The Soul of the Republic

Since the soul of the Republic is virtue, equality, and since your goal is to found, to consolidate the Republic, it follows that the first rule of your political conduct ought to be to relate all your efforts to maintaining equality and developing virtue; because the first care of the legislator ought to be to fortify the principle of the government. Thus everything that tends to excite love of country, to purify morals, to elevate souls, to direct the passions of the human heart toward the public interest ought to be adopted or established by you. Everything which tends to concentrate them in the abjection of selfishness, to awaken enjoyment for petty things and scorn for great ones, ought to be rejected or curbed by you. Robespierre, Paris, 1794—Pretty words used to justify the Terror–the slaughter of the elites and those who opposed the Revolution. Our attraction to these words should terrify us at least a little bit.

We seem to live in different worlds.
I talk to one group of folks and what they see is “immaturity,” “anti-American” and ask “they lost; why don’t they just accept it?” I talk to another group and I hear “we are reminding them we are still here and they have to answer to us” and “we are angry and this is how we are expressing that, peacefully.”

The latter comment is certainly not true about Portland, sadly, but has been the case in the vast majority of the cities and in the vast majority of the protests.

The most dangerous thing in America right now is not Donald Trump or Steve Cannon or Bernie Sanders or Paul Ryan or disgruntled voters protesting across the nation.

The most dangerous thing in America in my not so humble opinion is that we refuse–not that we can’t, not that we aren’t—we REFUSE to see the world through one another’s eyes.

Empathy is essential for community. Empathy is essential for democracy. Empathy requires that you get to know people, not try to learn about them from your particular media outlet’s point of view.

A perceived lack of empathy doomed the Democrats in 2016…a perceived (and many believe manufactured) empathy attracted millions to someone almost everyone will agree is the most crass and bloviating individual elected President in the last century. (Jackson was arguably worse, if better prepared.)

Even that last paragraph reeks of a lack of empathy. I left it that way on purpose…to demonstrate that I’m certainly not immune to this disease.

I don’t know it’s cause. I do know it’s cure. Vulnerability. The vulnerability to get to know the people who believe differently that we do. I’m not saying we go to that place of vulnerability yet…There is still a lot of fresh pain to get past before it could be a fruitful exercise. (Which is one reason I suggest we all have as political-talk free a Thanksgiving as we can muster. Build some good will in our shared love of food, parades and mocking Black Friday shoppers (while we check out the deals on our cellphones).

But once the tryptophan has worn off, we have work to do. All of us. Each of us will keep watch on the new administration and hold them accountable in the ways we deem necessary. But away from the Beltway, we need to start listening and talking to, not at. How, I’m not so sure of yet..because I’ve got to be clear, there are some non-negotiable for me–the Imago Dei in every person (and I mean every), dismantling white male privilege, protecting the vulnerable–particularly transgender folk, and addressing inequality of opportunity. But within that context, I need to, I want to know how others are thinking and why they are thinking what they are thinking.

In secular circles we call it the market place of ideas–getting it all out there are seeing what passes the smell test in the light of day and opposition. In Christian circles, we call it discerning the Spirit.

It’s ultimate goal is the same in both contexts…to choose the best way forward.

We have to do this. The survival of the Republic depends on it….and if that is overstating it for you, then the soul of the Republic depends on it. Robespierre was wrong. It’s not virtue and “equality”–it’s empathy and fairness…again, just my opinion.

Be well. Peace.

Author: RevKirby

Middle-aged progressive ex-lawyer/pastor in Evanston with keen interest in justice, law, theology, show tunes, history and trivia.

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