When overwhelmed by politics, clean your mess first
I recently attended a meeting about paid family leave in the White House West Wing with Ivanka Trump. Although I cannot report major details, I can share some thoughts. Overall, I was encouraged. Over the years, I have been around politicians and media folk, and you’d be amazed by some of the conversations I’ve had.
During moments of reflection, people tend to remind themselves that we’re all in this together. After this particular meeting, words turned to urgency and faith. There were human conversations about family and faith and burnout, and an understanding that the fast-paced life doesn’t last forever.
I remembered another conversation like it was yesterday, one that took place in the same room during a previous administration. The two Washington luminaries partaking in the conversation have since left us. Life is short, and we have only so much time to serve God and his people with a humble and all-encompassing love, even in politics.
Peter Wehner — who was a senior adviser the last time I had been in the West Wing, when George W. Bush was president — has a new book out called “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.” He encourages readers about politics as he writes: “Certainly American politics has seen moments of squalor, but our politics has also seen moments of grandeur. Most of the time it’s something in between. Here is the risk of allowing ourselves to be cynical: When we imagine that this nadir is the norm, we let ourselves and our leaders off the hook. We imply that there is no point in demanding better or in working to do better.”
Wehner suggests that “the wrong way to think about politics today is as if we’re collectively afflicted by a terminal disease, an illness with no cure. The better way to think about politics is that we’re out of shape, the result of doing a lot of things wrong over the years. Shedding pounds and rebuilding muscle is difficult, but it can be done, and we know how to do it. It’s a matter of summoning the requisite energy and commitment.”
He cautions Christians about getting sucked into ideological tribes and contempt for the other in the political fray. With evangelicals on the right on his mind, Wehner points out: “The early Church did not hand out voter guides. What it did do … is create … social networks; care for the sick, widows and orphans; welcome strangers and care for outsiders; respect women; and connect to non-Christians.”
“Hyperpartisanship is not the way,” Wehner writes, but “a more detached and prophetic role, and to take more seriously than many do the idea of dual citizenship — the belief that we are citizens of the City of Man but that our deepest loyalties are to the City of God. This ought to create some safe distance from the principalities and powers of this world.”
This is certainly not just a warning for evangelicals; it’s a necessary reflection for us all.
He also writes this: “Many years ago a friend told me that if you find yourself overwhelmed by the mess in your room, the best thing to do is pick up the pile of clothes at your feet. You can’t clean up everything at once, but if you clean up the things right in front of you, one at a time, over time the room will become organized and orderly.”
Maybe it was because I was in the middle of a pile of books and clothes as I read it, but this is doable. Look around and start meeting needs. We need to ask ourselves: What am I doing for the sick, widows and orphans? Am I embracing strangers as Christ? Pray for political leaders, for their wisdom, humility, prudence and courage. Pray the same for each one of us in all our roles for as long as God has us here.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.