I had some time to watch some of the Sunday morning political “talk shows” on a variety of networks and platforms today. After listening for just a few minutes, I began to keep score. Here is what I heard:
- Complaints against a person or party = 72
- Insults of another person or party = 61
- Personal attacks against another person or party = 55
- Assessment/analysis of what ISN’T being done/happening = 45
- Defensive comments or arguments = 44
- Explanation of why other person or party is stupid/wrong/dangerous = 41
- Supportive and productive comments = 16
- Positive/visionary comments = 5
- Clear explanations of what is right rather than wrong = 4
- Glowing celebration of what is good in our world = 2
Okay, what’s wrong with this picture? Perhaps you do not see negativity as, well, negative or problematic. I happen to. We are spending much too much time talking about what we don’t want, what we don’t like, what we hate, and not nearly enough time working together creatively to focus on what we do want, what we can agree on, and what we would love to see. Our media and political leadership is locked into a toxic spiral of negativity, aggression and despair.
I have long proclaimed (as a privileged, white, middle-class, educated, male) that it is not enough to be against the bad; we have got to be for the good. Surely, we should first seek to “do no harm,” but only on the way to “doing all the good we can.” I am certainly “anti-racist,” but what I feel best about is being “pro-African American,” “pro-Hispanic/Latinx,” “pro-Asian,” “pro-black,” “pro-Native American,” etc. It has always been important to me to be for something instead of simply against something else. Often, it requires a bit of “both/and,” you cannot build the new as long as the old occupies the space, but the negativity spiral too often locks us into the view of what we aren’t, what we can’t do, what we fail at, instead of laying a foundation for what we can do to improve.
When did we decide that hostility, disrespect, aggression, insult, attack, and incivility would help us create a healthy, secure, and equitable society? When did we throw decency, honesty, and integrity out the window? I think that our current media system — both social and corporate — is significantly responsible. We have governmental leaders who were elected to represent constituencies who have abdicated their trust in order to become media celebrities. We have individuals from the former president on down who understand that being outrageous and inflammatory will keep them in the media spotlight. These people are adding nothing to the strength or stability of American democracy. They say unbelievably offensive things, and instead of ignoring them, our media lifts them up before the American public. These people are like puppies who pee on the carpet to get attention; they are so starved for any kind of affirmation that they will continuously piddle on the rug just to see what kind of reaction they can generate. Marjorie Taylor Greene comes to mind. If the media would ignore her piddling, her influence would disappear. If your concern is that I am picking on Republicans, I think Joe Manchin is doing exactly the same thing, just not as ignorantly or offensively. Celebrity status and exposure appears to be much more important to these politicians and so many others at the moment, that America can sadly go to hell. Piddling on the rug gets attention, but doesn’t really solve anything. and the longer we affirm the piddling performance, the longer we will have to clean it up.
Look at the voting records of many of our elected leaders right now. it is much easier to find out what people have voted against, rather than what they have voted for. Many voters across the United States voice shock and dismay at the votes of their senators and congressional representatives when they find out what they have done. We, as a nation, are woefully ignorant about how our “representatives” are representing us. We are defined by our opposition, not by any vision for the future. The divisive polarization of our current politics are making some people talk about an imminent Civil War, yet when you talk to most mainstream Americans, they are on the same page and want the same things. We want a future. We want safety. We want justice, and we are willing to extend justice to those who have been deprived in the past. We want health care. We want meaningful employment. All of these things are more important to most people than immigrants, abortion, human sexuality, or who serves on the Supreme Court. Do we have people who hate strangers and immigrants and other religions and other skin colors? Yes, of course, but they do not exist in numbers to define us, and we do not have to ever accept any vision of leadership defined by hate, hurt, and division. The “us/them” rhetoric of current political posturing and media reporting does not have to be our reality. Guess what? No existing Republicans or Democrats know what all of us should do, know, believe, and how we should behave. Human beings are limited and hypocritical. Don’t buy into the negativity of divisiveness and disrespect. Look for what we have in common, not that which divides. Stop being against things; find something to support. Quit trying to escape Egypt; start moving toward the Promised Land. Go forward, not back. It is time to be anti- against the anti- and become pro- for all.
Well, I hadn’t stopped by your site here in a while. However, I’ve been writing some WordPress, 3-minute missives about the schismatic context in the UMC that caused me to wonder what you were writing these days. My latest piece comes at this problem from a little different approach. I’ll share it here. What do you think?
“I Am Right You Are Wrong” || https://mysticalmobius.net/2022/08/07/i-am-right-you-are-wrong
Michael L. McKee [not Bishop McKee]
Somehow in the last week or so, it dawned on me that contrary to my “well of course, everyone…,” NOT everyone thinks we have a civic and faith-oriented responsibility to the common good. In fact, many of us act without regard to any common good. Many of us are locked into that “toxic spiral of negativity, aggression and despair” that Dan mentions. MAYBE the inner transformation of which Joe writes can be sparked and supported by a renewal of gratitude and positive acts toward any and all of our fellow travelers on the planet.
Gee, sounds like our denomination.
In order to be more genuinely, and constructively “pro” ‘our common future’, I sense requires more than simply being ‘positive’… I sense it requires a compassionate, non-anxious understanding of both our Self, and those with whom we differ such that we are able to more clearly not only ‘see’ our own traumas that have jaded us and our ‘sacred cattle’, but also the traumas and sacred cattle of those who differ with us, such that we can recognize The Image of God in ourSelf and ‘them’, and see how we may walk together in mutually supportive peace with each other. I sense Christ invites us to an inner transformation, not merely being more ‘positive’.
Couldn’t agree with you more, but we need to start somewhere. We are immersed in a culture of negativity, competition, and condemnation. If those of us who have received “good news” cannot rise to the challenge to be positive and invite a focus on the good, we are in deep, deep trouble.