Until late this afternoon when a 45 day stop gap spending arrangement passed in the House, I felt completely “bewildered” by the disfunction of the federal government. Maybe that applies to you as well. Bewilderment is defined simply as “perplexed and confused; very puzzled.” What to make of the threat to a seemingly total breakdown of governmental function for reasons that are so petty and unworthy of the chaos, disparagement and cynicism about government and leadership it creates?
I usually prefer to avoid paying much attention to topics at the federal level, but the disturbing incapacity for our national government to untangle itself from its self-imposed crisis seems to epitomize a larger cultural bewilderment right now. Where are we going to find the leadership that can provide the guidance and trust we so desperately need, first to deal with our governmental and societal structural challenges and then to develop a common vision for how we are to live into a sustainable future?
My initial response to this question is to consider how much confidence and respect I have for my local government with the expectation that we can and will as a nation elect more responsible people in other jurisdictions throughout the country.
I am fortunate to live on Whidbey Island where I believe we have elected worthy, hard working, people of both parties who are truly committed to representing the welfare of our community. The reason is because people run for office expecting to be well appreciated for their willingness to run and to serve. Hence we are confident we are well represented even when we may disagree with their votes or perspectives. I have sometimes differed with my Congressional representative, Rick Larsen, for example, but I consider Rick willing to listen to me and to consider my advocacy for issues when I can provide feasible alternatives. In other words, I do not feel bewildered by his leadership. We engage in honorable democratic process. And this would be true of my senators and my local officials as well. And despite all the questions about institutional integrity I am fairly sure there are also a number of other communities who also have reasonable confidence in their electoral process and their elected officials. But it starts with exercising the foundational democratic right to vote. And it is the responsibility of the citizenry to identify, elect, and then support capable leadership. That’s what each of us can do.
One of the questions I read this week has intrigued me: Who elects the kinds of people who clearly only want to obstruct and create chaos? In our nation with its vast pool of capable, potential governmental leadership, why are we now left with the small cadre of obstreperous people who are bent toward weakening and replacing a democratic government? I have concluded, sadly, under the present governmental structure, and the confusion of the electorate, many excellent potential leaders are simply not electable. Outstanding candidates like Al Gore are considered too smart and not sufficiently charismatic. Others have something in their past that the opposition would glom onto solely for personal disparagement which characterized the Trump years. It is difficult to imagine a person of high integrity and self-esteem who would be willing to subject themselves to such debasement.
And perhaps most importantly, a large percentage of the American populace is disillusioned and bewildered enough by their lives in general, and their wariness about the future, they are willing to desperately elect people who they believe share their anger and frustration but who are actually unable to responsibly represent them (and the rest of us) for the sake of the common good. It is thus easy to become totally bewildered by it all. But we can’t submit to feelings so despairing.
I like to personally be reminded (occasionally!) that I can do better than I am doing. And that’s what we need to aspire to do as individuals and as a nation in terms of governance. I often reflect on the role of the ancient prophets who faithfully called their people to greater reverence for life and justice for the poor. And the contemporary, courageous leadership of Bishop William Barber, the co-chair of the ongoing Poor Peoples Campaign, for example, offers us today a prophetic vision for a more compassionate and just society, especially for the poor.
We all may feel bewildered by the structural and functional complexity and injustices of our time. But we must find ways to maintain a persistent hope and creativity that will enable us to find ways to establish a more compassionate and just world. We may not have specific plans on how to accomplish this, but we do have access to the same spiritual faith and hope that has creatively inspired the generations before. Let us learn to better access and apply that prophetic vision of faith and hope, each of us, in the lives we are now privileged to live. And our neighbors and our leaders will eventually follow. This is my hope. This is my prayer.