Crisis time, again
In his brilliant essay Democracy in America (Penguin Group, 2003), French scholar and historian Alexis de Tocqueville summarized his observations of our country and system of government after a nine month visit in 1831. In a large section titled The Federal Constitution there is a subsection annotated Crisis of the Election. The leading paragraph provides an intro into his reasons for labeling American elections a time of crisis---
Americans are accustomed to all kinds of election. Experience has taught them
what degree of turmoil is tolerable and where they should stop. The vast extent
of the land mass over which their inhabitants are scattered ensures that any clash
between different parties is less probable and less dangerous than elsewhere.
The political conditions of the nation at times of elections have so far presented
no real danger. Nevertheless, the presidential election may be considered as a
time of national crisis (page 157 of Penguin Group edition).
The degree to which de Tocqueville was influenced by the presidential election of 1800 is debated but cannot be denied. That election, eventually decided by 36 ballots in the United States House of Representatives was won by Thomas Jefferson over incumbent John Adams. From the election a two party system of Republicans and Democrats became the norm for many years. Also, the election signaled the demise of the Federalist party. One of the crises de Tocqueville mentioned in his crisis paragraphs was the particular crisis of an election with an incumbent seeking re-election. It's very interesting reading just now. But, long.
I'm wondering how de Tocqueville would score the election of 2016. Another crisis? That would seem to fit today if then, even more so. Several factors multiply the critical nature of what we're facing in November---
1. America is more densely populated today. There were twenty four states in our
union in 1830 with a population of 12,860,702. Today there are 320,090,857
at last census.
2. We are more diverse today than then. Immigration, the shifts from a rural
populace to urban and suburban populations, longer life spans, and
regionalism have added layers of characteristics to the unique fiber of our
3. Government was smaller and special interests had not developed. The rejection
of the Federalist party seemed to signal a preference for small government
with greater emphasis on state government. That has certainly changed.
4. Our nation was decidedly Christian and our government was constructed on a
biblical worldview. Neither applies across the board today.
5. There was no information super highway. Campaigning, voting, and all of the
mechanics of our electoral system were slow processes. Today, there are no
secrets. Intimate details of candidates lives, analysis of party platforms,
political maneuvering, editorial commentary, and statistics are available to
roughly 74% of the voting population, those with broadband access to the
internet. Ninety-nine per cent of our households own a television.
So, if elections in the 1800's posed the threat of national crisis, they do even more so in our modern world. As a result, many Americans don't know what to do with our choices in 2016. The political parties haven't met, candidates, while we're computing delegate counts, are not final, and party platforms haven't been decided. Still, what to do in this election is a question mark for many Americans. Me too.
Ronald Reagan's summary of the times years ago seems to fit here. He said, "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right." That's the catch, isn't it? What is morally right?
It takes me to Jehoshaphat's situation in 2 Chronicles 20. The army of Israel was surrounded by a great multitude of Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites. Jehoshaphat "...was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord" (2 Chronicles 20:3). He declared a fast for the nation and prayed to God (see 2 Chronicles 20: 6-12). At the conclusion of this monumental prayer he prayed, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you" (2 Chronicles 20:12).
It's perhaps a simplistic solution. But, at this early stage should not all believers fix our eyes on him and patiently wait for him to direct us?
Tomorrow I'm lamenting the nation we used to be and the nation we are. It could be a very pessimistic, negative assessment, the realities of living faith in a world like this one, so different from the world de Tocqueville wrote about in the 1930's. But, it's not a crisis yet, even when we don't know what to do at this point.
That is, if our eyes are on him, and we genuinely want him to guide us.