Depends on whom you ask: God or Americans

Are you ready yet to hear about something other than politics?

As the quadrennial presidential election cycle nears conclusion and we are all alternately hopeful and hopeless over the prospective outcome, it might be well to remember that our national life together has held together for more than two centuries in times of woe and weal both. We survive and thrive somehow, because of and despite our politics.

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It’s well to remember what politics is and isn’t. American politics is merely about governing our life together in communities large and small by the Constitutional principle “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Sadly, we continue to have a national conversation about who the “people” are.

This conversation has taken many forms. Slaves and women once could not vote: The former actually counted as three-fifths of a person in one political compromise, and their black descendants only gained legal protections in the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the latter finally gained the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Are the people all the people, or are some people more people than other people? A federal court has ruled that some state voter registration laws, which were claimed to protect against voter fraud that there is no evidence of, were deliberately meant to suppress the voting access of those who would likely vote for the opposing party (read black and Hispanic citizens voting for Democrat candidates). This is a form of saying that some people are more American than others. When we group recent legal immigrants with undocumented immigrants and call them all aliens, we are “alienating” them all. We are saying that some of us (whose ancestors may have simply immigrated earlier and from Europe instead of Central America) have a greater purchase on peoplehood than others. When we treat corporations as people and allow elections to be driven by enormous, impersonal economic interests, we have reduced what it means to be people to market definitions.

Jewish and Christian tradition locates our human dignity in our capacity to work, to rest, to name things, to care for creation, to relate to one another intimately, to procreate, to make things, to choose between good and evil and so on. In other words, politics is something but not everything, and each of us is more than a political creature. We are made in God’s image, and God is blessedly inscrutable.

W.H. Auden famously said, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” He meant that to be suitably ambiguous. Poetry decries the use of words only for political purposes. Art loves what is good for goodness sake. We should value people for their own sake as well. The best of life is not subject to manipulation or management. But poetry also makes nothing happen the way God made the world by a word. Nothing became something. Wondrous.

Breathe, read a novel, listen to music, walk your dog, worship, pray, catch a ballgame, wonder aloud, wander about, love your neighbor. Life is more than politics.