“Take a breath,” most of us were probably told as kids. “Slow down.”
It’s rarely bad advice. In a high-stakes political battle like this week’s presidential election, I found myself grateful for some days of uncertainty, a chance for a hysterical nation to press pause and sit still.
The feelings of this week of course conjure up some déjà vu from four years ago, only more bitter, more exhausted, more complex and more divided. There is once again shock at the failure of the polls to capture the reality of voters’ leanings. There is the settling in of psychic unease: How can I not know my own country? Who, actually, is my neighbor? Some would defend a vote for Trump as a vote for dignity, a vote to be able to make up one’s own mind, cultural pressures and elite moral narratives be damned. Others would defend a vote for Biden as a vote for the common good, for the survival of democracy, for any hope of healing.
One fact has become clear: American politics has become the vehicle for a war of cultural symbols, and we gave it this power. So now the moral question is as rudimentary as it is existential: How should citizens choose to engage one another when the split inside fear itself is so even yet so opposed? How might we begin to soften the terrors of those whose sense of being victimized is painted in such different colors than our own sense? What do we still owe one another—as human beings, as residents of one land?
Some genuine humility before realities that surprise us—even offend us—has to be the starting point. For journalists, for pontificators, for elites and disenfranchised and everyday people alike. “The face of my enemy is my own face,” Breaking Ground contributor Irena Dragaš Jansen wrote the day of the election. How many of us are willing to acknowledge this? What is barring Christians, in particular, from this kind of searching of self and other?