Tag Archives: election

What Do You Love About America?


My dad was an extrovert—he would talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything. Sometimes it was annoying, sometimes embarrassing, always it was just dad being dad. The rest of us in the family are introverts to varying degrees but I am my father’s son: I, too, will talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything. And more than anything else, accents will get me started … though I find myself increasingly inept at identifying them.

And so it was that accents were the opening for a conversation with a couple next to me at a coffee shop recently. Of course, they insisted that I guess where they were from; and of course, I was wrong. Twice. (I started with South Africa, then went to New Zealand, before correctly landing on Australia.)

The iced coffee having been broken, they dove right in: What do you love about America? It was an honest, probing question with no hint of malice toward the nation they were touring for weeks, if not months. (They briefly described an itinerary that had them visiting national parks from the southeast to California and back to the northeast.)

My hesitation in answering was revealing, both to them and to myself. It’s not that I don’t love America; it’s just that there’s so much not to love these days. Tucked between a depressing presidential debate and the nation’s 248th birthday, our deeply honest conversation began with three things I am grateful for as an American: *opportunity, *innovation, and *freedom. Each is a real strength inextricably connected to the others and each demands an asterisk, like a speed record aided by tailwinds or a home run record tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.

*Opportunity. Since long before her birth, America has been known as the land of opportunity. Vast landscapes invite farming and ranching, urban development and exploration. Thirteen years of “free” education for both boys and girls. (Mostly) equal rights, irrespective of gender, race, politics, religion, and so on.

The asterisk here is best summarized with the Orwellian line, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” In spite of the Declaration of Independence’s bold claim that “all men are created equal,” slaves were not counted as equal even for census purposes for the first century of America’s existence. While opportunity in schools, sports, business, politics is theoretically unlimited, any number of factors still raise practical barriers for whole swaths of our citizenry. Clearly we are still a work in progress.

*Innovation. There is some question about who first suggested the idea of “adapt or die,” but it is an appropriate way to describe the endurance of what George Washington once described as a great experiment. Whether in politics or manufacturing, energy or healthcare, when America has faced crisis, her ability to innovate and adapt has ensured her survival. And yet this innovation has been practiced on our foundational rule of law, the Constitution, that has been amended only 17 times since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. It would seem that our Founding Fathers were not only innovative but also wary of excessive innovation; or at least they knew that innovation requires a strong and stable foundation.

The asterisk to innovation is the individualism it breeds. Though our money still declares “in God we trust,” a truer motto would be “in ourselves we trust” or the more common sentiment, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” Innovation breeds differentiation, which in turn breeds competition, suspicion, division. In the experiment that we call the United States, there is an ongoing tension between “united” and “states.”

*Freedom. America’s greatest strength is undoubtedly her freedom. Not only the specific freedoms enshrined in the Constitution—speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government—but the broader environment of freedom that stems from those. We have the freedom to choose where to live, where to attend college, what type of work to do. We have the freedom to leave when we want and to return when we want. We even have freedom to do things that may not be healthy for us.

The asterisk on freedom is the incredible cost and immense responsibility that come with it. Freedom, of course, is never unlimited. Freedom of speech may include the freedom to lie, but not when the lie causes harm to someone’s reputation (defamation). Freedom of assembly includes anti-government rallies, but not when the rallies turn into riots. Freedom with limits is little more than anarchy.

Freedom may be America’s greatest strength, but it is also her greatest challenge. This is the most frequent theme when I talk with people in or from other nations: the social cost of freedom. On American news they see rampant crime, gun violence, political and religious scandals; they see rising division in our nation and candidates in a presidential debate (I use both terms—presidential and debate—very loosely) who sound more like junior high boys arguing on a playground about who is toughest. I long for the day when our nation finally awakens to the incredible cost—no, the insane cost—of our freedom to “keep and bear arms.”

Is this the best we have?

