A presidential election is looming in my country. We have one every four years.
Or saying that nobody should vote, because “they” put subliminal messages in ballots. Oddly enough, I haven’t heard that claim.
Or I could express deep despair over the demonizing, deifying and drivel that dominates news and social media.
I could do any or all of the above. But my heart wouldn’t be in it.
I am quite sure that no candidate is a fascist, the antichrist or a pawn of the Illuminati-pixie cabal. I don’t even think the Illuminati-pixie cabal exists.
And, although I’d prefer election campaigns with less sound and fury, that’s not how my country works. Emotional appeals and wild claims are an old American tradition.
Take the 1912 election, for example. Some folks still don’t agree about Roosevelt, Taft and anti-trust policies.
The Panic of 1893 was still in progress. It was an economic depression, a bad one.
I suspect it felt even worse, since America’s economy had been growing during the 1870s and 80s.
(Over-) investment in an Argentine bank, a failed coup and a crop failure spooked European investors, who started pulling gold out of the U.S. Treasury.
Then the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad failed. Americans started pulling their money out of banks and academics are still discussing why the house of cards collapsed.
In 1896, some folks thought America should switch from a gold standard to a silver standard. Or maybe bimetallism, linking a monetary unit’s value to two metals.
Small wonder that some politicos boiled the issues down to America being nailed to a “cross of gold.” And reminding voters to be angry at the usual suspects.
That sort of thing’s much easier to remember, come election day.
The 1876 elections were no picnic, either. In some ways, they were even more — contentious? polarizing? — than the 1896 or 2020 fracases.
The 1796 election was the first time we had political parties pushing candidates: not today’s parties. The 1804 Burr-Hamilton duel threatened a cherished tradition,1 and that’s another topic. Topics.
My life might be easier, if I stayed offline and busied myself in reading Nero Wolf novels and playing solitaire.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says a patriot is someone “who loves and supports his or her country.”2
As a Catholic, I should act as if loving God and my neighbors matters. And see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43–44, 7:12, 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; 10:25–27, 29–37; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)
Being Catholic also means I’m obliged to do what’s possible in public life: which includes recognizing humanity’s solidarity and respecting authority. Within reason. (Catechism, 1778, 1915, 1897–1917, 1939–1942, 2199, 2238–2243)
Happily, loving my country doesn’t take much effort.
I like being an American, on the whole. My ‘could take it or leave it, and would rather leave it’ attitude toward my country’s politics notwithstanding, I don’t even mind voting. I think it’s a pretty good way of getting citizen feedback.
But I don’t think our system is the only ‘correct’ form of government. Different cultures and eras have different needs, and that’s okay. Provided that the system follows natural law: ethical principles that apply to every time and place. (Catechism, 1915, 1957–1958)
In America, that includes thinking about issues and candidates, voting for whoever and whatever is best; or likely to do the least damage, as the case may be.
Clarifying “do the least damage” — I don’t mean “choosing the lesser of two evils.”
Let’s take a hypothetical situation —
Someone running for Minnesota governor supports my state’s farmers, resort owners and middle-to-lower-income taxpayers. For me, that might be an almost ideal candidate.
Just one problem. This nearly-perfect wannabe governor also promised to euthanize Minnesotans who are too old or sick to enjoy my state’s resorts.
Nobody’s going to run on a platform like that. Not blatantly, at any rate. Like I said: a hypothetical situation.
I think Minnesota’s tourism and agriculture industries are important. I also figure that non-upper-crust folks matter as much as those in the social register.
But I’m getting to be too old for water skiing, and have several health problems. And I prefer to keep breathing. Even if I was young and in perfect health, euthanasia would be the opposite of a good idea. Whether I was the euthanee or the euthanor.
It’d be a bad idea, even if I had an emotionally-compelling reason. (November 24, 2019)
Knowing how I should think about voting helps. But it doesn’t make the process easy.
I’ve voted in every election since I’ve been old enough, and have yet to see an ideal candidate. I have, however, had many opportunities to practice patience and detachment.
And that’s yet another topic.
They don’t tell me who to vote for, but do show me what’s important and what’s not in deciding how I vote.
This year I’m adding “Civil Dialog.” It includes a seven-point list of “… possible ground rules for civil dialogue:”
- Make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak.
- Share your personal experience, not someone else’s.
- Listen carefully and respectfully. Speak carefully and respectfully. Do not play the role of know-it-all, convincer or corrector. Remember that a dialogue is not a debate.
- Don’t interrupt unless for clarification or time keeping.
- Accept that no group or viewpoint has a complete monopoly on the truth.
- “Be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than [to] condemn it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2478, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola).
- Be cautious about assigning motives to another person.
And now, resources from the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops):
- “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”
- “Civil Dialogue,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl (.pdf)
- “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (.pdf)
- Summary Bulletin Insert Part 1 (.pdf)
The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: Our Call as Catholic Citizens
- Summary Bulletin Insert Part 2 (.pdf)
The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: Making Moral Choices and Applying Our Principles
- “Catholics Care | Catholics Vote” (.pdf)
- Cultural Diversity in the Church
- Religious Liberty
- “Storms, COVID-19 and Politics”
(July 11, 2020)
- “Beyond George Floyd”
(June 6, 2020)
- “Patriot Dreams”
(July 4, 2019)
- “Changing Rules”
(February 4, 2018)
- “On the Halloween Express”
(October 30, 2017)
- “Causes of Bank Suspensions in the Panic of 1893”
Mark Carlson, Federal Reserve Board (2002)