We are all saying- How come we are so divided? On the surface, that seems a fact. But then in other situations, when it comes to a fire, or a hurricane, the opposite question is a better fit-How come we are all so united?
Rebecca Solnit explores that question in her brilliant book on what disasters do to communities Paradise Built in Hell. People seem to rise to the occasion and self organize networks of care and cøncern. People feel significant and connected in ways that are built around shared pain and need. Religion or politics do not seem to matter.
When we watch a tug of war, we don’t ask, Why are they so against each other? That is the point of the game. When we attend a football game, and our team is 3 points down with 2 minutes left on the clock, and we are amongst fans screaming for blood, we don’t appear shocked that people are “so divided amongst each other,” some wearing blue and some wearing red and yelling comments for their team and against their opponents. That is the point of the game. What unites us all in the stadium is the contest. With the game over, someone has won and someone has lost, and for that week, if we won we have boasting rights and if we lost, we have to regroup and not talk football. But success does not unite us. No way. Both teams cannot win. If you won, I lost. They are the rules of the game.
Elections might resemble contests but the winner must govern for all. That is the difference.
It was on display last night in the debate in the masterful last question- “On Inauguration Day, what will you say to those who voted against you?” President Trump said “Success will unite us.” VP Biden said “I will represent all of you…making sure everyone has an even chance.”
Success in the economy like success on the football field looks more and more like winners and losers. Success in the health care system is again a battlefield, those with insurance and those without. For those people without the money or the opportunity, “Success’ is the American dream gone awry. Not everyone can succeed at wealth, or talent, or employment or health, but everyone has to feel they have an equal chance. And the role of leaders is to unite, not win.
Where else do we come together to create a sense of togetherness? Traditionally, that was Church. In my Catholic tradition, Sunday mass began with everyone confessing- “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” ‘Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grevious fault.” and we offer peace to all our neighbors, no matter who. Church feeds our understanding that it is not winning that unites us but sinning. We all fall short of the glory of God. The hymns, the communion, the sermon from the Holy Book were all to build the “Beloved Community.”
But perhaps even that too is slowly becoming a pipe dream. Recent Catholic priests have been featured on social media declaring the mortal sin of “Voting for Democrats” and espousing blatant political positions disguised as Church teaching. When shepherds divide the flock, they forget its Sunday mass, not Sunday football. Jesus did not come to preach morality but faith. When did clergy become such scolds? Jeremiah thunders at them from the Old Testament
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!
“The choice is stark. We are divided when we are playing only to win. We are united when leaders look out for all, especially those who are losing in their lot of life.
We have substituted Church for Football and Politics for Winning Performance. Trump likes to win. It is almost the only thing. The soldiers who died in the war or those that served in Vietnam (unlike him) make no sense to him. His world is win-lose. Success is the only goal. His Dad brought him up to have a “killer instinct.” And his time at ‘the Apprentice’ or the ‘Miss America Beauty Pageant’ or in running casinos is all about winning and losing. He wins by making others lose. “You are hired” is much less fun than “You are fired” a game he has played with his staff over and over again. This man is incapable of uniting the nation because he has never played that game. His family never played it, so why should he know that this is what leadership means, to bring us together. Biden has a track record of doing that, and at the debate, it was clear that shared pain and shame and owned mistakes allow him to have empathy. He goes to Church too.
We are not divided as a nation at a deeper level. We have been played by the Newt Gingrich and Karl Roves of the ‘Win Washington at all costs’ political game who have made winning everything. If a Supreme Court justice who is meant to judge for all us can win a place by 2-3 votes, they will do it, because they are not interested in uniting, they are interested in winning. It is Mitch McConnells mantra.
November 3rd, there will be a winner and loser, but let us just hope we have a leader who can take us back to that feeling of being at church, with a shared faith in the nation and in each other, and not continue this bloody Friday Night Football of win-lose. Success does not unite us, Mister President, because the system works against so many from having a chance to succeed. Most of us did not inherit 400 million as our starting stake in life. Most of us do not have to fear police harassment and violence. Most of us do not have to struggle for our daily bread but enough of us do, and “Success” for them means something quite different from your seeing Wall Street as the measure of success or your 401Ks.
Your job is, once you win, make sure we all feel, connected, and heard. If you win and we lose, you lose. This is not football.