The National Catholic Review

Perhaps some among those who saw it, defying the eye-blink memory of the news cycle, remember a fuzzy screenshot from the Republican debate in Texas on Feb. 25 that spread around the Internet. To the left, Marco Rubio grips his podium firmly with his right hand and glares into the camera; Ted Cruz, to the right, is talking with his fingers firmly clasped together, refusing to relinquish the floor while Donald Trump, eyes closed in a blink, taunts him from the center. Below them, CNN’s closed-captioning reads, “[unintelligible yelling].”

There is a place for such things. Over the long course of this latest election circus, yelling has resonated enough to unsettle the “inevitable” match between the Bush and Clinton dynasties. From both left and right, it has expressed a certain truth about the deadlock of systems; it has granted a semblance of people power. And yet, that yelling risks leaving even the victors with—what? Anything intelligible enough to celebrate?

These Lenten weeks I have taken it upon myself to ponder the first of Pope Francis’ four strange maxims in “The Joy of the Gospel,” a saying he has been repeating for more than 40 years: “Time is greater than space.” As much as this sounds like some kind of physics, for Francis it has to do with the careful politics he has been playing for so much of his life.

It’s about the tension between the horizon of utopia and the limits of the present; it’s about the need to win and the powerlessness that can settle in even after one does. “Giving priority to time,” he writes, “means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces.” It means selecting leaders who are less concerned with assuming power than with what will happen after they’re gone. It means, in trust and hope, enabling one’s society to choose its own future, not imposing one through domination.

I’ll come out and say it: The winner of the election should not matter. Not this much, at least. We are spending way, way too much time worrying about who will be president—measured in the span of months, measured by proportion of attention. The future of our society will draw much more from the processes we undertake in the meantime. Yes, yelling can have its uses; I’m not pleading for mere civility, which can be just as toxic as its opposite. But yelling alone, plus a winning candidate, will not a better society make.

“We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing,” Pope Francis writes in the exhortation. It is, rather, “reaching a level of maturity where individuals can make truly free and responsible decisions.”

What gets in the way of our listening and our freedom? There is the “big money” in campaigns that is finally arousing the ire of populists and that holds truly unconscionable sway. We need to unify behind efforts like this spring’s Democracy Uprising and Mayday.us that seek to root out this disease. There is the creeping custom of crass partisanship that prizes conquest over truth. There is the longing to turn time backward, rather than welcome the change and possibility it brings; “The Joy of the Gospel” quotes the 16th-century Jesuit Peter Faber, whom Frances was soon to canonize: “Time is God’s messenger.”

Maybe this: Ask not what you can restrain or control; ask what you can foster.

I suspect that to hear each other better, we need a politics in which politicians matter less. For all the ritual denunciations of politicians by politicians, we are obsessed with them. We depend on them to deliver us our supposed democracy. But democracy is not about them, it’s about us. Rather than longing for the perfect president, we need a civic culture that cleaves to liberty and justice no matter who gets the unenviable job of overseeing it all. That means wider participation and accountability everywhere from our workplaces to our churches to our elections. For now, God protect us from whomever among this cast of fallen creatures we elect.

To choose time, Francis writes, is to “accept the tension between fullness and limitation.” That means relinquishing the urge to put one’s faith in a Caesar. It also means working within the constraints of the present; right now this election and its addictive yelling matches have come to matter immensely. But the how should matter more than the who.

Nathan Schneider is the author of Thank You, Anarchy and God in Proof. Website: TheRowBoat.com; Twitter: @nathanairplane.

Comments

Bill Mazzella | 3/20/2016 - 12:46pm

Listening is for people of good will. It is the ideal. But with Koch brothers controlling Republican politics we are dealing more with wolves. The reason the Republican party is in disarray is they did not see Trump coming. The good thing about Trump is he points out how the Koch brothers are on the side of billionaires and not the Middle Class. Trump is not afraid to name companies who are avoiding responsibility while workers earn less in the same job than they did ten years ago. Of all the candidates in the GOP John Kasich is the one who cares more about the Middle Class. But the reason he is not doing well is that he does not have the Koch backing. He was disinvited from the Koch planning conferences because he dared to say that he does not want to face God not having helped the poor and disadvantaged. So the GOP gets what they deserved. They are hardly floating Kasich's name among those considered as an alternative to Trump and Cruz.

Despite the drawbacks the Trump phenomenon is a good thing. It is bringing out the raping of the Middle Class by a GOP which brought us the Great Recession. We need to take advantage of this by placing pressure on candidates to give people a living wage and pressuring business to spend as much time making lives better as well as making a profit.

William Rydberg | 3/20/2016 - 11:10am

Nathan, In my opinion you are too laid back. Remember that the Presidency of the United States of America has limitless power to wage war, almost limitless resources as well as the power of Executive Orders and the Veto. The President is literally Commander in Chief.

