Reflection on the Election by David Montgomery

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It is an honor and a pleasure to be a resident and voter in Talbot County. The outcome of the County Council election, as reported on Tuesday night, is a credit to the common sense of Talbot County voters and to their willingness to pay attention to the substance of what their elected leaders do. Though I supported it, I did not expect the Coalition to be able to communicate the facts about actions of the previous Council majority so successfully.

With Laura Price and Pete Lesher coming in one and two in the voting, and the fifth seat a dead heat between a neophyte Republican and a frequent Democratic candidate, the message from the voters should be very clear: we do not want unrestricted development that changes the character and quality of life in our County, but we do want to continue the sensible policies of previous Councils. That is what I wanted, and it is exhilarating to see how many share that sentiment. I hope all five members elected to the new Council take that to heart.

National news is not so congenial. I was sorry to see good political leaders like Paul Ryan decide to leave the Congress, and the loss of the House of Representatives is painful even though not a surprise. That may make it difficult to pass any new legislation for the next two years, but as a died-in-the-wool conservative I have seen much worse. The Trump agenda was well-established with tax reform, rollback under the Congressional Review Act of midnight Obama-era regulations, and elimination of some of the key fiscal props of Obamacare. I am not particularly enamored of the President’s aggressive trade policy, though I do see fewer downsides than many of his critics. China’s aggressive claims over the South China Sea, attacks on Catholic shrines and congregations that the Vatican surrendered to their control and persistent theft of intellectual property need to be countered as President Trump has done.

The Senate remains securely under Republican control, and that means that any currently sitting Justice who leaves the Supreme Court in the next two years will be replaced by a Justice who respects and interprets the Constitution and laws passed by Congress as they are written. It may not be too much to hope that the dissipation of the “Blue Wave” will convince Democrats that the unprincipled efforts to derail the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh were self-defeating.

Winning the Senate also means that no matter what antics the House of Representatives might engage in under Democratic control, the President and his appointees will be immune to impeachment.

Since I adhere to the maxim that Congress governs best when it governs least, I am not unduly worried about the likely impasse we will face over the next two years. It would be very good for the country if enough moderates are returned to the Congress by both parties that reform of basic immigration laws could take place and Obamacare could be revised into a less costly and more voluntary system. The numbers are not yet in to see whether the Democratic majority will include more ignorant socialists like Ocasio-Ortiz or more centrists like those supported by WithHonor.

My greatest concern is that the Democratic majority in the House will still be dominated by the nuts on the far Left, the inciters of violence like Maxine Walters and leaders like Pelosi who put their hatred of the President above the good of the country. We may well be in for two years of unending investigations of the President, encouragement of mob rule, and motions for impeachment. I console myself that those gestures will be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Actually, I have a more optimistic reaction, that such behavior, if it occurs, will ensure a second term for President Trump and a restored majority for Republicans in the House and the Senate.

Once again, the ability of Talbot County voters to see through the mud-slinging, character assassination and false accusations directed at Laura Price encourages me. She drew the most votes as of 0045 on Wednesday. If our example is a guide, voters can see through slogans and personal attacks and are willing to spend time thinking about serious questions about the policies that different candidates will pursue.

The outcome of the election also leads me to reflect on values and the loss of the House of Representatives. The Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas detested President Trump and Hillary Clinton almost equally. He argued in a recent article that it is never necessary to choose the lesser of two evils, and that the pursuit of justice and honor should not be abandoned just because we expect to lose. Good thoughts.

Hauerwas voted for a third, solidly conservative candidate who had not the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell (that I do believe exists) of winning. This is very different from the tendency of Catholic social thought since Pope Leo XIII to look for ways to be politically effective in advancing the common good, not to mention the role that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken in American politics, taking positions on everything from abortion and immigration to regulation of electric powerplants.

Hauerwas’s is a very appealing point of view, though I have argued (effectively, at least to myself) that in a fallen world it is necessary to be a political realist. Thus I can support a President of questionable character with whom I disagree on major issues as long as I am convinced that the common good is better served by his policies than those of his opponent. Inter alia, I think that most supporters of Bill Clinton made the same decision.

Where Hauerwas challenges my thinking is by reminding me that we cannot and should not expect government to solve the really big crises we face. His example is abortion: sure, we should vote against politicians who promote abortion. But might we not spend our time and money better by “serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood…”

That is, it is possible to act directly and personally, admittedly at a greater cost of our own time and treasure, to introduce into the lives of specific individuals in our communities the kinds of grace that we mistakenly believe can be achieved through laws and government programs.

If this is the case, and the results of this election lead me to believe that Hauerwas has more insight than I like to admit, then it is necessary to work politically to ensure that we retain the freedom and ability to do these works of charity and express our fundamental beliefs publicly. That is why Supreme Court appointments are so important to me, to ensure that we retain not only freedom of worship but freedom to state our beliefs about public and private morality without fear or restriction and to assist our neighbors in the best way we know how.

But it also suggests that I do not care deep in my heart about the fine-tuning of tax policy or regulation of health insurance. The real crisis we face are not economic but rather are matters of faith and virtue: supporting our neighbors who are needy, preventing abortions one at time, being with the sick and dying, educating the young about the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing, bringing an understanding of virtue back into national consciousness, restoring a common heritage as a Christian nation.

We must be vigilant to preserve the space in which we do these things. That requires political involvement, to prevent laws from being passed that would allow bureaucrats to tell us who can be adoptive parents, how we can communicate the value of life from conception to its natural end, and what we may say about the morally acceptable forms of sexual activity.

I also believe it is important to resist accumulation of power and diversion of resources into national and even state programs when we could do better at the local and individual level.

We have wonderful examples of this in Talbot County. Our health department may not be in the most attractive of buildings, but we have many voluntary organizations and charities providing for needs of our neighbors. We have wealthy donors who fund capital improvements for public facilities and programs that serve community needs. This is called subsidiarity. But it requires limiting both taxation and spending by higher-level organizations, in order to have the resources and opportunity to act voluntarily and charitably to fill these needs.

To bring all this back to Tuesday’s election results. The triumphalism of the first two years of the Trump presidency, if any of us fell into that trap, are over. His policies were not repudiated, and what has been done will stand, but the temptation to expect Congress and the Presidency to correct the ills of our society is gone.

It is not a bad thing to be reminded of Jesus’s words that “my kingdom is not of this world.” We must care for each other, but not be seduced by the illusion of continuing progress and the attainability of perfection here on earth. That is the starting point of Hauerwas’s social thought. We are sojourners here, destined for somewhere else. We should follow Christ’s commandments in dealing with our neighbors, but not be deceived into believing that elections are somehow critical to bringing about the Kingdom of God.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Now I understand. “Let us not be seduced by the illusion of continuing progress” could become the Republican motto. We might at least work toward accountability, though.

    • David Montgomery says:

      Actually, I said those were the words of the very much not-Republican theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Do you really believe that the world is getting better and better every day? I think you missed the twentieth century.

  2. Liz Freedlander says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful opinion piece. It is clearly heartfelt. I would like to know more about what you mean in your statement, “restoring a common heritage as a Christian nation.” It has a ring of religious exclusivity which is troubling, especially given recent horrifying evidence of anti-semitism.

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