08 September 2008

Fear and trembling on the campaign trail

Pray for me.

I never knew what to make of that request when I heard it many years ago when I identified as a Christian of the social gospel. Back then it sounded too self-indulgent and too prideful, even for a post-Catholic. But it's beginning to make sense lately.

I am confident that history will not judge adult Americans of the late 20th and early 21st centuries kindly. The curious will ask: How could you do so little when your nation was bullying, pillaging and destroying people and cultures in other parts of the world? How could you not protest more loudly when your own citizens’ constitutional rights and protections against tyranny were being thrown into the scrap heap? How could you allow one of the richest nations in human history to abandon any pretext of a social contact and devolve into a polarized society of such breathtaking inequality? How could you allow torture to become a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy? How could you spew the rhetoric of democracy and yet walk away from the responsibilities of citizenship and allow your own democracy to crumble?

The morally and historically curious will ask questions similar, at least in form, to those that were posed to adult German during the rise of the Third Reich. What did you think was happening to Jews, gays and lesbian people, gypsies, dissidents and “defectives” who were disappearing? When the ashes descended on you and your home, did you ever wonder what was being incinerated in the ovens?

Some of us will say we didn’t know about the horrors being committed in our name. We will insist that our government lied to us and the news media was complicit by failing to question state and corporate authority and seek the truth.

True enough, but where do the government and news media’s responsibilities end and ours begin? There is more news that is more widely available today than at any point in human history. When we realized we were being duped, where did we look for better information? Or did we avoid the truth because it was too awful to contemplate? When the political system failed to respond, what did we do? Did we stick our head in the sand?

I don’t exclude myself from the judgment I fear. I have never been less politically active in decades than I am right now. I have never been less optimistic about the future of this nation. I have never been more been convinced that the federal electoral system as we know it today crushes any possibility of change by serving the ideological interests of the political parties of the status quo and the economic interests of the public relations and broadcast industries, which are collectively engorged by hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle.

I don’t fear judgment from God—it seems pretty clear He/She/It is not involved—but I fear my own verdict. I am failing my own moral imperatives and yet I know that if I give up once and for all that I will have surrendered to the forces of evil and contributed to their triumph. So, yes, please pray for me.