Along with much of America, I watched Donald Trump’s first press conference after being elected president. The conference began when Sean Spicer, the incoming White House Press Secretary, issued a stinging condemnation of a BuzzFeed report he called “frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible.” (Other media outlets also censured the report for its unsubstantiated claims.) Mr. Trump later added his own denunciation of the outlet.
While much of substance was discussed during the conference, this morning’s news coverage continues to focus on the report and the belligerent nature of the event.
Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson had what NPR is calling a “tense confirmation hearing” over his nomination to be Secretary of State. And Cory Booker spoke against the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. In so doing, he became the first sitting senator ever to testify against a fellow sitting senator at a confirmation hearing for a Cabinet post.
Despite the hostility of the day, I woke up this morning grateful for American democracy and optimistic for the future. Here’s why.
One: We’ve been here before.
Thomas Paine once called President Washington “treacherous in private friendship” and a “hypocrite in public life.” An English journalist in turn described Paine as “all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural and blasphemous.” After Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, one newspaper lamented “the silly remarks of the President” and hoped they would “be no more repeated or thought of.” Our nation has weathered acrimonious political climates before and will do so again.
Two: Democracy is better than the alternative.
Winston Churchill once called democracy “the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I prefer a cacophonous free press to a saccharine state media and a divisive two-party system to a dictatorial one-party government. I’ve traveled often to Cuba and can testify that they have few of our challenges with media and politics. But I immeasurably prefer our problems over theirs.
At the same time, I do not believe that our greatest challenges can be solved by either the press or the government. When taking the oath of office in 1993, President Clinton claimed that “there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” While his rhetoric was inspiring, the years since have proven such trust in fallen humanity unfounded.
C. S. Lewis was more realistic. He believed in democracy, not because people are so good that everyone deserves a share in the government, but because “mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows.”
But it will not always be so. One day, democracy (the rule of the people) will give way to the Rule of God. One day, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). This fact gives us peace in the present and courage for the future.
Seven centuries ago, Julian of Norwich heard Jesus say to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” This is still the assurance of God.