The second question asked by my new acquaintances from Down Under was phrased more incredulously: in a land of 350 million people, is this really the best you can offer the world? They recognize what so many others both at home and abroad know: for better or worse, America is a world leader. And also for better or worse, the individual we elect to lead our nation will be a de facto world leader. 

One headline after last week’s debate was telling: one disappointed, one lied and deflected. And in four months, we have to choose between these two? This is the curse of our two-party system and reveals the lie spoken by so many well-meaning parents and pundits, that anyone can be president. If only that were true. If only, come the first Tuesday in November, America could write in anyone other than the two men whose names will be at the top of the ballot.

I know there are many Americans who don’t like our elevated place in the world, or at least don’t like the significant cost of that role to our own nation. But the fact is that we are a world leader and will be a world leader until we either hide ourselves under a rock or continue to behave so ludicrously that we become a laughingstock and a shadow of our once-great nation. And the cost of allowing either of those to happen will be exponentially greater in every way.

So what do I love about America? I love that in four years, we will have two different candidates. I love that—in spite of my profound concerns about what will happen in our nation and the world over those four years—I can still have hope that these United States of America will rise above where we are today. 

Don’t let me down, America. Don’t let me down.

It’s High Time…


system-failureThis is not a political blog. If you look right below the title, The Rushed Contemplative, you’ll see the subhead, “Musings on Life and Faith.” But during this election season in the U.S.—perhaps as much as at any other time in my life—our nation’s politics intersect powerfully with “life and faith.” And it’s high time I took a stand.

I am surprised by the number of Republicans supporting Donald Trump. Many of the same people who cried out for Bill Clinton to be impeached twenty years ago are now defending Trump in the face of a pattern of affairs, lewd comments, and lascivious behavior. “But Clinton was president,” goes one defense. “He apologized,” goes another. (Ironically, we’re talking about the same man who said he has no need to ask God’s forgiveness.) “Talk is talk,” suggested one person.

If we thought Bill Clinton’s actions—not only his actions with Monica Lewinsky, but the lies he told to cover it up—rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that warranted impeachment and possible removal from the presidency, then why in the world would we even consider electing a man with a long history of similar actions? At the very least (and it is certainly least) Bill Clinton didn’t proudly boast about his “conquest,” as Donald Trump has. (I recall one pagan ruler in the Bible whose arrogance resulted in a God-ordained mental illness.)

I am appalled by the number of Christ followers throwing their support behind Donald Trump. Yes, I am well aware that we are not electing a “pastor-in-chief.” But that doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the significant character flaws Mr. Trump displays daily. We need not expect him to demonstrate all the fruit of the Spirit, but how does he measure up against the “works of the flesh” Paul outlines: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19–21; ESV). That’s quite a list—and I deleted several of the most arguable ones.

Look for a moment at the words in that list that have nothing to do with sex. Mr. Trump’s god is money. Or himself; that might be a close race. His talk has consistently increased the enmity of other nations against the U.S.—including some of our allies. He has in no way been the uniter of the Republican party that he claims to have been, as evidenced by the number of Republican stalwarts who have vowed not to vote for their own party’s candidate.

The arguments for electing Donald Trump ring hollow. The single most compelling argument I have heard centers around Supreme Court justices; the next president is likely to have as many as three appointments. As profound an impact as that may be, a president’s legacy goes far beyond the Court; it is formed in the relationships with other nations, both allies and adversaries; it is formed in his/her leadership of the armed forces; it is formed in national and global economics.

Next to the Supreme Court question, the most compelling argument I have heard is that by electing Trump, we will not have another President Clinton. It is the “lesser of two evils” argument. Some have countered by saying that at least with Hillary, we know what we’re getting; that’s actually pretty good thinking – because we really have no idea what a President Trump would be like, other than loud, arrogant, and belligerent.

If not Trump, then who? Donald Trump would be not just a bad president, but a dangerous one. He is patently unqualified, by reason of his character and demeanor, to lead what is still the most powerful nation on earth.

Hillary Clinton is by far the most qualified candidate, as she has been almost since day one. But I cannot support her politics and have serious qualms about her ethics—as I have since her time as First Lady.

