the-screamThe bad news is relentless these days. I find myself skipping through the papers, turning off the news, avoiding Twitter. What more do I need to know about the last insult hurled across the public landscape? What more do I need to know about another distortion of the truth, another betrayed loyalty, another crass remark. What more do I need to know about the latest sensational, scandalous mistake someone made either yesterday or decades ago?

Two things are going on here: We have candidates that persist in keeping us in the mud, believing we too want to wallow alongside them; and, two, we have a willing press that seems to think this is great fun. You can almost hear the strategy sessions: “This is, after all, what the public wants to hear. Isn’t it?” We are all degraded. Our democratic process is stretched to the breaking point. You want to scream: This is not fun.

On Friday in The New York Times, David Brooks captures this discouraging moment for me:

There is no uplift in this race. There is an entire absence, in both campaigns, of any effort to appeal to the higher angels of our nature. There is an assumption, in both campaigns, that we are self-seeking creatures, rather than also loving, serving, hoping, dreaming, cooperating creatures. There is a presumption in both candidates that the lowest motivations are the most real.

Yes, and as well, there is the assumption that we are all sitting ringside cheering every punch and counterpunch. When someone draws blood we cheer all the louder, the more the better. At least that is what someone believes about us, both the candidates and the press.

Brooks goes on to say:

The great challenge of our moment is the crisis of isolation and fragmentation, the need to rebind the fabric of a society that has been torn by selfishness, cynicism, distrust and autonomy.

At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrust.

That’s the uplift I am looking for. That’s the kind of thing I have been saying for a long time. It’s at that deeper cultural level where the healing must begin. That’s the place were the enduring values of love and friendship and faithfulness lie. Are these candidates capable of giving us this lift? I think not. Brooks argues that these two baby boomers—one from the 80s era of dream prosperity, the other from an idealistic 60s counterculture—now preside over a vision that is tired, worn, in shreds.

We’ve got to start all over. I’m looking for fresh thinking, most everyone is. Trying to rekindle any kind of old idealism from the words and actions of our proposed leaders—that’s sheer nostalgia. It seems impossible as well to build a fresh vision for the future. There’s nothing fresh here. These leaders, and the press that panders to the circus —well, it’s all so exhausting. We are exhausted as a nation. Lord help our nation. Lord help the rebuilding of our idealism.

“Love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrust”—this is where the new work must begin. It will begin at home, in our families, in our organizations, our schools, our churches. It won’t be politics of the sort we are enduring that will heal our nation. Let’s listen for the new thinking that’s bubbling up. It’s out there. Let’s take action in our own small spheres of influence. That’s possible. Let’s recognize now that we’ve got to work from the bottom up. Let’s see if it’s possible to build new foundations for a culture that pulls our politics in fresh and more enduring directions.