After two weeks of political conventions we need a break from hype, hyperbole and hyperventilation. We need to go fishing. Catch our breath. And clear our heads.
Here’s some of what we witnessed in the past two weeks.
At the Republican convention, delegates chanted “lock her up,” when Hillary Clinton was mentioned. One Donald Trump supporter, Al Baldasaro, called for Clinton to be shot for treason.
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On the one hand, we have a billionaire who takes pride in firing people claiming that he understands the plight of the middle class. On the other hand, we have the wealthy wife of a former president claiming the same thing.
Bernie Sanders concluded his campaign claiming that Clinton would “end the movement toward oligarchy.” Sanders’ supporters walked out. An apparent anti-Sanders conspiracy in Democratic headquarters confirmed the suspicions of those who think the system is corrupt. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, resigned as a result of the damaging email dump.
Democratic Party operatives, including President Barack Obama, suggested that Russia was behind the email leak. They insinuated that Trump is too cozy with Russia, since he benefited from the leak.
Trump responded by calling on Russia to find the missing emails from Clinton’s private server. The Clinton campaign replied by saying, “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent.”
Each side has basically accused the other of treason, duplicity, stupidity and criminality.
Can it get any worse?
This is all disheartening. But it is not surprising. Politics has always been a repugnant business.
Within the lifetimes of our two candidates we have witnessed anti-communist witch-hunts, political assassinations, Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal, Clintonian philandering and lying, Bushian incompetence and a host of other crimes and misdemeanors.
History discloses a political world that stinks to high heaven. That’s why the world’s religious and philosophical traditions have often taught us to avoid it.
Socrates thought politics damaged the soul. Jesus advised his followers to render unto Caesar only what belongs to Caesar. He suggested that his kingdom was not of this world. Both Socrates and Jesus were killed by political authorities.
The Epicurean philosophers of ancient Greece advised us to avoid politics entirely. True happiness, they argued, is found in good health and in the private company of good friends. Christians often retreated behind cloistered walls seeking peace and communion with God.
A related idea comes from China. When asked to take a job with the emperor, the ancient Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu said no. Political life ends in unhappiness and death. He said he would rather go fishing.
How nice it would be simply to go fishing with the Taoist sages. But if good people go fishing, fishy people will take over and destroy our fishing holes.
We might like to be left alone. But injustice and stupidity have a nasty way of spreading. The philosopher’s garden, the monk’s monastery, and the Taoist’s mountain retreat are still connected to the political world. No one can withdraw completely.
Politics is a necessary evil. We avoid it at our peril.
The political world is a bit like our bodily functions. We must occasional get our hands dirty with this messy business. Justice requires us to wade into political swamps. But we should not be surprised by how bad the whole thing smells.
Nor should we view political life as an end in itself. There are higher and more lasting goods to be found elsewhere.
The challenge is to make the best of a putrid situation – to keep our heads clear despite the hot and fetid air.
Critical thinking skills help. Suspend judgment until you get all the facts. Control your emotions. Keep the larger sweep of history in mind. Remember that there are no utopias and no morally perfect politicians.
We also benefit from taking a break from breathing hot air. Go fishing. Recharge your critical batteries. Clear your head. This is going to be a nasty and noxious political season.