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Electoral Tantrums

by Ross WB Putnam

Ross Putnam AGWhen young children cannot find words to express themselves, in their exasperation they may throw a tantrum.  When done in a public place like a shopping mall parking lot, it can prove to be a sure way of getting attention. It may not necessarily leading to positive results, but they are center stage!  Often little heed is paid to the consequences of the outburst but in frustration and anxiety the immediate goal has been reached.

That is what happened in the recent election.  There are millions of otherwise seemingly normal, ordinary people who felt as though they have been exploited, excluded, stymied, ignored and underappreciated.  The system hasn’t worked for them.  Then they found a champion; someone who gave expression to their pent-up exasperations.

One phrase which came out was “we are going to drain the swamp” (referring to the politicians and political organizations found in and controlling Washington, D.C.)  And, the implication was that if we drain the swamp, you  –  the ordinary citizen –  will be better off.  They believed they found someone who could — and would — find and pull the plug which would do job.

It was, to a significant extent, an alliance based on pent up emotion which morphed into excitement on election night.  The consequences were not necessarily important.  The “plug-puller” was with them.

And it looks as if the draining has begun.  The establishment has been shaken.  For example, it has been reported, every major newspaper endorsed the other candidate.  Major political leaders with centuries of tradition, imbued with respect and power behind them either directly endorsed the losing candidate or made public statements that they would not vote for the one who won.

To say the results upset the apple cart is an understatement.  The “swamp” — the way things have “always been” — has begun to be drained.  Of course not everyone appreciates it.  Yet the impact is real and needs to be addressed.

As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan sang many years ago, “There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin.’  It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.  For the times they are a-changin.’”  The times have changed. A great deal which appeared stable is now up for grabs.  Great uncertainty is in the air.  The outburst (the ‘tantrum’) which got us here may give license to others to follow that example.  And this may well lead to increasing grid-lock which leads to frustration which leads to outbursts which leads to more anxiety and danger.

There is a lesson to be learned.  Not only are the windows and walls of Washington shaking, including the church.  Maybe and perhaps especially the United Church of Christ.

We are, by and large a progressive denomination.  And the attitude — expressed directly or not — is that if you don’t like it, perhaps you should find another type of worshipping community.  In other words many progressive, liberal, open and affirming congregations have, for years, held more resolutely to the values we espouse than to those who can’t necessarily articulate their discomfort with those values.  We have accepted the disillusion and departure of individuals as well as whole congregations.   If the seismic eruption of this election tells us anything in the UCC, it should be that we are dangerously close to rarifying ourselves toward extinction.

The stakes are high.  Never have so many basic human rights been in danger of being lost by so many of the disenfranchised.  It is imperative that we in the UCC not be immobilized by the shock wave.  We are the first responders in matters of faith.

In the aftermath of these dangerous times we are called to set aside our places privilege and rebuild community with a broader base of ideas, values and principles. We must lead the way as we rely in the veracity of our motto “that they may all be one.”

People of faith — you and I — empowered by Spirit will then reduce the tantrums and all of us can join in creating a more just society.

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