The Dead End of Democracy

Trigger Warning: This is an overtly political piece, a piece about America, freedom, and the dead end of democracy. If you're prone to fits of violence over political issues, feel free to move along.


It's Independence Week, the week we celebrate our nation's birth. It's a festive week, a week to wallow in and indulge our freedoms--the freedom to grill meat, launch miniature missiles made in China, and overeat Aunt Maude's famous apple pie. Freedom--ain't it grand?

It's an American tradition, this annual celebration. It's Democracy's birthday, an unabashed celebration of our freedoms of speech, assembly, and commercial enterprise. We light the candles on the cake of our free press, free elections, and free government provisions. We open the presents of the free market. Freedom, freedom, freedom--it's the only thing that unifies us these days.

Yet, with all these freedoms, it seems our version of democracy has taken an ugly turn. It's become more polarized, more vitriolic, perhaps more violent than ever. Yesterday, our President used his own freedoms to take the spotlight off the great history and tradition of our country; he used his freedoms to turn the spotlight toward himself. (Could anything be more American?) He kicked off this Independence week with a tweet that portrayed him as some sort of hero beating down the free press. It was an indefensible GIF.

Of course, the President is free to tweet this sort of violent propaganda (tweeting isn't directly proscribed by the Constitution, see). [tweetherder text="What good is freedom without the constraints of character, wisdom, and civility @realdonaldtrump?"]What good is freedom, though, without the constraints of character, wisdom, and civility?[/tweetherder] How beautiful is the exercise of freedom if it induces some loon with an assault rifle (owned pursuant to his Second Amendment freedoms) to act on the President's propaganda, to take aim at a reporter or two? When freedom slashes the jugular of common decency and social norms, when it lets civility bleed out on the kitchen floor, when it mocks death, freedom is an ugly thing.

The greatest freedom enjoyed by any citizen in any democracy is the freedom to constrain his own personal freedoms. The freedom to act in ways that serve and protect our neighbors, to restrain our speech for the sake of civil discourse, to govern our behavior to create liberty and justice for all (even the press)--these are the freedoms exercised by true statesmen. When we indulge every freedom, when we elevate personal agendas (or Twitter rants) over the collective good, when we wallow in self-indulgence, we undercut the foundational principles of our country's democracy; we show ourselves to be anything but statesmen.

It's Independence week, and I'm thinking about modern America. I'm afraid we've reached a dead end in this great experiment in democracy. It's the dead end born of a freedom our founding father's never contemplated--the freedom to wallow in our own narcissism. And if you're prone to think this is an unfounded conclusion, allow me to offer this exhibit into evidence: the Twitter feed of President Donald J. Trump.


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The News According to Fear, Anger, Sex and Hope

This is the news according to Facebook, according to Twitter, according to CNN, according to fair-and-balanced Fox: Hillary pulls ahead by a nose; Trump is a hairpiece away from the presidency; Bernie is being Bernie, and the people love Bernie ("hip-hip BERN-IE!"); the black box was found; the boy is alive though the gorilla is dead; the starlet has a new sex tape (click, click, click and watch her work); the temperature and the terror alert are on the rise; the hurricane is coming; stocks are more volatile than the San Andreas; employment is more fickle than manna; the robots are here; we're going to Mars; we're shooting past Pluto; we are our only limitation--other than Trump, who is a hairpiece away from the presidency. Some call the media a spin cycle, a constant tumbling of news (that is not news), which keeps us off kilter. I call it a mint, watch as they throw the machine into high gear, as they fuel the machine with fear, anger, sex, hope, shades of love, colors of greed. Out comes the money. ([tweetherder]What does it profit a man to report on the whole world and lose his gold?[/tweetherder])

"Tune in tonight for more fear."

"After this commercial break, more sex."

"Buy this box of hope."

"Tonight's angry political commentary brought to you by the good people at Sugar Soy American Porn Corp., Inc."

The stories roll. The emotions roll. The dollars roll. The saints look up from their pine boxes--they roll, too. "The soul was not made to withstand this sort of manipulation," they think; then, "Lord have mercy."

The things I believe about the nature of men are simple: we were made to fear only saber-toothed tigers and the rustling of leaves in the dark; we were imbued with anger to bring gift of reformation; our eyes were meant to see only as far as the horizon, our legs made to walk a few miles at a time; sex was meant for the love our life; love was meant for the wife, the children, the community; hope was given so that we might create; hunger was purposed to push us as far as the next meal.

The things I believe about the nature of the soul are likewise simple: it is tiny, child-like, eternal; it stronger than the body, but so often led by it; it can master or be mastered by anger, fear, hunger, hope and sex. Can I prove this? No. But stop and reflect. You know this is true; don't you?

The line between master and mastered is quite thin--this is the news according to Facebook, according to Twitter, according to CNN, according to fair-and-balanced Fox.


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On The Redemption of Cursed Earth

God spoke into a garden and created man. That's what the good book says. God created man, and then he created woman, and then, he gave them work. Back then, I reckon, it wasn't all about market economies and building sky-scraping mud huts to heaven. Before the fall, it wasn't about padding the bank vault or adding another digit to the backend of a 401(k). It wasn't about the corner office and the leather chair. The cows were still wearing their leather, in fact, and I suppose everyone aimed to let the cattle keep their skin. Instead, the way I reckon it, work was less about security and more about communing with a good God. It was about engaging the soil of creation and enjoying the company of the fellow workers.

Camaraderie was a real thing back then--how sweat mingled and communed with soil; how soil harnessed the salt and water of sweat to grow good produce; how all of it sang praise to the imagination of a relational God. Doesn't this feel true? Doesn't it really? Ask yourself.

There was a day, they say, when men and women broke the rules and found themselves on the outside of this Camaraderie, this connection. It was the day, they say again, that God buried the groan for redemption in men and soil alike. (Rom. 8:22). We men have toiled ever since, but instead of the toil toward camaraderie, we toil toward other things: the sky-scraping McMansions, the padded bank vaults, the extra digits on the 401(k), and the leather chair in the corner office.

There are some that struggle for redemption, though. I want you to meet them.

Work is Redemptive - Dehradun Guitar Co. from Dehradun Guitar Co. on Vimeo.

*Photo by Panos Photographia, Creative Commons via Flickr.