Sen. John Fetterman and the Senate dress code controversy

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The latest on Sen. Fetterman and the dress code controversy: “We are defining deviancy ever downward”

September 25, 2023 -

FILE - Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., waves to members of the media, Monday, April 17, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

FILE - Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., waves to members of the media, Monday, April 17, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

FILE - Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., waves to members of the media, Monday, April 17, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

A reporter for the New York Post attempted to gain entrance to some of New York City’s finest restaurants while wearing shorts and a hoodie, only to be turned away at the door by each establishment. The reason for his experiment: he was wearing attire that Sen. John Fetterman (D–Pa.) has made famous (or infamous) in our nation’s capital. The senator’s preferred clothing generated national headlines a few days ago when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he was relaxing the Senate’s longstanding dress code requirement that its members wear a suit on the floor.

The backlash was immediate and bipartisan. Sen. Fetterman then replied to the furor in a crude statement, agreeing to “save democracy” by wearing a suit on the Senate floor if House Republicans pass a government funding bill and support Ukraine.

New York Times columnist Rhonda Garelick noted that “dress codes are a marker of social, national, professional, or philosophical commonality.” Accordingly, a dress code for the Senate “does remind senators and everyone around them (including the general public) of the still-noble goal of consensus. A sum greater than its parts.”

And Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan perceptively identified a larger cultural narrative at work: Americans “want to be respected but no longer think we need to be respectable.” In her view, “We are in a crisis of political comportment. We are witnessing the rise of the classless. Our politicians are becoming degenerate. This has been happening for a while but gets worse as the country coarsens. We are defining deviancy ever downward.”

“A man is always a teller of tales”

David Brooks recently quoted philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “A man is always a teller of tales. He lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them, and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story.”

By passing the Bill of Rights on this day in 1789, the US Congress told the story that our infant nation would be a democracy for all its residents. In as stark a contrast as I can imagine, hundreds of people who identify as dogs gathered in Berlin recently, communicating only by howling or barking at each other.

Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders has become a national celebrity by virtue of his personal story as “Coach Prime” (though his team’s resounding loss to Oregon on Saturday may dim his light just a bit). And Amanda Gorman, America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, told another story that typifies our self-reliant culture: “We are the good news that we have been looking for, demonstrating that every dusk holds a dawn disguised within it.”

A nation “planted on good soil”

In Ezekiel 17, God told a story about the people of Israel as a vine “planted on good soil by abundant waters, that it might produce branches and bear fruit and become a noble vine” (v. 8). When I read this parable, I thought immediately of America’s founding declaration that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Here’s the “good soil” in which we were planted: there is a God; we are created equal by him; we each have an “unalienable” right to life, liberty, and “the pursuit of happiness” (not happiness itself, which the Founders did not guarantee). Would the cosigners of this Declaration recognize the society we have become?

It’s difficult to imagine John Adams or Thomas Jefferson wearing shorts and hoodies to conduct the nation’s business. But it’s equally difficult to imagine that they intended the country they birthed to reject our Creator and our status as his creation. Or that they would have endorsed the monstrosity against life that is abortion on demand, the assault on liberty that is our escalating rejection of religious freedom, or the undermining of the pursuit of happiness that is our rampant secularism and sexual immorality.

God warned that the consequences of Israel’s apostasy would “pull up its roots and cut off its fruit” (v. 9) so that the nation would “utterly wither when the east wind strikes it” (v. 10). Will this be how our story ends as well?

A wise pastor’s reminder

Let’s begin this week by returning to the “good soil” on which we were planted as creatures of our Creator: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lᴏʀᴅ, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:6–7).

Have you knelt before your Maker yet today?

Then let’s advance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves and our nation by telling our Savior’s story in words and deeds. Let’s make him the Lord of every dimension of our lives every moment of this day. And let’s pray and work to help those we influence do the same.

Over the weekend, I attended a board retreat at which a wise pastor and friend of many years reminded us of the time Jesus and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a “great storm” arose (Matthew 8:24). Jesus then “rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (v. 26).

The pastor noted: “Jesus wants to be the Captain, not the cargo, in your boat.”

Which would your Lord say is true for you today?

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