10 November 2016

Election week reflections

October 21. Voting.
I've never been able to resist watching election returns, wherever I might be. So I got up on Wednesday morning at 3:45 a.m. (eight hours ahead of the USA's Eastern Standard Time), made some coffee, and settled in for three and a half hours of streaming video from CBS News before I'd have to leave to teach our first morning class.

I kept CBS News streaming into my smartphone as I walked the 35-minute icy path to the Institute, picking my way through the most slippery places with my cane. By the time our first class of the day started (at midnight on the U.S. East Coast), it was very clear that the tide had turned toward Donald Trump. For a few minutes we projected our news feed onto a classroom screen -- it was our Mass Media class, after all -- before tackling our subject of the day, an article about the "Depressing Food of the Depression." It wasn't until our second class of the morning that a little alert from the news site Lenta.ru came on my laptop screen that Hillary Clinton had conceded.

I spent a good portion of the previous day, the actual U.S. election day, in the wonderful company of seven graduate students at the Baptist seminary in Moscow, teaching theological English. Toward the end of our session, I played Nate Macy's song "Grace to You" as a gapfill exercise, and to my delight, after we worked through the blanks, they wanted to sing it together. One of the students picked up a guitar and worked out the accompaniment with delightful results.

These wonderful hours at the seminary provided nurture and perspective for the less wonderful hours to come -- following the election returns from across the Atlantic.

Instant message to me on Vkontakte, November 9.
Soon after our second Wednesday morning class ended, we began getting congratulations on Trump's victory from our Russian students and colleagues, in person and on social networks. They must have assumed that we had done the (in their minds) sensible thing and voted for him. That evening, I had a long conversation with a retired engineer -- one of those who had congratulated us. She explained (as we already knew) that the main Russian television networks had made it clear that Clinton was hostile to Russia, making Trump the far more desirable candidate. With some indignation, she told me that Clinton and the foreign-policy establishment figures around her were falsely accusing Russia of hostile intentions. "We are a country of peaceful people," as she summed it up.

Russians can be excused for putting foreign policy concerns above America's domestic agenda. And it's that domestic agenda that threatens to give me ulcers. Well-meaning people can reasonably differ on many policy issues, but this election cycle's corrosive campaign and its outcome reveal deeper problems, of which I want to focus on just one symptom: the way Barack Obama has been portrayed in social-network posts by people close to me, and what that says about our sources of information.

Some of my friends and acquaintances acknowledge that Obama has covered all the conventional expectations of a U.S. president, helping guide an economic recovery process and health care finance reform in the face of unrelenting Republican opposition. He has carried out his roles of global leader and national pastor-in-chief with competence and often with grace, especially at times of crisis and tragedy. With his record of extrajudicial killings-by-drone, he's no hero to me, but objectively he's just doing what imperial presidents are supposed to do -- and, to his credit, he seems to have resisted the influences of far more hawkish advisors.

Other friends and relatives seem ready to circulate material about Obama that I can only describe as outrageously false -- so aggressively false that I would have thought that this stuff comes from some parallel universe where a mysterious anti-Obama is busy totally destroying the freedoms of the anti-USA for his personal enrichment, while opening the back door of the anti-White House to Islamic terrorists. Here's what really drives me nuts: if allegations of criminality at this level came to me, I would do some checking before passing them on. Even if I thought the media was already too corrupt, too bought-off to look into these sorts of charges, I would not pass them on without some kind of proof or at least a caveat. "Thou shalt not bear false witness."

Also see: Russian avos' and American politics

It's my fantasy that in the months and years to come, churches will play a unique role. The global family of faith may be the only institution that brings together people holding these diametrically opposite viewpoints. I know this is true in our own Quaker yearly meeting. It may be the one place where "irreconcilable differences" can be transcended, if we are determined to resist the fragmentation promoted by the most hateful media.

Those who are overjoyed by Trump's victory will still need to pray for him -- and it's just as important for those devastated by his victory to pray for him as well. For eight years I passionately opposed George W. Bush's warmaking and slander of Muslims and fiscal shell games, and for eight years I prayed for him daily. I prayed for him for my own sake -- in order to manage and rebuke my own rage -- as well as for his.

Having the mind of Christ, we can also devote ourselves to other specific tasks in the wake of this election, dividing the labor according to our gifts and leadings. We need to diagnose the role of racism, of elitism and social alienation, and other evidences of primordial evil and structural sin in whatever guise they have taken in our day. I can imagine forming book groups and Bible studies, and then taking the time to work out strategies of divine resistance we will offer our congregations. The Friends meetings of Portland, Oregon -- both liberal and evangelical -- studied the situation after September 11, 2001, and began systematically planning visits to congressional offices. At around the same time, a small group of churches and pastors also began staging social exorcisms in government locations in Portland and Salem, Oregon, praying publicly to cast out the demons of violence, greed, and racism.

From a God-centered perspective, this spiritual warfare utterly transcends the divisions between liberal and conservative; the more pertinent division is between those who live in hope and work to bless the community, and on the other hand, those who just stop caring. Let's put fresh energy into community-building, not letting anyone get marginalized, no matter whom they voted for.

Katherine Hayhoe, climate evangelist, and her YouTube series on Global Weirding.

The after-election thoughts of Jim Kovpak at Russia without BS.

An early venture in considering Trump's effect on U.S.-Russian relations.

Newly-released Alexei Gaskarov: What politics?

Ruthie Foster, "Phenomenal Woman"

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