The events of the past year have made it overwhelmingly
clear that America’s process for choosing a president as it has evolved is now
seriously flawed and stands in need of reform. Responsible leaders of both
parties have a duty to examine the system and adopt the changes needed.
Among the issues to consider are the role of caucuses and
primary elections in their present form in choosing candidates, the corrupting
influence that fundraising has on the process and the format of primary and
Add the media to the list of things that need examining. The
people responsible for reporting and commenting on the electoral process have
serious soul-searching of their own to do.
Technology-driven changes that have revolutionized the news
business in recent years need evaluating in light of the common good. High up
among matters of legitimate concern is the 24/7 news cycle with its insane
emphasis on competition and speed. (I assume, by the way, that blogs and tweets
lie largely beyond reach and correction, even though electing a president is
here often the matter for personal ranting rather than a sober expression of
Freedom of expression is a cherished value in the American
system, and that implies accepting a fair amount of human imperfection in talk
about politics. But freedom must be used responsibly lest it turn destructive.
Did some media reach that point during the recent campaign? If so, what can be
done to discourage a recurrence? These aren’t questions to be deflected by rote
citation of the First Amendment.
For our next president the first test will be whether he will
bring divided Americans together or, God forbid, drive them even farther apart
with polarizing rhetoric. One awaits the answer with understandable
Beyond that, the issues agenda is crowded: restoring peace
and stability in an increasingly divided and dangerous world, healing racial
and class conflicts at home, addressing the crisis of marriage and family
breakdown, finding tolerable new rules of engagement for the conduct of the
culture war. In approaching these challenges, there is guidance in Lincoln’s
famous words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in
the right as God gives us to see the right.”
Lincoln said that in his Second Inaugural Address. But
perhaps we should also recall something else which he said there — that the
Civil War might have been divine punishment for the national sin of slavery.
Without embracing the Calvinist theology of that, it’s worth considering what
national sins the recent campaign could have been punishment for.
The list surely would include abortion, racism, and the
legalization of same-sex marriage. But then add policy failures in the Middle
East, stretching back at least to the Iraq war and continuing up to the debacle
in Syria, that have helped produce many thousands of deaths, contributed to the
rise of violent Islamic extremism, touched off a destabilizing flood of
refugees, and — by no means least — been instrumental in raising a new crop of
Christian martyrs while very nearly eradicating Christianity from a region
where it has been present for two millennia.
Prayers and good luck, mister president.
Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington and author of American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America (Ignatius Press).