Donald Trump was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. Yesterday a man dressed as a construction worker attacked it with a sledgehammer and an ax.
Doesn’t this feel like a metaphor for the politics of our day?
Joe Biden recently suggested that he’d like to fight Trump, a challenge the Republican nominee said he’d relish. Meanwhile, Trump is telling voters that Hillary Clinton’s Syria plan “will lead to World War Three.” Clinton is claiming that Trump represents “an unprecedented attack on our democracy.” And on it goes.
Why are our politics so combative? One answer is that successful politicians know what their constituents want. We live in a day consumed with conflict. Terrorism threatens our homeland; violence in our cities is escalating; chronic anxiety continues to rise. We want leaders who feel our pain and give voice to our fears. Those running for office know this. As a result, our politics are belligerent because our politicians reflect the conflicts our people feel.
In one sense, this is good news. The Founders knew firsthand the danger of monarchy without representation. As a result, they sought to establish a participatory democracy where leaders reflect the sentiments and desires of those they serve. Abraham Lincoln’s dream of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” was not his alone but the hope and goal of those who forged our great nation.
In another sense, however, our system of democracy can worsen the challenges it is intended to solve. Like throwing water on a grease fire, our voter-driven political process can turn a spark into a bonfire.
Here’s why: The Founders did not imagine a class of professional politicians whose only income would come from their elected office. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison all had financial sources outside their political income. Following Washington’s example, they imposed a two-term limit on themselves and viewed their service as a duty rather than a career.
Today, of course, it is difficult to achieve political success unless politics is the candidate’s sole career. As a result, it is tempting for politicians to say whatever the people want to hear so as to get themselves elected, then reelected, then reelected again. When the times call for courageous counter-cultural leadership, our process makes it hard for those we elect to act with such fortitude. Some do what is right regardless of the political consequences, but others do not.
This is why it’s so crucial that Christians maximize our influence in our culture. As Jesus said, our kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Our purpose is not to win the applause of our society but the acclaim of our Lord (Matthew 25:23). Thus we are free to speak truth to power and to “execute justice and righteousness” in the world (Ezekiel 45:9).
You and I are called to lead others to the One who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Here’s how: choose “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
That’s the leadership God rewards and our culture needs today.
NOTE: I want to thank Nick Pitts for writing the Cultural Commentary while I was out of town earlier this week. Nick is in New York City today participating in Movement Day Global Cities. More than three thousand Christian leaders representing ninety cities have gathered for worship, prayer, and collaboration. Please pray for God to use this historic event to advance his Kingdom around the world.