My reading the past few months has emphasized U.S. political history. Among the books I have read are:
Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance
Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace
Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II
Jon Meacham, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship
Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism
Robert A. Caro, The Years of LBJ: The Path to Power
Barrack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Chris Whipple, The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency
Jay Parini, Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America
Michael Eric Dyson, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
Robert A. Caro, Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson II
Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson III
Robert A. Caro, Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson IV
A theme that runs throughout those books, perhaps most surprisingly and unexpectedly in Chernow’s work on the House of Morgan, is that of important leaders attempting to act in the national interest. Many actions clothed in the rhetoric of national interest may have been more accurately described as in the interest of self, a small group of powerful people, or special interests. Nevertheless, the rhetoric of claiming to act in the national interest was apparently important and pervasive.
In the last fifty years, the concept of national interest has, thankfully, been widely broadened to include people of color and women. The current protests against inappropriate sexual harassment and illegal sexual assault in the workplace and other public places indicates that we still have a long way to go before women are fully and equally included in concern about the national interest. Similarly, the redefinition of national interest to fully and equally include people of color still has a long way to go as evidenced by the frequently racially driven controversies over Obama’s election and presidency.
Two things disturb me in spite of the progress I see and the distance yet to go before the arc of history fully bends toward justice.
First, too many leaders today primarily address their hearer’s self-interest. The rhetoric of national interest, even if more pretense than real, has given way to crude pandering to self-interest. This represents a step backward. Reclaiming the rhetoric of national, or, better yet, global interest at least puts a concern for more than self on the agenda.
Second, in the absence of rhetoric about national interest some leaders now focus almost exclusively on the interests of certain white males. Those white males include the affluent 1%, evangelical Christians, and whites who feel that they have been disenfranchised or left behind as the economy has automated, globalized, and responded to environmental concerns. Election of such leaders represents a hugely disturbing outcome of abandoning a broader, more inclusive rhetoric and an attempt to turn return to a more unjust, inequitable age.
In this season of Advent, remember that Jesus taught us to love all of our neighbors, not just neighbors who look like us or who share our values. If we would be part of fulfilling God’s vision for creation, then we must commit not only to the rhetoric of inclusivity but also to working to make that vision reality. Speak out against leaders who practice and advocate injustice and inequality. Vote to elect truly inclusive leaders. Let Advent become a clarion call to using your time and money to support campaigns and programs of social justice.