Any one man can do a lot of good; he can bring out the best in people. In that same vein, any one man can do a lot of evil; he can bring out the worst in others. Dr. Martin Luther King was one who called out the best in people; Adolf Hitler brought out the worst. Any one man can also bring out the best and the evil in people. I followed American politics long before I arrived in the United States. I remember listening to the Republican National Convention speech of George H. W. Bush on a little radio. I also remember riding in a cab from a little town where I was a Vicar to a large town to watch the proceedings of Bill Clinton’s impeachment on CNN. I remember watching television with students, faculty, and staff on September 11, 2001, and will never forget the sight of a student in military garb wailing in the lounge where we were all watching the events of that day. I remember how our society pulled together to comfort each other and become a source of strength to one another. I recall the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President. I remember the euphoria that greeted his election. It was as though the country had crossed a major threshold that we could all celebrate - at the barest minimum, we could say that we had taken a giant step towards creating that perfect union. I remember when Hillary Clinton won the nomination and ran against Donald Trump, and I remember hearing her share with the world that she had called to concede the election to our current president.
If you have not lived in a subjugated society, you may not understand how important it is to concede. If you have not lived in a politically volatile area of our world, you may not understand what it means to be free from political oppression. If you have not lived or suffered under a dictatorship, you may not understand the length to which people go just so they can live. It is for this reason that American democracy and political traditions command a great deal of respect, intrigue, and mystique. We are well acquainted with the process and are assured of the peaceful transfer of power. We know that the process by which we elect our leaders is transparent, free, and fair. And we know that, barring any limits, our democratic life is such that those who do not win an election can run again. I remember a story of Bill Clinton who lost re-election in Arkansas. According to the story, Bill Clinton traveled the whole of Arkansas, one town after the other, to meet with people and understand why he lost his re-election. The beauty of all this is that he did run again, and this time he won. The important principle worth noting is that unless you are constrained by term limits, you can run again, even if you lose an election, and the one man could have graciously conceded the elections and run again but his ego and enablers would not let him.
Ronald Reagan called America "the shining city on the hill." John F Kennedy invited us to be a participant and not a spectator. Each American president has called us - all citizens - to uphold a certain truism about America and to believe in it and what it stands for. After all, who lights a candle and hides it under a bushel? as Jesus asked. We set the candle on a table so that the world that sits in darkness might see the light and be drawn to it. The beauty of America does not lie in its superior military might; rather, it lies in its enduring democratic credentials, the adherence to the rule of law, and enviable political traditions. These are the transformative values America shares with the world, and for which reason the world is relatively peaceful.
Like you, many of the people I know in Ghana were shocked to the core when they saw the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th this year. Like you, they wondered if this was a third-world country where the rules do not particularly work. Like you, they wondered how on earth America could descend so low. Like you, they wondered if the America that they know was falling apart because one man could not uphold the very tenets which draw people from all over the world to come here in search of freedom.
Like you, I could not believe what I saw on TV last week. I watched in horror as fellow American citizens desecrated the sanctity of this country's democracy, and in disbelief as fellow Americans violated the halls where our collective heart beats. Like you, I wondered how Ashli Babbit, an Air Force veteran, could travel from California to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate, only to get shot in the face and die. What a sad, sad story. For a moment, imagine Ashli as a daughter, granddaughter, wife, sister, mother, and friend. How would you feel? Happy? Sad? How pitiful! She may be considered a martyr by some because we do not hesitate to feign devotion if we do not have to pay the price of losing Ashli ourselves or any of the others who lost their lives as a result of the insurrection.
I can understand why she came all the way from California. I can understand why she felt she had to walk to the Capitol because one man asked her to ‘fight.’ One man - a leader - was able to convince her and many others that the election was fraudulent, and thus was stolen from him. How was this possible? Which fraud? This one man filed over sixty-five court cases before judges - several of whom were appointed by him. Of these many cases, not a single piece of evidence was offered and compelling enough to have a judge rule in his favor. So wherein lies the fraud? If there ever was any fraud, it was a call this one man placed to a Secretary of State, asking him to find him eleven thousand votes. Where was he going to find the votes... at Walmart, or maybe Costco? That is the fraud I see.
I am less worried about this one man’s politics - or any other person’s politics. For me, all politics are transitory. I have lived long enough to know that people change their minds about politics - a Democrat becomes a Republican or an Independent, and a Republican becomes a Democrat or Independent, and so on. For that reason, I am less concerned about your personal politics and more concerned about character - the character of that one man, or of your character - for that is the one thing that actually informs your politics.
Theodore Roosevelt, who once occupied the same position as this one man, wrote this: “It is not the critic who counts: Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions who spends himself in a worthy cause who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” I wonder if President Roosevelt ever thought that there will one day be a cold and timid soul who neither knows victory nor defeat, sitting in the same hallowed office as he and inciting citizens against the very government upon which he presides. One man.
Compounded by the devastating news of the raging COVID-19 virus, this has been quite a sorrowful week - but we are a people of hope. We believe that the good always triumphs over evil; we believe with the Psalmist that “…weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” And that joy only reminds us of the steadfast love and mercy of God, which are new every morning. For that reason, I look at the events on January 6th as a stain that ought to change us, change our rhetoric, and more importantly, change the way we look at each other - not as enemies, but as one people who simply have different views about how we should be governed.
One man may have caused enough damage to our institutions and provided us with a reason to question those very institutions which, like glue, have held our country together - as imperfect as it may be. But if there’s ever any silver lining, the one man has provided us with a reason - more than enough reason to protect our democracy and political institutions from the likes of him.
A couple of weeks ago we began a New Year, but it is never too late to share with you A Prayer for the New Year by Vinita Hampton Wright:
God of all time, help us enter the New Year quietly,
thoughtful of who we are to ourselves and to others,
mindful that our steps make an impact
and our words carry power.
May we walk gently.
May we speak only after we have listened well.
Creator of all life,
help us enter the New Year reverently,
aware that you have endowed
every creature and plant, every person and habitat
with beauty and purpose.
May we regard the world with tenderness.
May we honor rather than destroy.
Lover of all souls,
help us enter the New Year joyfully,
willing to laugh and dance and dream,
remembering our many gifts with thanks
and looking forward to blessings yet to come.
May we welcome your lavish love.
In this new year, may the grace and peace of Christ bless us now and in the days ahead.
It is my hope that, if possible, you will pray this prayer daily, ponder on the gifts that God has given you, and be most especially thankful that not only do you live and breathe freedom, but that no one can take your joy and peace away from you - not even the one man.