Coming to America image

Coming to America

On the basis of Andrew’s recommendation I’ve been reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. I flew out to the States last Friday, and finished it on the plane, in between London Has Fallen (dire, but some nice shots of the capital), snoozing, and The Revenant (couldn’t suspend my imagination sufficiently to get past DiCapprio’s ‘please give me an Oscar for pulling this face’ face).

It took me a while to get through The Righteous Mind, not least because I kept getting diverted by the online psychological tests Haidt references. The Implicit Association Test was fairly brutal – turns out I’m more biased towards certain groups of people than I would want to be. I was happier with the results at YourMorals though – it seems I care more than liberals do about the things liberals care about, as well as more about the things conservatives do than do conservatives. Who knew.

It’s a rich book; a bit of a game-changer: and not so complicated as Andrew’s review made it sound (!). It is also four years old, so written before Obama’s second term of office, and way before the Clinton/Trump circus rolled into town. But the insights it offers are extremely helpful in the current context.

Towards the end of The Righteous Mind Haidt offers some analysis as to why American politics is so partisan, interestingly tracing it to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – an Act that saw the American South switch from Democrat to Republican.

Before this realignment there had been liberals and conservatives in both parties, which made it easy to form bipartisan teams who could work together on legislative projects. But after the realignment, there was no longer any overlap…Nowadays the most liberal Republican is typically more conservative than the most conservative Democrat.

American politics may be partisan, but Clinton and Trump are the parts no-one much wants. I’ve seen a few banners in support of Clinton since being here, and a few more for Trump, but very few overall. When I ask my friends who they intend to vote for the normal response is one of hands-over-the-face horror; and while queuing up for Texas barbeque I couldn’t elicit more thorough feedback from the stranger next in line. A combination of disbelief and embarrassment seems to be the majority view here.

I’m in North Carolina for a conference – a conference that kicked off with a talk reminding us of the sovereignty of God. That’s always a good topic to come back to, but especially at times when earthly rulers are at their most disappointing. It’s good to be reminded that God really is in control, and working out his plan. Kingdoms rise and fall, but the kingdom remains forever.

My hope for American politics would be a wholesale realignment of the Republican and Democrat parties: a realignment that diminishes some of the current partisanship and creates the space for more talented and moral presidential candidates to emerge. God knows, there are talented people of character aplenty in America – it’s just that either they can’t get to the top of the greasy poll, or (more likely?) don’t want to with things constituted as they currently are. Hoping for such a realignment may well be a forlorn hope. But I pray to a sovereign God.



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