“This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. … When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”1 Samuel 8
Democracies can be lost. History demonstrates how rare it is for a democracy to continue past 200 years. It seems that the temptation to turn toward the strong man who promises greatness is too strong to resist. Are we at that point now? It does seem that nearly half of the people in this country have decided they like the idea of a strong man that promises to make this a great nation — whatever that means.
It does seem that part of what greatness means to a portion of our citizens is a return to male and whiteness as the established normal. We call this “white supremacy.” But the other side of this is the idealization of patriarchy as God-ordained and normal. It is the might makes right position. It is the temptation to have a king. It is easier to have a king than to take on the shared responsibility of democracy. It is easier to abdicate our responsibility to others. People do that already in this country, refusing to vote or participate in civic matters.
Since most of our citizens of a certain age have been raised in patriarchal homes and under patriarchal religions, it feels normal to them to lean toward the patriarch, toward the strong man. To, in a very real sense, continue to be children. When you choose the way of the strong man, you can continue to give over the responsibility to another, and to, as the Nazis said, just follow orders. Many of those who attacked our capital claimed they were following orders of the president.
The followers of the former president want the man that will grant them their superior place again. They are afraid of losing their country if it continues to welcome diversity, welcome women in leadership, welcomes change. The former president represents who they are and what they want. They see themselves in him. Sadly, he is not a strong man. He is all smoke and mirrors, and there is nothing there that can be depended on in reality. He has shown his lack of loyalty toward others.
I see the senate split in two as the house managers present a powerful case against the former president. One side struggling to present the evidence for why they should convict, and the other side struggling to find ways to avoid conviction no matter the evidence. Everyone that has an opinion is saying that the republicans cannot and will not vote to convict no matter what is presented to them. It isn’t in them to follow what is the right thing to do. They have decided that the politically expedient thing to do is to NOT hold the former president accountable. All they need is an excuse to do what they want to do.
It seems to me that the republican side of the aisle is so fearful of being tarred with the disgrace of their former president that they have to defend him no matter what horrid thing he does. Or they are so afraid of the cult followers of that man that they cannot stand up against them and say that their positions are wrong. Or they have become so partisan that everything is seen as winning or losing. Where is truth? Where is honor? Where is integrity? Where are they being authentic human beings? Where is there anything but self-interest and political expediency?
I value integrity and authenticity in persons. As people who follow Christ it is essential that we hang on to these values no matter the cost. Should the defense prove that the former president did not incite the insurrection, I am ready to hear them out, but they have a difficult job ahead of them. The case laid down by the house managers is powerful and we all saw the event for ourselves. It will be hard to say that what we saw, was not what we in fact witnessed with our own eyes.
May God have mercy on us as we continue to watch this inflection point in our history. What will we choose? To continue the experiment of democracy that has carried us this far, or will we prepare for the eventual dictatorship that is on the horizon? If the senate decides that the actions of a potential dictator are okay with them, what happens next? The temptation to have a “king” is as great as the temptation to be a king, and history proves that humanity finds this hard to resist. Will we pass the test that is now given to us? I wonder. The people of God, the Israelites, could not resist the temptation and they suffered for it. God let’s a people choose. We can choose what will bring us sorrow and God allows it.
In any case, my beloved ones, we ourselves must be true to our personal integrity and be authentic human beings as we follow the light of the world, our Christ. If things take a turn for the worse, we must lean into Christ more, and trust that we can still find our way to the Beloved Community that God is calling us to create. Live in hope.