In a study released last week, the Pew Research Center found that the public believes the nation’s ideological conflicts are stronger and more vicious than any racial or class divisions. It wasn’t even close.
This perception surely matches most people's experience today. Class distinctions never meant much in the U.S., in contrast to Europe; people of different religions mostly live in harmony here in their everyday lives, despite occasional ugly incidents; and racial prejudice, though it still exists, continues to be less pervasive and less powerful.
But political divisions are ever sharper and more irreconcilable, even on obscure matters. For many people, they seem to override everything else, as if nothing else in life means anything.
This isn’t a problem just of retirees watching cable news all day, who become grumpy political uncles at the Christmas holidays. President Trump’s 2016 victory exposed an equally irascible and irrational political mania consuming the minds of supposedly sophisticated urban professionals.
This spiritual disease is everywhere. It has caused once-talented comedians to lose their humor, and singers their talents for capturing the imagination.
So much seems to ride on political action. And, as of this year, so little on anything else. In 2017, those offering prayers for victims of shootings, storms, and other events were mocked, even excoriated, by people who claim some sort of belief in God. Prayer, some think, is a waste of time; an evasion; a way of avoiding doing what really matters, which is taking political action.
This pusillanimous view of our place in the cosmos holds that the aspirations of humanity can be boiled down to whether the top marginal tax rate is 39 percent or 37 percent; whether spending in the ten-year budget window is $44 trillion or $41 trillion. This is what determines whether you care about other people, not your prayer or conscience or generosity with your own money or even whatever person-to-person help you give by volunteering. This empty, materialistic worldview is based on the Marxist logic that everything is political, that life is about politics rather than that, in truth, politics is about only some of the things in life. If you think everything is about politics, you tend also to think government is everything or, as Barney Frank once said, the "word we use for things we decide to do together;" you're likely to believe that a tax cut is the end of the world, as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says, rather than simply the end of one tax rate and its replacement by another.
In this way of thinking, the fact that you personally treat women with respect is less important than whether you vote according to feminist ideology. Your stated respect for political Christianity can likewise cover your own personal transgressions. Even your weapons trafficking can almost be forgiven, or at least justified in your own mind, if you vote for gun control measures long demonstrated to be useless in preventing crime.
People can do anything in their personal lives. It is your political choices that determine whether or not you are on the right team, and that’s what’s really important in life. Isn’t it?
Actually, no, it's not. To be sure, politics at times touches on deep questions about how people treat other people — the sort of questions that the humanity of Jesus Christ brings to mind on Christmas Day. But those questions transcend politics. They cannot be contained within its narrow bounds because they have much deeper meaning than any ideology. It is no coincidence that the push to abolish slavery, and a century later the most prominent and successful efforts to establish civil rights, were led by ministers, spiritual leaders, and fervent believers of various faiths.
One need not have the prayer life of an ascetic, nor even a belief in God, to recognize that a “woke” life of pure politics is an incomplete existence, a hollow simulacrum of a real life of caring and compassionate humanity. For all the hopes placed in earthly princes, and all the attention given to their daily doings, political action is rarely of great significance in anyone’s personal life.
Take this day, Christmas Day, to store up and appreciate what really matters — the treasures of family, of friends, and of culture. Of the common humanity you share with your political adversaries. And yes, of prayer — of your personal conversation with God, because what makes you truly human should not be subject to mockery.
We're generally reluctant to offer personal advice as opposed to political analysis and opinion. But we'll venture this far: On your deathbed, you won't spend a second regretting that you didn’t do more to make the marginal income tax rate higher or lower.