Above: Kyaw Moe Tun shows courage as he demonstrates his support for those in Myanmar who oppose the recent military coup.
I spend a lot of time being angry at weak politicians — in particular those who insist on minimizing Donald Trump’s recent attack on our democracy, out of fear that Trump and/or his superfans will come after them. Today I am going to muse a bit about today’s Gospel lesson, the blessing our pastor gives us every Sunday, and how those guideposts might lead us to a better way of dealing with the mundane problem of how to think about spineless politicians who coddle Trump and kiss his ring.
Let me start with a brief order of confession. I have been angry a lot lately. Here’s just one example:
John McCormack @McCormackJohnChip Roy in January: Trump “deserves universal condemnation for what was clearly impeachable conduct—pressuring the vice president to violate his oath to the Constitution to count the electors." https://t.co/qictNJ3t0X
If you want a good dose of this anger, you can see it here, where I question how folks like Mitch McConnell or Chip Roy can say in one breath that Trump did something impeachable, and in another breath say they would support him if he were the nominee (McConnell) or that Liz Cheney has forfeited her leadership position by rejecting Trump (Roy).
Try comparing the example of a Nancy Mace, who criticized Trump but could not bring herself to vote to impeach him, with some other examples of true political courage we have seen lately. The one that continually leaps to mind is that of Alexei Navalny, about whom I wrote in this missive. (By the way, Putin is trying to cancel Navalny through a smear campaign, and has duped Amnesty International into falling for the operation. But that’s another topic for another time.) A more recent example of true political courage can be found in this statement from Myanmar’s (now former) Ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, who issued a stirring statement calling on the world to reverse the recent Myanmar coup by any means necessary, and concluded his remarks with a literal gesture of solidarity with protesters:
Compare that kind of courage to the pandering horse droppings of Josh Hawley yelling about “breaking up” social media companies:
(“Break them up”? What does that even mean? Nobody cheering him has any idea. It’s purely a populist expression of butthurt. Hawley could be yelling “Nationalize them!” and the cheering would be at least as loud. But that, too, is another topic for another day.)
My point here is to contrast Hawley’s reflexive desire to indulge stupidity with that of the genuine courage and principle of Kyaw Moe Tun — a better man than Joshua David Hawley will ever be.
Typing all this up makes me angry all over again.
But is that really productive?
“What would Jesus do?” has become a cliche, but it’s a pretty good guidepost for humanity. We Christians believe that Jesus was God’s explicit gift of His Son to humanity, as a sacrifice and as an example. But you can be an atheist, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or any variety of Christian, and you can still recognize that Jesus set arguably the best example in recorded human history for how a human ought to behave. This morning’s Gospel reading is a great example of that. (By the way, each Sunday I publish a post that sets forth that Sunday’s Gospel reading and has a Bach cantata that accompanies the reading. Today’s example is particularly beautiful, and I commend it to you.)
I am going to quote today’s Gospel reading in its entirety. You can find it at Mark 8:31-38:
Jesus Predicts His Death
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The Way of the Cross
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Christ’s example is one of self-sacrifice. Alexei Navalny and Kyaw Moe Tun are not Christ, but in their example of self-sacrifice for a higher principle, they are following Christ’s example far more closely than frauds like Ted Cruz — who openly declare themselves to be Christ’s followers, but could not possibly understand how to sacrifice themselves, or their precious ambition, for integrity. It’s just not in them. Ted Cruz, who once lit into Donald Trump with less reserve than you have ever heard from a major politician, is now a Trump superfan for life. So is Josh Hawley. They are soulless Matt Gaetz style Trump superfans.
Let’s take them out of the mix for a moment. I would like to address the folks I wrote about this past week — the Nancy Maces, and Mitch McConnells, and Chip Roys — who initially condemned Trump’s anti-democratic actions, but who have since put the brakes on Trump criticism . . . out of an evident fear of the Trump superfans who make up such a large part of the base. I’m talking about politicians who show some semblance of a soul — people who seem to have some ability to discern right from wrong . . . but who nevertheless meekly minimize Trump’s attempts to reject and change the election results. People who cannot bring themselves to admit that Joe Biden won fair and square.
