No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens.
~Aaron Burr, in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”
I’ve known plenty of people in politics. My dad was in politics. Politicians, like most human beings, exist on a spectrum from noble to well-meaning to pragmatic to misguided to selfish to downright evil. Whatever their moral character, politicians do work behind the scenes to accomplish their goals. The Constitutional Convention was closed to the public with no minutes taken exactly in order to give the delegates freedom to debate and change their minds.*
It’s not different for pastors. There are things we do behind the scenes, in private, most of us adhering to the highest ethics, I hope, and yet we are blamed and called out for not being where someone else wants us to be, not revealing what someone wishes we would say, not making the pivot exactly when someone demands our loyalty.
Students of history will know that in politics it has always been hard to get the true story, that the press has always been manipulated for the sake of ideology and also for the sake of commerce, that politicians have phrased things carefully in order to avoid revealing truth without actually being caught in lies. What we didn’t have in the past was a digital “paper” trail. The potential for embarrassment is huge now, and while I deplore the idea of one candidate encouraging foreign hackers to look into the other presidential candidate’s deleted emails, I also deplore the careful answers used by the other candidate.
We’re at a bizarre crossroads. Some people think it’s okay to say anything, while others continue to abide by more traditional rules of public discourse. One could probably afford to risk a little more vulnerability, while the other really could use an injection of temperance. We might be able to understand her defensive posture, given the history of lies told about her. We might even be able to understand his aggressive nature, because in the story he tells himself, that stance works and has been working.
Meanwhile advisers on a bus try to figure how to spin things and still make their gal a winner, and meanwhile the other guy is sitting on his plane grinning widely and eating fried chicken for his dinner.**
The most telling piece of the Democratic convention for me was the film about Dorothy Rodham, who sent 4-year-old Hillary back out into the fray to figure out how to deal with bullies by herself. Imagine a life informed by that moment, and then add to it the influence of a mis-attributed but supposedly Wesleyan principle of doing all the good you can, and you have a formula for figuring out how to get done what you believe needs to be done, however you can get it done, for as long as it takes to get it done.
History may tell us, someday, what really happened, whether the emails were really a national security scandal, or a case of privileged arrogance, or (my guess) the result of a person with important things to do creating her own workaround to match the reality of today’s communication demands, rightly or wrongly. History will also likely consider whether the other guy got into it mostly to prove that he could win it by being outrageous, and then couldn’t get off the track he laid out for himself. And for us.
I don’t want to be cynical. The politician who raised me lived out a careful balance of working toward compromise where beneficial for the whole and staking out his principles where meeting in the middle would compromise his integrity. There is nothing simple about governing that way. It requires intelligence, patience, nuance and bone-deep righteousness. I really hope that’s what she has, because under the circumstances, I’m with her.
*Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (The Penguin Press, 2004), p.228.
**A one word quote from “Hamilton” probably doesn’t count as a quote, but if the soundtrack is burned on your brain as it is on mine, I’ll bet you heard it that way.