‘The problem is not that we disagree, but that our disagreements have become so callous, emotional, and inconsiderate,” Michael Wear, who used to work for President Obama on faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, writes this in his book Reclaiming Hope. The other day I was reading through Reclaiming Hope, some hours after a memorial Mass for our National Review colleague Michael Potemra, an excellent editor. Our Mike didn’t agree with every word we published (none of us do, truth be told, but he’d be in that boat more often than most of us), though he’d always be at least funny about it.
The same day of the memorial Mass for Mike, Melania Trump wore that jacket on the plane to visit migrant children who had been separated from their parents. “I really don’t care, do u?” To me, it seemed pretty clear from the get-go what it was about. Wasn’t there just obsessive coverage about her having gone “missing” from the public eye after her surgery? And I’ve done enough radio and read enough emails and comments in recent days — or years — to know that people are fed up. They don’t trust the media. Sometimes there’s no trust of neighbor or, certainly, stranger. And many are grateful to have a president who says what he is thinking to whomever. I’m convinced the fashion business will get her husband added votes in the midterm elections. That’s where we are in America today. No Trump started the fire. As Wear puts it, “Donald Trump is responsible for his actions, but the table was set for his election by what we deemed acceptable in our politics — and in ourselves.”
“The polarization of our politics and our communities is a defining feature of modern American life,” Wear writes. “Our inability to understand and empathize with our neighbors is straining our society to its breaking point.”
Wear continues: “Our politics is now predicated on making those who disagree with us beneath our notice. This is to the benefit of those who run for office and of the interest groups structured to ignore alternative viewpoints. But it is not at all to our collective benefit. We the people cannot allow our neighbors to become invisible, for doing so makes living together peaceably and fruitfully nearly impossible.”
Charles Krauthammer died the same day we had the memorial Mass for Mike. I knew him only a little, unlike many friends of mine who worked with him day in and day out on the Fox News “All Stars” panel and elsewhere. But even so, he taught me about things fundamental to Christianity, such as the Beatitudes, both in his personal deeds and in some of the questions he asked.
We’ve become a nation of pundits, watching and pouncing. But perhaps Charles Krauthammer and Mike Potemra died right about now for a reason. Both of them had some sense of awe about them. A sense of stewardship and service, too.
In his final column, Charles wrote: “I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.” In his book, he talks about how our political questions are always at the service of the higher ones.
A better politics requires our being better. Good men come and go daily who remind us that it’s possible, even among a nation of pundits.
In a similar vein, Wear, citing C. S Lewis, notes that “‘a sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion.’ However, if either comes to regard it as the natural food of his mind — if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else — then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.”
Having Mike around NR definitely kept us from a new disease. In his presence, it was hard to take oneself too seriously, even when addressing some of the most important issues of the day. And he took these things seriously, too, but typically in balance.
And because his views could be unique, as he was, he set a challenge before us, one that Wear raises in his book: “On the issues of our day, we must not only ask ourselves whether our position is correct, but also raise to the surface the question of why our neighbors are not quite convinced as well.” It may have something to do with the way we made them feel during the course of a Facebook debate. It may have something to do with whether or not they have seen us as people of Beatitudes. It may have something to do with whether humanity seems at least as important as politics, and with whether they can tell humanity is the why of our politics. A better politics requires our being better. Good men come and go daily who remind us that it’s possible, even among a nation of pundits.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.
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