Essays Politics Theology

Peace and Perspective For All Americans On Election Day

Election night is fast approaching and (if we actually get results) we will undoubtedly see images of shocked and disheartened Americans shedding tears over their candidate’s loss. Many millions of people will feel that there is little hope for the future and that they have lost a great battle. Many will be filled with hate for those that could have dared vote for the other party, and some will take to the streets to destroy property or human lives. 

These intense emotions are the result of the ever-increasing political religiosity that has plagued both parties in recent years. Andrew Sullivan describes this phenomenon as such:

“Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society. By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).”

Sullivan goes on to argue that politics has become America’s new religion. Political parties, candidates, and ideologies are increasingly (and alarmingly) giving more and more people their reason for being. Their identities, hope, and security are wrapped up in who wins an election. 

This political religiosity has yielded a class of Americans—on both sides of the political spectrum—that is so committed to the worldview of their “side” that they are no longer able to use reason in the pursuit of truth. These Orwellian Nationalists are intellectually incapable of aggregating facts to arrive at truth, but instead twist and turn every scrap of information into a new “truth” that somehow increases the prestige of their side. Orwell writes that these people assume:

“… that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. [These people identify themselves] with a single [group], placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”  

This is why some Americans will fall so hard on election night. Their identity, sense of purpose, worldview, self-worth, and reason for being are all tied up in this election. 

I am truly sad for those that have fallen into this way of life, and I am writing today to try to restore some peace and perspective to those that find themselves swimming in these seas of political religiosity and Orwellian Nationalism. 

Key Things To Keep in Mind

Here are some key things to keep in mind if you are struggling with political religiosity, Orwellian Nationalism, or if you simply have a lot of anxiety about the election. These facts will hopefully lower the stakes for you and enable you to enjoy your part in the democratic process.

First, we live in a federal system of government. Power in our society is shared between the federal government in Washington and the individual states. Our state governments have very real and tangible power over our lives, perhaps more so than does the president. Our states make key decisions concerning education, healthcare, policing, taxes, and much more. The president can influence these decisions, but he is not a dictator that can control our lives by decree.

Second, we live in a democratic republic. We elect new representatives every two years (of course, the president has a four-year term). If whoever is elected tonight really does end up being terrible, the people can erode this person’s power greatly at the polls in two years by swinging Congress to the other party. If what this president does is truly terrible a future Congress and president could also move in to amend the situation. Yes, we could experience some suffering due to this president’s policies, but there is no guarantee that this suffering will be permanent. We will live to fight (politically) another day. There will be more elections.

Third, we have separation of powers and checks and balances in this country. As has been said, the president is not a dictator. The power to write law has been invested in Congress, the power to interpret the law has been invested in the courts—only the power to enforce the law has been invested in the president. This system of government was expressly designed to withstand bad presidents—our Framers assumed that “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm” and they designed the system to survive such presidents (Federalist No. 10).

To ensure our system of government survived bad or tyrannical presidents our Framers built in a system of checks and balances wherein the ambition of congress would “counteract” the ambition of the president. For example, a president who wanted to make himself dictator would be stopped by Congress (even if Congress was of the same party) because Congress would not stand by and let the president take its own power. 

Beyond this extreme scenario, we must keep in mind that in order to make any significant changes in this country our president has to get his bills through Congress. Getting anything through Congress is exceptionally difficult, by design. And whoever wins the presidency, it is very unlikely that a single party will have control over both chambers of Congress and the presidency. If one party does achieve this, it is almost certain that it will only hold this power for two years, as most presidents lose big in midterm elections.

My fourth and final point is the most important, but it will unfortunately only apply to Christians. Whatever happens tonight, Christians should take solace in one key fact— Paul clearly states in Romans 13 that God chooses our rulers. God’s will will happen tonight and we should find peace and comfort in that reality.

Whatever happens tonight, I encourage you to refrain from putting your faith, hope, and trust in a person or a party. Yes, our elections do matter, and the choices of our presidents can harm Americans. But a single president will not write the entire story of our future as a people and a nation—and there will always be another election in the near future.