Many people say that any vote for someone other than Trump or Clinton is a vote for one of them. In other words, if I vote against Trump, then I might as well vote for Clinton, and vice versa. In reality, it is almost undoubtedly true that one of the major-party candidates will be the next president. I have had a growing concern for a dozen years about our nation’s two-party system, how we do primary elections, and the electoral college. (I wonder what conversations we would be having today if we could have multiple candidates from each party.)

Many people say that to vote for a third-party candidate is to throw away my vote. There’s some truth to that. Some of these candidates are not even on the ballot in all 50 states—another massive systemic failure. But even if, somehow, a third-party candidate were to get more of the popular vote than either Clinton or Trump, I suspect that the electoral college would give the vote to one of them—and we’d have an even bigger uproar than in 2000.

So who will I vote for? I will vote for a third-party candidate. I will vote for someone whom I believe is capable of guiding our nation, of leading our military, of working with Congress, of exercising diplomacy with our allies and adversaries. I will vote for someone who can surround him- or herself with wise advisors and cabinet members. I will vote for someone whose character is honorable (the biblical term “above reproach” seems sadly unreachable) and whose politics are as closely aligned with mine as possible.

I’m not sure yet who that person is. I’m not even sure if there is such a candidate, or if I will have to write in a name (it would be Paul Ryan). But in so doing, I will have both confidence and hope: confidence that I will not have cast my vote for someone whom I cannot support for president; and hope that the millions of people who share my concerns will join me and at least begin the process of changing how we elect our president.

My First Political Post


I spent nine long months working as a letter carrier (technically, a “City Carrier Assistant”) for the US Post Office. One Friday during a morning standup meeting, we had a sendoff for a supervisor who was transferring across the country. She was known as a yeller who was constantly stressed, who treated most everyone with an air of contempt. In the generally-hostile atmosphere between union and management, she was a catalyst for much grumbling.

In her goodbye speech, this supervisor spoke about having been a Marine (she may have been a Drill Instructor; she certainly had the skills for it); she said, “that’s not really who I am, I just have to yell at you to get you to do your jobs.”

The second part of that was bad enough; it said everything about how much she valued the people she was supposed to lead. But the first part, if it was true, was frightening.

That’s not really who I am.

I know there are at least a few jobs that require a shift in personality; in a sense you have to be someone who, by nature, you are not. Acting is one of those. Military drill instructor may be another. Post office supervisor is not. Neither is presidential candidate—or president.

Vote HereSome of this nation’s greatest presidents are considered great because of their character. Certainly time has glossed over those mens’ faults, but the fact remains that for most of our history, one of the key qualifications sought for our highest office was character: integrity, diplomacy, strength in the face of adversity, moral uprightness. During my lifetime (though I don’t think it’s my fault!), character has slipped down the list of priorities.

Now I’m going to get very political: Donald Trump does not have the character to lead this country. His rhetoric is good media and an effective campaign tactic…if you’re trying to get free media coverage. Here’s the scary part: Trump claims that he’ll behave differently as president.

That’s not really how I’ll act.

Right or wrong, politicians have earned a reputation for being dishonest. Few reasonable adults believe the promises a candidate makes during a campaign—even if only because they recognize that the president has to work with a legislature that is often openly hostile to those promises.

We do, however, expect that what we see on the campaign trail will be what we see in the White House. Which brings up two glaring problems with Donald Trump: first, what we’ve seen from Trump during this campaign is not what I think we want to see in the White House. Leading this nation in the community of nations demands diplomacy and reason, not belligerent rhetoric.

Second, if the Donald Trump we’ve seen on the campaign is not the Donald Trump we would see in the White House, then we have no idea what President Trump would be like; we will have elected a ghost.

I’m scared. I’m scared because I don’t see a good candidate—a man or woman of character—who has a reasonable chance of becoming president. I’m scared because of the number of people who seem willing to put electability over character. And I’m scared because we might get exactly what we want in our next president—but not what we need. Character.

At the top, character counts.