America’s holy war: The 2020 election
This political year can be understood through the lens of a religious war. Both sides are doctrinal; neither will entertain the other’s arguments or points of view. Disagreements descend to personal invective. Heretics are rooted out. Rhetoric is extreme, and there is violence. It is a zero-sum game — neither side wins unless the other loses.
It is the worst of politics.
One side quickly brands the other as racist and white supremacists (oddly, even if they’re not white), climate arsonists, and ignorant of science. The other side condemns opponents as socialist/Marxist, urban terrorists, and ignorant of economics and history. Both sides attend religious services through their newspapers, cable news channels and social media, where they receive doctrinal sermons delivered in the form of simple and consistent talking points.
There appears to be a growing Pantheon of saints and sinners. In the streets, self-anointed knights dress mostly in black, wield their skateboards and hurl bricks, and revel in burning and sacking cities and businesses. Redemption comes from public shaming, kneeling, acknowledgement of sins and abasement, and the required beating and shunning of those not purified. Talisman lawn signs emerge to ward off evil.
The central origin tenet of one faith is that Donald Trump is the devil — neither he nor his followers are redeemable, the thinking goes, and he must be defeated by all means necessary. When you speak the “word of God,” or at least profess unquestionable civic virtue, all actions to defeat the enemy are considered “justified.” All religions exhibit moral relativism; only actions aligned with doctrine are “true” and “good.” Alternative views cannot stand in the way of the Resistance crusade. Moderate and conservative editors are driven out of major media, and public shaming and banishment of heretical voices grow in Silicon Valley, on social media, and often in local communities.
The central tenet of the other religion is that progressive socialists will destroy America and create a hell on earth along the lines of Marxist countries throughout the world. Their cries are heard through Fox News, limited print media, social media and Trump revival meetings.
Anyone who has attended a pluralistic dinner party recently can testify that any attempt at resisting dogma and discussing issues rapidly descends into name-calling and insults.
Thoughtful individuals can appreciate both sides of nearly all arguments, but, in the end, decide where they stand. And there’s the problem. Today’s political debate is neither well-informed nor reasonable. It does not consider problems from all sides; it does not draw careful conclusions. It applies doctrine and claims to root out “evil.” It is neither educated nor, in many instances, civilized. It has become tribal. While there never can be, nor should there be, news reporting or opinion writing without a point of view, today’s media have narrowed the range of discussion to corrosive levels.
But the most critical problem is that religions, by their very nature, are zero-sum games. If Christians are saved, then Hindus, Muslims and Jews must not be, or vice versa. It is confounding to America’s founding principles of equality and democracy, and its free-market system, which were designed to create broad-based growth and opportunity, and to avoid such zero-sum games.
Unfortunately, Democrats have fallen into a deadly trap with identity politics, a zero-sum game. “Critical race theory,” for example, is clear that America’s Black population wins only if whites lose. This inherently racist idea not only corrodes decades of real racial progress, but sows the seeds of future conflicts along racial, gender and other identity lines. It forestalls, perhaps forever, a time when the true rainbow of moderate whites, Blacks, women, and all racial groups and gender identities might come together.
Religious wars never lead to clear winners — the pendulum always swings and it is impossible to stamp out the grievance of the last “losers.” Endless war replaces real progress.
Today’s “religions” have been defined by “social justice” and “the environment.” But the problem with electing authoritarian leaders is that they govern from such doctrine without consideration of alternative views or solutions. And they overlook the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Ironically, Trump — for all of his divisive rhetoric and style — has been neither religious nor dogmatic, nor has he made it a zero-sum game. Rather than mandate massive income redistribution, in 2019 he grew the economy to record levels, created record-low unemployment for Blacks, Hispanics and women and helped raise real wages across the board. Rather than drastically wrecking the American economy with arbitrary and abrupt changes in energy production (where the biggest losers would be the poor), in 2019 he delivered the lowest level of carbon emissions ever — astounding, during a boom economic year.
His “non-secular” (pun intended) policies actually delivered on social justice and climate protection far better than any predecessor, but he has managed to obscure it all through clumsy and divisive behavior, creating impossible choices for Americans and driving many to retreat to Resistance doctrine.
America now is engaged in a holy war over the presidential election and the selection of a Supreme Court justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If the large, silent flywheel of secular moderates still remains, now is the time for them to rise up to Make America Reasonable Again.
Grady Means is a writer (GradyMeans.com) and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.