Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ruling at 53%

Elections come and elections go. However, with the advent of Facebook in recent years every time the first Tuesday in November rolls around there is a rush for folks to post their "I voted" pictures and wax poetic (largely) about the democratic process in our country.

However, a funny thing seems to happen about 9pm or so that evening. A change occurs in the posts. Lamentation and depression begin to fill one group while further cheers about the joys of living in a free democracy come from another. And there is silence as the Libertarians and Greens once again realize they have no legitimate chance of winning state-wide or national elections of any real scale.

This year those of my friends who support the Republican party were the one's who were able to cheer and celebrate while my Democratic party friends lamented. This should come as no surprise, the six year itch always seems to hit the party of the President (Teddy Roosevelt and Bill Clinton are the exceptions). This year should have been no surprise given the intense response to President Obama from the first day he took office.

The trouble however comes now. No party really has a mandate from the American people (rarely do they ever). The electorate is firmly divided nationally and even locally. How can one claim to be the will of the people when you hold an advantage of only two or three votes (as the Republicans do in the Senate now) and no ability to enact cloture (without invoking the so-called "nuclear option"). And without the ability to override a Presidential veto.

The late Tip O'Neill was right all along when he stated "All politics is local." The trouble with him being right however is that American people have an incredible ability to assume their local context is the national reality. I have been a resident of 3 states in my life (Texas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin) and lived a significant amount of time in two others (Pennsylvania, Washington). These are diverse and dramatically different places.

Yet the one thing I have found in common in those places is a tendency of the residents there to normalize their existence to the nation. Their reality is somehow the global reality. This is especially a challenge because we continue in this nation to segregate along economic, racial, political, and linguistic lines. Rarely do individuals by choice come in contact with "the other." We tend to sit in rooms in which 8 or more of the people look, talk, live, and think like us. Otherwise we become uncomfortable and we drive out those whose opinions are different from ours.

The challenge then is leading when you only gained 53% of the electorate. I use 53% because in Fort Worth the State Senate seat was won by that number. 53% is hardly a mandate. Theoretically if you put together 10 random people from your district in a given room 5 would agree with you, and well over 4 disagree. How do you lead that room? History, at least the last couple/three decades of history, tells us there won't be much leading but much more power. Certainly there has not been Transformational leadership. There will be Transactional exchanges and exercises of power utilizing the 53% who put you in office. The leader will be desperate to keep that number happy. Because when you win with 53% if only 3-4% were to shift, you would be out.

Unfortunately what this means is that the rooms our leaders tend to spend their time in aren't reflective of the electorate as a whole. They, as do we, live in echo-chambers that repeat what they want to hear, that reinforce the normalizing instinct.

Our churches can and often have been like this as well. In 1973 a slim 55% majority radically shifted the future of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This slim majority impacted the future of that denomination and, as James Burkee has well argued, led it to become increasingly marginal in the national religious landscape.

But this also happened to those on the other side of that convention. While the leaders of the Seminex movement and later the AELC felt they had a strong base of support, they did not have much of the rank and file in the pews and pulpits. Their own echo chambers failed to take into account the majority of individuals want three things from their church: worship, sunday school, and bathrooms.

If history is our teacher, the control achieved today will no doubt be held for 2-4 years, and then relinquished again. A mandate will be proclaimed by the winning party and transactional leadership will go on until the swing back occurs. This is both part of the genius of the American democratic system (that keeps things from going too fast and too far too quickly) and one of the great failures as well. A failure that can only be righted by the American people stepping out of their own personal echo-chambers, gated communities, neighborhoods, facebook groups, preferred news outlets, and engaging "the other" in their midst.

But that is hard work. Work that cannot be done without leadership that goes beyond power wielding and grasping. I see this most hopefully at the local level. Neighborhood councils, city government, PTA's, and congregational leaders. Mayors who actually speak to their people from many different walks of life and work together to find solutions to the local problems.

We need Leadership that challenges our normal assumptions, that moves us to a higher moral plane, transformational leadership. This can and does happen locally everyday. Let's take the focus off the macro and look at the micro. This should be good new for those helpless Libertarians and Greens as well. Lift that leadership up and celebrate that hope, go meet a neighbor who doesn't look like you, speak your language, earn your same level of income, or eat the foods you eat. And if you don't have such a neighbor, ask why?

No comments:

Post a Comment