David and I wrote last Friday about the government’s move to ban Muslim refugees. Today I’m supposed to go back to writing about marriage and relationships. But I can’t. As much as we both want to change the subject away from politics, I can’t. Not yet.
We all want to pretend that life goes on as normal; we want to pretend that we’re sure life will look the same in a year or two, and we want to pretend that our plans for the future have solid footing. Failing to pretend risks caving to fear, to melodrama, to alarmism. Failing to pretend risks making us sound like a bunch of Chicken Littles. And yet we still can’t, and shouldn’t, change the subject.
I know what unstable, autocratic governments look like because I grew up under them. I moved to the U.S. permanently at 21 to escape death threats I received for my work as a journalist. The threats came from people in power. I was granted asylum, and then eventually I became a citizen. I’ve been in love with America since I was a child, since I first studied American history in elementary school and learned about our founding principles. I pursued this love in college, getting a degree in American Studies—from an Ivy League university I’m still paying for.
Our republic is now on the path to populist dictatorship. The executive branch’s refusal this past Sunday to heed court orders is alarming. The budding tyrant’s sidelining of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council is alarming. The appointment of Steve Bannon in their stead is alarming. The fact that the wannabe autocrat's son-in-law will also be a regular attendee is alarming. Burying our heads in the sand—numbing ourselves with the mantra that our system of checks and balances is strong and that the office of the president is limited in what it can do—will lead us to serfdom.
Beyond questions of policy and institutional stability, there’s the very simple fact that the man sitting in the oval office appears to be completely unhinged. In the words of Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, “You don’t have to disagree with [his] policies to be rattled to the core by his unhinged behavior. Many congressional Republicans privately express concerns that range from apprehension to outright dread.” And as Marcus points out, although there has been cause for concern over various presidents’ mental health in the past, their “outbursts occurred behind closed doors, and there was some hope that aides would intervene.” By contrast, the current one’s “inner circle seems divided between enablers and inciters.”
Why write about this topic in a blog about relationship? Because politics is personal. Because these are the conversations David and I are having now almost every evening. More and more, politics is spilling over into our personal lives, informing our everyday concerns—more than jobs and bills and social calendars. We worry for ourselves but mostly we worry for other, more disenfranchised populations. We said early on that we wanted a marriage that was outwardly focused; it would feel insincere of us to talk about our mundane issues without taking a moment to recognize much graver problems in our country.
I’m not sure how to end this post. It’s off-topic for our blog, and out of character for me. I wish my conscience would allow me to end with platitudes. It doesn’t. I took an oath the day I became a citizen to “defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” I won’t be able to keep that oath if I blind myself with rose-colored glasses. The only way I can think to end this is with Scripture.
1 Samuel 8:10-18:
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
Photo: Constantino Khalaf, 2011.
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