues, such as their mutual re-election.  The two main political parties are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

Democrats: a group of people who claim to be for the common man while they pander to their wealthy donors.  Would have been renamed the Party of Lincoln’s Second-Coming in 2008, but someone remembered Lincoln was a Republican.

Republicans: a completely different group of people who claim to be for the common man while they pander to a slightly different group of wealthy donors.  Would have been renamed the “Party of God” in 2004, but the name was already taken.  (Curse you Hezbollah!)

Minor party: a group of people who refuse to cooperate with the two-party system and run for election based on what they actually believe.  Also known as “hobbyists” and “crackpots.”

Libertarians: a group of mainstream Americans who support things like allowing segregation or maybe repealing the constitution.  Also known as Kentucky Republican primary voters.

Greens: a group of people who think the Democrats should actually enact their party platform, apparently so the Democrats could be booted out of office and be replaced by a newly moderated and suddenly flexible Green Party.  They are an endangered species, mostly due to the fact that liberals don’t want to just hand the country over to the Republicans.

Conservative: someone who wants things to remain exactly as they are by cutting taxes, growing the military, creating a world without trade barriers, invading other countries to bring democracy to an entire region, privatizing Social Security and overturning long-established judicial precedents on campaign finance and gun control.

Liberal: from the Latin word meaning “giving freely,” which preferably involves other people’s money.  Their motto: “If it sounds good, do it!”  The movement is known for its popular leaders like George McGovern and Walter Mondale.

Primary: when the annoyingly committed and involved members of one of the political parties decide the winner of the next election and the annoyingly committed and involved members of the other party pick its next sacrificial victim.  Advice to candidates: primaries are known for their strict codes for language and behavior.  Dirty words like “moderate” and “reasonable” must never be uttered (except to slur your opponent).  Save them for the general election.

Red State: once referred to Communist countries like the Soviet Union, China or Vietnam.  It now refers to a U.S. state whose voters generally prefer Republicans’ lies to the Democrats’.

Blue State: a state whose voters generally prefer Democrats’ lies to the Republicans’.  Named for the mood of their residents, who are constantly blue because either Republicans are in charge or Democrats aren’t living up to their expectations.

Donors: people who give politicians money in case they actually win an election.  Their donations are completely different from bribes.  Completely.  They are only buying access to politicians.  Their money has no influence whatsoever on how a politician votes.

Access: the ability to sit down with a Representative, Senator or President and tell them how completely and totally unfair their latest proposal is to downtrodden victims like yourself, while unintentionally–completely unintentionally–reminding them that they can only win the next TV ad contest and stay in power if they get enough money from big donors like you and your 100 closest friends.  It may also include the ability to sit in on the meeting where they write the legislation.  If you have enough “access,” you get to hold the pen and take the notes.

Lobbyists: former Congressional Representatives and Senators who saw they were going to lose the next election and suddenly announced they were going to retire so they could spend more time with their families.  Also includes former Cabinet members and generals whose mistakes were discovered and widely covered by the media and who, as a matter of complete coincidence, had been planning to resign so they could spend more time with their families.

Civilian Control of the Military: a system where the man elected as President by corporations, wealthy donors and labor unions is put in complete charge of the nation’s warriors, so that he can follow the advice of his generals.

Generals: leaders of the nation’s countless warriors.  They must be able to go before Congress and say with a straight face that the advice they give the President is the result of long experience, careful consideration and well-honed instinct, and no, the notes they are using did not actually come from the White House.  They just happened to run out of stationery at Headquarters and were lucky enough to be able to borrow some from the Oval Office just before the hearing began.

First Lady: a woman who puts up with a bad marriage for years and helps her husband become president, so that one day she can run for president herself, lose to a man and then in a surprise announcement be named his Secretary of State.  (The surprise is that as Secretary of State, she gets to go to foreign countries, enter rooms surrounded by heavily armed men and plainly tell them that “Your policies are idiotic.  If you don’t change them, you’ll be sorry,” without using the words “idiotic,” “policies,” “your,” “are,” “if,” “you,” “don’t” “change,” “them,” “you’ll,” or “be”.)

American: someone who was born in the United States or has adopted the country as their own.  They hold the cherished right to vote for the next American Idol.

Dictionary: a long book that explains in great detail the meaning of words you already know and understand perfectly well.  Written in such a way as to make it seem that the authors know a great deal more about them than you do.

Political Dictionary: see “Politics.”

Religion and Politics

It is this bloggers firm opinion that one’s religious views cannot and should not be separated from one’s political opinions, but we should not demand religious devotion from our politicians.

Our religious views inform our opinions and affect who we are.  We ought to be able to talk about our beliefs publicly and without fear.  We ought to be able to discuss how our religious beliefs affect which policies we favor without being dismissed or ridiculed.

We must also recognize that our government does not exist to advance one religious viewpoint over another and that the eternal salvation of mankind is not and has never been our government’s purpose.  The salvation of mankind and the moral state of individuals is a matter of personal and ecclesiastical concern, not a matter of public policy.  They should be left to individuals and religious organizations.

It is impossible and inadvisable to separate our views on religion from our political views: our religious views will always affect how we determine what is right and what is wrong, what helps and what harms others and what our rights and responsibilities are.  As these are some of the most important foundations of any nation’s law, religious views (or the lack thereof) cannot be separated from law and should not be.

We must recognize, however, when our political views are based on our religious views.  We cannot expect others to simply adopt our political viewpoint if doing so would mean changing their religion.  Politics follow religion, religion does not follow politics.  If the laws we seek to establish rest solely on our religious convictions and are therefore meaningless to someone who does not share our beliefs, then we are demanding that they adopt our religious practices and we deny them freedom of conscience.  If we seek to change others religious views, we must do so in a religious context, not a political one.

More importantly, if we demand religious fervor from our politicians, we will get it, or rather we will get the appearance of it.  The lust for power that our constitution seeks to harness and turn to the public benefit will consistently push political hopefuls into playing whatever role they must to gain public support.  Since true religious conviction cannot be measured and we can only base our judgment on appearances, if we demand religious conviction what we are likely to get is hypocrisy and the appearance of conviction.  Candidates will compete to appear more religious than their opponents and politics becomes in part a contest to see who is the most convincing actor.

It is true that many people identify religion with character.  Character does indeed count, but character is found among the followers of every religion and among those who profess no religion.  It is hard enough to judge character when it is simply a set of behaviors.  Defining character as devotion to a fixed set of religious principles makes that judgment impossible.

Let us demand accountability and integrity from our politicians.  Let us not demand from them either devotion to a particular religion or eternal salvation for our citizens.