I have a conservative friend with whom I’ve been arguing politics for the past 30 years.
From time to time, he will text me with whatever liberals have done that has him outraged. He was particularly upset when President Biden called MAGA Republicans “semi-fascist.”
In our overheated political climate, I agreed with my friend’s assessment that Biden’s rhetoric was too strong.
Even so, Biden was pointing out a notable distinction within the Republican Party between traditional conservatives and MAGA Republicans. To be fair, there is also a divide within the Democratic Party between traditional and progressive Democrats.
Some may find the distinctions too simplistic. I have no objection to this concern. However, I think it’s undeniable that each party is divided into more radical and more traditional wings.
Our country is bitterly polarized. Everyone knows it, and we all should be concerned about it.
In my view, finding common ground on which to compromise in working for the common good should be our goal, because solutions to any problem require at least a minimal modicum of unity and goodwill between our two major political parties.
In his book The Way Out, author Peter Coleman provides several “ways out” of polarization. One of these is to acknowledge the complexity of issues that we often oversimplify because of the passion of our convictions.
For me, this means that I have to say the following of former president Trump: assessing his presidency is complicated.
I want to say he tore the country apart and leave it at that. But since half the country – including my lifelong friend who has a heart of gold – supports him, I’ve got a challenge before me.
So, I have tried to take a step back and to acknowledge that President Trump had some very real policy achievements.
For example, Black and Hispanic unemployment rates reached their lowest levels in U.S. history. This is an achievement any liberal would be proud of, just as Trump would be boasting about Biden’s unemployment numbers today.
However, Trump’s ultimate legacy is this: an angry, broken country that we’ve all got to work to heal in our own little way.
The Sermon on the Mount says that I’m supposed to love my neighbor, with no qualification on who is my neighbor. In fact, I am called to love my enemy, including my political enemy, which is monumentally difficult.
But I don’t think Jesus was kidding, and I don’t think that the Sermon on the Mount is some elaborate practical joke. Accordingly, during the past couple of weeks I’ve been forcing myself to pray for Trump, as well as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz.
The dominant trait of our political culture is anger. Everyone is so angry. Anger in the morning; anger in the evening; anger in the afternoon.
While my buddy and I hold very different views on various issues, when he gives into his anger it is no different than when I give into mine. Indeed, one of the fun aspects of our friendship has always been the “oops we did it again” nature of our political temper tantrums.
Anger feels good. It makes us feel bold, brave, strong and clear-sighted in a scary, bewildering world.
And there is a time and place in which anger is appropriate. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us there’s a time for everything, including anger. Jesus got angry at the moneychangers in the temple.
But we can’t let it control us, and right now the anger is in charge and fueling the energy in each party.
Plato describes our soul as having three parts: reason, anger and desire. In the well-ordered soul, the lower parts are directed by reason. The gospel calls Christians to be countercultural, so perhaps, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, we could say that our sinful anger and desire should be reined in by our “better angels.”
I’m a high school teacher, and I regularly talk to my students about controlling their desires. They may feel like doing something stupid that they will regret, but they shouldn’t. Stupid will always be in the car with them, but they can’t let it drive, I tell them.
As we mature, life’s disappointments and regrets take shape, so I think our anger is a bigger threat. If we take our faith and integrity seriously, then we’ve got to rise above our anger in the same way we want teenagers to rise above their lust and rebellion.
So, let’s be committed citizens with strong convictions, liberal and conservative alike, but not extremists.
This little light of mine, God Almighty demands that I shine.
McKenzie is a Methodist in Calhoun, Georgia, who teaches high school and holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Florida.