So please be engaged for our sake,

Arms reduction now!

Signed,

One of your many Canadian neighbours...

in The Risen Christ

Nathan Schneider | 3/20/2016 - 3:33pm

Thanks, Mr. Rydberg. I certainly hope I am not laid back. I should clarify: as I state above, "right now this election and its addictive yelling matches have come to matter immensely," and I've been active in the process on a local level. Nonetheless, I think there is a danger of us becoming too consumed in this particular race at the expense of all else. For instance, none of the candidates currently on the docket has had the wisdom or courage to call for disarmament—which seems to be a major concern for you (as it is for me). Some of them might be more likely to pursue it, but none espouses it. So just as important as participation in this election, for that issue, must be the work of getting issues like that on the table in the first place. That can't be entrusted to politicians. That begins with us.

William Rydberg | 3/20/2016 - 6:22pm

Mr Schneider- IMHO the real problem is that no human being ought to have such unilateral decision Power without oversight, outside of World War time. I fear that even the American Intelligencias (both Secular and Catholic) have not the perspective exemplified by the Story of the Frog in the Pot of water on the stove. If you placed a frog in a boiling Pot, he immediately jumps out. (This seems to be how American Presidential Power has grown in your Republic over my lifetime). But the froggie dies if placed in a cool pot of water as it comes to a slow boil because he is cold-blooded and never jumps out of that Pot. I find it odd that Your Secular Intelligencia have so soon forgotten the Teddy Roosevelt Presidency years. Remember "...carry a big stick"? The Presidency now has much more unilateral power than in Teddy's day... One man or woman, a bad unilateral decisions and it could be "curtains" for us all. (As an aside, if you watch movies like Dr Strangelove, it seems that it's a success should incoming ballistic missiles be brought down over Canada!). The Catholic Church in America and Catholic Intelligencia needs to speak up. I personally see Roman Catholic America Magazine as having an important role going forward. But I haven't heard a word from the Jesuits in charge about what was discussed at General Congregation 35 (milque-toast comes to mind).

FYI- in Canada we are inheritors of a parliamentary tradition, which understands that the bureaucracy serves the Queen of Canada as Head of State. Not the Prime Minister.

As a Catholic very familiar with the Via media, I personally see nothing wrong with checks and balances over every position, even the Top one. Even the Pope is subject to Scripture and Tradition.

Just my opinion,

in The Risen Christ

Blessed be the Holy Trinity...

Bruce Snowden | 3/19/2016 - 3:23pm

As “Unintelligible Yelling” shows intelligibly, “the how should matter more than the who.” The homilist, any speaker, who hammers the pulpit or podium with angry fists reveals that his/her argument is weak, needing noise, fright, to attract attention. Noise covers its anemic cogency showing who he/she is by his/her how! A strong argument needs no fanfare. It is of itself convincing. Wrapped in the vanity of articulated bombast, such people shoot verbiage recklessly, showing as the Lord might say, “by their ‘shoot’ shall you know them!”

A lot of people would agree that the most bombast of the current aspirants to the presidency is Donald Trump, who has successfully so far, capitalized on U.S. citizen’s anger at the emasculation (as they see it) of Uncle Sam by the current Administration. It’s said, “he who yells loudest gets heard” and it seems to be working. Recently in the waiting room of a garage as our car was being worked on, a lady and I engaged in conversation about the current political circus and as I stuck my foot in my mouth by calling Donald Trump “an ass” she replied, “Oh no! He’s really very nice. I know him personally.” Donald Trump nice? Apparently so and sort of in line with what he once said, “I can be/do anything I have to be/do!”

In the meantime, I’m, a befuddled voter who wonders who to vote for. After all is said and done and the dust settles, I think Hilary Clinton will be the victorious one, which is great having a woman, but not the right one, as President of the United States. So I cannot vote for her, neither can I vote for Donald Trump dressed in his armor of nails, making it hard to embrace him, no heart, little or no humanity. If only he would show his soft side! Maybe then I could consider voting for him. Maybe I’ll solve the dilemma and waste my vote by voting for my wife, or for me! Mr. Nathan Schneider has said, “Time is God’s messenger.” God, please send your message in time!

Nathan Schneider | 3/21/2016 - 10:32am

We seem to get the politicians we deserve, at times. It seems to me that the Trump phenomenon is very much driven by many people's desire for a strong leader to save them from something they perceive as making America less "great." The Sanders phenomenon, too, rests on the hope that a lone socialist can bring about "political revolution." The centrist alternatives are depressing in their unwillingness to recognize just how much their system is failing.

I find much more hope lately in longer-term organizing that builds democracy more deeply into the fabric of our society—through cooperative economics, regional policy experiments, and participatory budgeting. Strong campaign finance reform should be a foregone conclusion. The more we can feel empowered in controlling the circumstances of our own lives, the more mature and prepared I think we'll be in making decisions about our national leaders.

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