How are we to deal with such people?
Each Sunday our pastor ends the service with the following blessing, which I love to hear each and every time it is uttered:
Go forth into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast that which is good.
Render to no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted.
Support the weak.
Help the afflicted.
Show love to everyone.
Love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of almighty God,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
Reading today’s Gospel lesson, and reflecting on this blessing, it occurs to me that I spend too much time being angry at people like Mace, Roy, McConnell, and others. In fact, with all their political power, they are simply “the fainthearted” and in a sense “the weak” in the above blessing. The word “privileged” has too many connotations to wokeism to be useful, but these folks are indeed “privileged” in most of the ways that the woke crowd means when they use the word: they are economically comfortable, they have an elevated status in society by virtue of their political offices, and they have a good measure of power over how Americans live our lives. But they are fainthearted, and they are weak in character. And it occurs to me that, rather than being angry at them all the time, it might be helpful to try to strengthen them and help them not to be fainthearted. And to the extent that they are weak in character (and they clearly are), perhaps we ought to support them — not in the sense of “supporting” their weakness, of course . . . quite the opposite: to support them and help them to overcome their weakness. To give comfort to the angels on their shoulder, and help them reject the devil on the other.
I think it is also important to “hold fast that which is good” — meaning that we embrace and support those who are following Christ’s example, and standing up for what is good and right. I gave money to Jaime Herrera Beutler recently. She is the Congresswoman who described Trump’s call with Kevin McCarthy, in which Trump appeared to approve of the Capitol rioters, saying: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” She took a big risk doing that. I admire her for it. I admire Liz Cheney for taking the stand she has taken. We must hold fast that which is good, and support people like Rep. Herrera Beutler and Liz Cheney.
How we deal with the Trump superfans, and the politicians who have sacrificed all of their principles in favor of a patently phony populism — the Ted Cruzes and the Josh Hawleys of the world — will have to be a topic for another time. (By the way, did you see Cruz’s rehearsed scream of “FREEDOM!” at the end of his embarrassing CPAC speech?
He was trying to do William Wallace but to me it came across more like Howard Dean. YEEEEEEAAAAAARGHHHHH!!!!!!!!)
The best I can offer in terms of dealing with these frauds is that we should not render evil for evil.
For Lent, I am trying to hit a superfecta by giving up four vices: drinking, and the “three c’s” (as I call them): chips, criticism, and complaining. (A superfecta is like a trifecta, only you have to pick the first four horses in the race rather than the first three. Don’t tell me you never learned anything new from this newsletter!) I have given up drinking for Lent before, and the “three c’s” on another occasion, but I have never tried to combine all four in the same 40-day period. A couple of digressions: first, Sundays are feast days in Lent, so I need not avoid these vices today — but I try in my personal life to avoid at least the three c’s on Sundays anyway, because they are generally negative influences in the abstract. Second, giving up complaining and criticism is less of an event and more of a process — one that is quite unlike giving up alcohol or a certain type of food. You’re always catching yourself — and because of your openly stated commitment, your loved ones and friends help you. (“That sounds almost like complaining” is a not-uncommon phrase coming from my wife’s lips at such times, and I appreciate her for giving me that help. Thank you, honey!) Third, I have always given myself permission during Lent to criticize public figures, since I am after all a blogger and that’s pretty much what we do, isn’t it? But today’s missive is about an effort, not necessarily to abandon criticism entirely, but perhaps to think about redirecting my energy that would normally be spent tearing people down, and channeling it into a more constructive form. I don’t expect to be perfect about this, of course. But perhaps making the public commitment will be akin to my open statement of intention to make the above-described Lenten sacrifices — and you, the reader, can help keep me honest when you inevitably see me violating these precepts. (“That doesn’t sound so much like strengthening the fainthearted, Patterico!”)
I’m going to make an effort here. When someone is fainthearted, I will try to strengthen them. When they are good, I will hold them fast. When they are evil, I will try not to return evil for evil. I’ll probably keep criticizing them, but I will try to do so less in the spirit of retribution, and more in the spirit of offering comfort to those who are fighting that evil.
Help hold me to it. And thanks for reading. Happy Sunday!