When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. – Proverbs 11.2
It is unlikely that any American of voting age has forgotten the moral and ethical barbarism of our most recent election cycle. Such things are not easily forgotten, as all must live with the consequences one way or the other. It was an awful choice to be made between a man and a woman who despite their respective stations in life were clearly in no way morally capable of leading a nation as powerful as the United States. It was an election where the average American’s disdain for common decency was made evident by their equal desire for political victory. All the while, all but the most enthusiastic supporters of either side offered the very similar lamentation: “Choose the lesser of two evils.” In a binary world such as ours, it is easy to believe that there are but two options for every situation, but this is patently false, and believing so betrays a fundamental lack of creativity.
It was the author’s hope that such a dishonorable election cycle composed of such vile candidates would serve to highlight to even the most blindly partisan American just how far the system has fallen into disrepair. Alas. What do we know about the nature of all things? We know that what falls into disrepair only falls because its owner or master has stopped caring for it. A farmer who regularly maintains his tractor is unlikely to wake up one early autumn morn to a rusted over machine. A musician who regularly tunes his instrument will very likely enjoy a beautiful tune for a very long time. Love and respect produce fruit worthy of consumption; selfishness and neglect allow rot and decay, but in no instance does disrepair happen suddenly. Destruction occurs in an instant. Disrepair happens over time.
It would therefore be fair to say that the American political system has fallen into disrepair. In our rush to live in a perfectly liberalized state we have shown all of its myriad failures. Americans have lost their interest in transcendence – in beauty, goodness, and truth – opting instead to play in the mud, and so have over a generation or more elected from amongst themselves representatives who reflect that very same spiritually disinterested nature.
Saint Augustine in his City of God, wrote about the downfall of Rome. It was not, contrary to popular belief, due to the invading Visigoths. By the time they arrived, they found Rome not as a lady of virtue whose integrity was beyond reproach, but rather as a prostitute drunk on her own sinfully gained excesses. The Visigoths needed not to shatter themselves on Roman gates, as merely as to knock on the door. Saint Augustine writes in Book 1, chapters 30-31,
“And the lust for power, which of all human vices was found in its most concentrated form in the roman people as a whole, first established its victory in a few powerful individuals, and then crushed the rest of an exhausted country beneath the yoke of slavery… For when can that lust for power in arrogant hearts come to rest until, after passing from one office to another, it arrives at sovereignty? Now there would be no occasion for this continuous progress if ambition were not all-powerful; and the essential context for ambition is a people corrupted by greed and sensuality.”
And so it is today. In a Republic, the elected come from among the electors. Even in America, this is still at least minimally true. If they are to come from among us, then of course the values they take with them, and later act upon, will be to some degree reflected among the electorate. There is little ground to stand on, then, when our elected act naughtily. It was we who first taught them how to behave, we who sent them there, and we who continue to enable them.
The point is this. Americans can and should expect better candidates if they are so intent upon keeping their Republic. The time has come to begin looking for the wise among us. Cincinnatius was a great Roman dictator, a dictator then being a leader elected to navigate a time of crisis, and not one who achieved their station by coercion. Cincinnatius was a statesman, but he was also a farmer who wanted very little to do with the running of the Empire. He became dictator not because he thought himself qualified for the role, but because his countrymen saw in him the wisdom necessary to rule during difficult times. He wanted to remain comfortably in his quiet life, but reluctantly served for the greater good. George Washington was much the same way. He preferred to remain at Mount Vernon, and only accepted the role of President after essentially being begged. This is where the search must begin.
No one who believes they are qualified for the presidency should be considered, nor should anyone who does not have experience leading in times of verifiable crisis. Wisdom is not just necessary, but indeed crucial for he who would govern a people; wisdom can only grow in a field of humility (Pr. 11.2), and there is no humility in the man who believes himself capable of the most powerful position in all the world (Pr. 18.12; Mt. 23.12). That is pride, and pride is deadly (Pr. 16.18).
What is needed is a candidate wise enough to know that no one is qualified for such a position as the Office of the President, and beyond that, one who is reluctant to even accept the nomination. A candidate who fears power will be far superior to the one who desires power. What lesson can we learn from the Scriptures? We know that power, like wealth, is not inherently evil, but that is quite seductive and can very easily be used irresponsibly. Adam and Eve were seduced by power, by the promise of being like God, and their being seduced led to their destruction, as well as the destruction of mankind writ large. They did not receive the power they sought, but rather vision enough to recognize their own sin. Scripture calls David a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13.14). And yet, upon assuming his kingship he was corrupted, just as Saul was before him.
The third temptation of Jesus was the assumption of power. Even the only Son of God, our perfect Lord, was tempted by power. We do not study the offers or the suggestions or the bargains made to Jesus, but the temptations of Jesus. Christ was, after all not just fully divine but fully human as well. Of course, Jesus refused this temptation using the swords of scripture. He ran from the temptation, knowing what it would bring. It is also curious to consider the stipulation. The devil said he would offer Jesus all the kingdoms of the world – an offer that was not his to make, seeing as Jesus was already the King and Lord of all – if only Jesus would bow down to him. Reason implies that to willingly seek great power is to open oneself up to the temptation to abuse that power for selfish ends; to sin, and therefore to end up in Satan’s grasp. Power is not intrinsically evil. It can be used for great good, but it requires the strength of humility and therefore wisdom to be responsible wielded.
This, then, is what must be done this very day. We must demand of all elected officials humility. In humility there is wisdom, and in wisdom there is a much greater likelihood for peace and joy and forgiveness and reconciliation – all of which are conspicuously absent in the modern world.
Aye, but there is the rub. To recognize the humble and wise amongst us, we must learn to recognize and, moreover, to appreciate these qualities for ourselves, which means that we must first cultivate them within ourselves. We must submit ourselves to the Lord, for He opposes the proud and shows favor to the humble, and He lifts them up. Our corrupt elected officials are our representatives, and as it so happens, what they represent most faithfully is our own decadence.
Most will scoff at this and insist that our representatives are the worst from among us. Thank God that I are not like them, the Pharisee says at the altar. And yet it is the poor in purse, the one who has little in this world, who recognizes that she is just as fallen as her neighbor (Lk. 21.1-4), and it is she is the one who, kneeling at the altar and offering in faith all that she has, is blessed. America has become a pharisaical country – quick to point out the dust in the eyes of her neighbors while ignoring the plank in her own, so it is no surprise that her elected officials do the same.
To elect the wise, humble, and honorable rulers, we must take it upon ourselves to live in personal wisdom, humility, and honor. Our elected officials will always reflect those whom they represent. If we want better politicians, we must first demand more of ourselves.
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