The dark clouds over America's looming election

With another US presidential election looming what can one say? Especially in MercatorNet? How does DeSantis stand in Iowa? Might Kamala Harris run if Biden steps (or falls) down? Will the Hispanic vote continue to drift Republican? Are these things we should be spending our time on?

No, really. I ask partly because my editor asked me, and partly because I’m still far enough into the world of regular journalism to get emails from colleagues offering me things like “5 races to watch in P.E.I.’s spring election” yet far enough out of it to wonder whether it is really good for us, even as citizens, to be watching 5 races in P.E.I.’s spring election rather than, say, Bishop Barron’s sermons.

If you’re not very clear on what “P.E.I.’s spring election" is, it’s OK because P.E.I. is in fact Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, geographically and demographically, just 5,660 square kilometres and perhaps 175,000 people. And because, as usual, the election features parties whose policies and public relations are so indistinguishable, and pointless, that I wonder how they can stand to look in the mirror long enough to figure out which one they actually are.

Obsessing over it constitutes, in Chesterton’s immortal phrase, “gathering sand while the gold runs free”. And worse.

American politics may seem to have different problems. Its parties have sometimes had very real disagreements. And from the dawn of the Republic it has been colourful in ways few nations can match; Canada or Australia never had a Calvin Coolidge, let alone an Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, FDR, JFK, or for that matter Andrew Johnson, Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter. Though at this point you’re probably thinking more of, oh, say, Donald Trump or Joseph Biden.

Not good. Arguably not even an improvement on Trump v Hillary Clinton, since the once Grand Old Party and the body politic have not managed to rid themselves of Trump or Trumpism. And if I were advising Ron DeSantis, I would not be very clear on how to, other than to stand up to the bully in no uncertain terms.

As for Biden, whatever you thought of him in his prime, and he was never what you’d call an honest man, he was cognitively unfit for the office by 2020 and hasn’t gotten better. Whereas Kamala Harris is like a daffy Grade 2 teacher with a mean streak. And of course the mainstream press is so deeply compromised by the Hunter Biden laptop affair, and their cheerleading for Covid conformity, that they are part of the problem, while social media is a swamp the MAGAs don’t want to drain.

Dear me. Very depressing and not very practical. So back to that Bishop Barron business, because I started the day during which I wrote this column by putting it aside, along with the dark thoughts it was prompting, to watch his latest “I Was Blind and Now I See”. And as will happen, it wasn’t just marvellous but also timely.

Especially the bit toward the end where he says, of the various people who deny the miracle, “There are a lot of people in our world deeply invested in blindness.” And I realized those words expressed what I do want to say about the American election. It’s not just that there are many people engaged in politics, there and elsewhere, who are blind. It’s that there are all kinds of people deeply invested in it.

The candidates are overwhelmingly invested in the blindness of their followers. Their ferocious partisans would deny it, but they do not spend time wondering how to make their supporters better people. Their campaigns, including the guff about tolerance and compassion, depend on appealing to the dark side, hatred of those wretches who dare oppose us. And I’m not picking on the United States; it’s true in Canada, where I live, and wherever you live.

Of course you may scoff that that politics isn’t that kind of profession and a historian -- of all professions -- should know it never was. And you’re right. Even the “Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan, a man of obnoxiously pointed religiosity, was essentially a charlatan, not in the sense of deliberately peddling falsehoods but of stoking rage and resentment with ideas he was too mentally lazy to examine.

There have been American exceptions, like George Washington, the Adamses, and Ronald Reagan. I also have a late-developing soft spot for Grover Cleveland and, if biographer Candice Millard is to be believed, James Garfield. And in ancient Rome perhaps Cato the Elder and on a good day Cicero. But certainly not Julius or Augustus Caesar, let alone the rest of that soap opera including losers like Brutus.

So it’s rare. What did you expect in our sinful world? But as with other sins, it’s not OK because it’s common. And here it’s vital to grasp that it’s not just the candidates who are invested in their followers’ blindness to sin. Far too many people get far too much of their sense of self from their political commitments, and far too often from commitments to loathsome candidates that require them to remain blind.

For instance, Donald Trump recently predicted that he’s going to be arrested. And while I’m not peddling pundit insights either way, I wouldn’t be surprised, partly because of his enemies in the swamp and partly because anyone who conducts their affairs as he habitually does stands a very good chance of getting busted. But here’s the thing.

He wants to be. He figures it will help rally his rage-filled supporters to another assault on the established order. And to this rumour Scott Adams, whose Dilbert cartoon I cherish and who was just cancelled for remarks that had far more wrath than charity about them, tweeted: “If they handcuff Trump, he is your next president.” And he hopes they will.

Candidate and supporter alike dream of an incident that further increases bitterness in American public life. And I fear that Adams’ read is correct. Arresting Trump will make it almost certain he wins the Republican nomination and make him odds-on favourite to win the White House if he isn’t already.

Donald Trump. Against Joe Biden. Or someone else equally unsuited though for the sake of variety perhaps on different grounds. But what matters in US politics, as in Canadian politics and yours wherever you are, isn’t which unpalatable choice prevails in the short run. It’s whether we can manage to divest ourselves of blindness instead of investing in it and refuse to tolerate conduct from “our” guy or gal we would righteously denounce on the other side.

So who’s going to win the American election? In one sense I have no idea. But in another I do: You will, if you resist the dark impulses inherent in all our natures that politics is very good at exacerbating. I do think the outcome of the overall vote matters. But it’s not what they’ll ask you about at the Pearly Gates, so don’t go studying on it.

They’ll ask about malice toward none, with charity for all. Ask the blind man. He saw it all.


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