Political Self-Discipline is a Dying Art
... with far too many wanting to kill it all together.
A few weeks ago I learned of a serious health challenge a friendly acquaintance has been going through. Nancy French, author and wife of New York Times columnist David French (who Bernie and I interviewed back in September), announced that she had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, for which she has had surgery and is currently receiving chemotherapy.
Though I’ve never met Nancy and David in person (I hope to one day), I’ve gotten to know them online through their writing, social-media posts, and a handful of private exchanges. They’re people of strong moral character, who’ve done valuable work in areas of cultural and societal importance. They’re very much grounded in the Christian faith, and as a fellow Christian whose wife is a breast-cancer survivor, I’ve been sure to include them in my prayers as they work through this ordeal.
Those familiar with David probably know that he, as a conservative, has voiced a lot of criticism of today’s political right. This includes Donald Trump, the MAGA movement, and the rise of Christian nationalism in our churches. As you’d expect, he’s taken lots of slings and arrows, including personal harassment, for airing such criticism.
The other day, Nancy documented a recent incident:
Some of you may be thinking along the lines of, “What’s the big deal? I see far worse examples of political rudeness and harassment whenever I turn on cable news, or go online.”
You probably do, whether it’s dueling commentators, members of Congress shouting at each other, chaotic school board meetings, protesters blocking traffic, or any one of a number of other situations. The anger and frustration are too high across the board.
But when someone, who may otherwise be a decent enough individual, simply can’t contain themself or detach themself from politics in a situation as politically uncontentious as a swim meet, where parents are just there supporting their children, I find that particularly sad. It’s especially bothersome when the agitator is boasting moral superiority while targeting a thoughtful, genuinely good person… who in this case was dealing with a tender family situation.
Over the past few months, The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta, while promoting his new book “The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory,” has been telling a similar (but much heavier) story of how he was taunted by church-parishioners at his own father’s funeral, as he mourned beside his father’s casket… all because Alberta had written critically about Donald Trump.
If not even a family funeral at a church is sacred enough to be spared from partisan politics, it’s hard to imagine what is. And keep in mind that French and Alberta aren’t politicians or elected officials. They’re not making public policy decisions that effect people’s lives. They’re just offering perspectives that some people don’t like.
Such conduct is indicative of a larger issue. Politics should not govern people’s personal lives this deeply. Boundaries and civility are important. If you run into someone in a public setting whose politics you don’t like (or even can’t stand), the opportunity best taken is one of self-discipline, not giving that person a piece of your mind.
If you can’t manage that, the problem is yours, and it runs much deeper than politics.