The Politics of Personal Destruction

The Politics of Personal Destruction refers to gaining advantage over a political rival by impugning his or her… well, his or her anything.  Assumed motives, looks, friends, decades old quotes, model of car driven, college attended; anything can be turned into a critique more effective than engaging in debate of consequential issues and ideas.  Instead of Lincoln and Douglas debating slavery, we might have had the two square off in a Yo Mama joke smack down.

But I think that the personal destruction hastened by our present politics is our own.  Recently released research indicates that our American political identities generate growing dislike for those who disagree with us, to the point of not wanting to have them as friends, live around them or have them marry into our families.

Pew polarization
One graphic from the linked Pew research on political polarization.

A friend posted the following on Facebook:

Setting myself a challenge for today: every time I feel frustrated by political news, I will look for some kind words to say to someone nearby, or some kind act to perform to improve the lives of those around me. I suspect this will be hard, but I want to try.

That’s insightful.  Political news frustrates us into a disposition that is the opposite of kindness.  Kindness must be employed like the antidote to a toxin.

In the Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul sets forth the personally destructive works of the flesh, several of which are palpable in our current politics,

Now the works of the flesh are evident… enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

Against these, Paul sets the fruit of the Spirit, gentle on the one hand but a conscious order of execution carried out against one’s works of the flesh,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

We need to shrink our politics.  I write this not as some theoretical argument for limited government, but as a theological appeal to pull some of us out of self-destrutive behavior.

In contemporary American politics, winning might be the biggest loss of all.


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