This election won’t be America’s best, but don’t lose hope

At some absurdly young age in Catholic elementary school, I wrote a short reflection on my favorite day of the year. “Holiday,” I think the instructions specifically called for. Christmas?

Easter? Pentecost, indicating an early charismatic fire?

Nope. None of the above. My favorite “holiday” of the year as a young girl was Election Day.

“What was wrong with me?”, you might ask. Did my parents force-feed me C-SPAN and the New York Times? Nothing of the sort. They were both Catholic school teachers and, later, principals. They encouraged my love of reading, which included history. Politics was a noble pursuit.

I was reading National Review in the fifth or sixth grade, and watched the journal’s founder on his long-running PBS public-affairs weekly, Firing Line. By seventh or eighth grade I was listening to Rush Limbaugh daily during the summer and reading New York Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, too. I had an earnest conviction that what happened in the halls of power in Washington, D.C., was important to people’s lives and that we all needed to be aware and participate — and more than on my favorite day of the year.

A political reality show

What was I thinking? This, of course, was all before national politics became a never-ending reality TV show. They don’t even introduce new plots and characters anymore. Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

I recently spent the better part of two weeks hospitalized, and I knew nothing about anything going on in the world unless a visitor burst my peaceful bubble of ignorance of the presidential election. Reading some of the hospital paperwork, though, I was reminded again that what happens in statehouses and Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court still impacts people’s lives.

As we approach the summer before the November presidential election, there are lots of theories about swapping out a candidate. The deadline on that is going to run out if it hasn’t already. Instead of daydreaming my way out of the current Groundhog Day candidates, I’ve been remembering the summer of 2016.

God’s promises are real

I spent about a month in Poland to cover World Youth Day. I moderated a panel on religious freedom in an arena full of 18,000 English-speaking pilgrims, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. They gave Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, a standing ovation. They got it. He had provided a safe haven and was building a future in Iraq for families who had fled ISIS terrorists, choosing to cling to Christ with supernatural trust. They saw what God’s grace made possible in Warda: the courage to be a martyr. He wasn’t running toward it, but he seemed to radiate peace in the service of Christ.

Parents of some of the World Youth Day pilgrims approached me after expressing relief that these young people just might have their priorities straight. And others went to what was most obvious to Americans: We were in Poland while the two political conventions were going on. And no one in Krakow appeared to have a fear of missing out on the politics back home.

I noticed some things about myself: When waking up in the middle of the night to live-tweet keynotes at the conventions I was a little snarkier than usual and it didn’t bring out the best in people. And, goodness, did the Poles care about what we were doing back in the United States? “You don’t have any other two people in the country to run for president? Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? That’s really the best you can do?”

Many of my conversations were with grandfatherly Polish men, some who spent years living in New Jersey. With Russia always on the prowl, they rely on the United States to be sane, sober and alert — and serious about moral clarity and justice.

For the first time ever, I heard young people chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and I wasn’t sure what to think. What does that mean to people? As they moved into praise and worship music, I figured, again, that the pilgrims have the right idea: Be grateful. Lead when necessary. No sour dreams. Joy can be infectious, even in the direst situations. Don’t lose hope. God’s promises are real and transformative.

So, teach the children that Election Day can be so much more than the painful entertainment it has become. Make politics virtuous and a noble service again.

This post This election won’t be America’s best, but don’t lose hope appeared on Our Sunday Visitor.

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