Thursday, May 23, 2013

Honor the King

I am compelled to speak of my least favorite topic: politics, and why it is my least favorite.

I've been boxing merchandise for a right-wing warehouse the past few days, as a side-job. While some of the hundreds of bumper-stickers I've stuffed into envelopes are humorous, and a rare few genuinely insightful, most are alarmingly and needlessly disrespectful.

I am a journalist. I recognize both sides spray their share of venom. But I fail to find a reason for it. In fact, it seems to consist of reason's abstinence.

Conservatives, especially in the South, tend to view the Constitution as infallible dogma [a heresy for another time], but at the same time [bizarrely] choose not to give equal reverence to the one American closest to it. In another time or culture, such a phrase as "I hate Obama" would be a citizen's last. It would be perceived as a mellow but fatal act of treason.

America has done a fine job killing the honorary ambiance associated with Presidential leadership. This is thanks largely to our first anti-Federalist President, Thomas Jefferson. Washington and Adams before him attended their inaugurations in stately dress and carriage, and were each addressed as "His Excellency, the President." Jefferson, however, put an end to the title, and attended important meetings in his slippers, where he preferred to walk without the fancy horses, attendees, and other prudish riff-raff. These efforts, which were never rotated, immensely helped characterize the President as a common ordinary American who neither commanded nor was entitled to special admiration and reverence from his subjects by virtue of possessing his last glimmer of a title: Mr. President. While Jefferson had sound reasons for his actions [and we've come to applaud them as a culture], he soundly succeeded in turning the Presidential status into nothing of serious note.

I no serious.
I do think reverence is the proper word, for the role of Presidency is a sacred one, however sacrilegious its pontiff. In what may be the tidiest verse in all of Scripture, "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King," [I Peter 2:17] that final bit uses the Greek word kebed. We translate it as "honor" because it's our best English substitute. However, a more literal translation would be "weightiness." To honor something, then, is to give it weight or importance - to regard it seriously. An honorable man, it could be said, is a man who is spiritually substantial. He is solid, dignified, founded firmly, and resilient. His word is not blown away easily; he is not one to toss aside; his presence his heavy on us. A thing of weight should be regarded, measured, paid attention to.

To dishonor is literally to "take lightly." The very definition of a fool is one who considers important and weighty matters as laughable or stupid.

Yet this is precisely what we Americans have done to our President. We ridicule him. We scoff at him. We rant and curse at him. When he is mentioned, we role our eyes, growl, or sigh wearily. It is true we have a duty to question our authorities and keep them in check. And with that, we also have the right to murder his reputation. The law enables us to say most anything we like about our sovereign. But perhaps we are too free with our freedom. Too often and too easily we shift from good, clear, honest keeping-in-checking to downright, disrespectful, and abusive noise. We've let the title of "Mr. President" stand, while we hollowed out the man beneath it. He becomes just an upright suit standing at the center of a target.

The second crime of inflammatory rhetoric is it reduces whatever issue being discussed to mere passions. Making the issue an emotional one is dangerous, because the victory always goes to him with the biggest megaphone or the largest head-count. It's a good way to lose and the worst way to win. The issue itself is unaddressed; instead, we find ourselves catering to euphoria - whether ours or our enemy's. Perhaps there would be a place for this kind of dialogue, except nothing good has ever come from it. I don't mean passion should be excluded or even toned down. I'm asking for passions of an entirely other sort.

Another danger with reducing a matter to passions is that passions can be dismissed. And this is why I hate discussing politics: most of it is not worth listening to. I spend most my time ignoring and failing to care. If this spewing is what caring is, then caring seems exhausting, disoriented, and, frankly, silly. If you think you can make me care [or convince me of something] by being angry enough, you are greatly mistaken. I will only slam the door on you with an easier conscience.

I did not vote for Obama. I do not agree with Obama. I may not even like him. Or his dog. However, I honor Obama, I respect Obama, and I will obey Obama, provided said obedience does not come before conscience. The Presidency is a seat of honor; to not honor it would make me a fool, by definition.

The law does not restrain us from spewing overheated nastiness at our country's leaders, so we must restrain ourselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment