It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.
Don’t get me wrong — there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.
But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.
Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.
And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.
The political notion of finding compromise or working across party lines on anything substantive is missing these days on Capitol Hill, where legislators of different political persuasions don’t share dinner or drinks anymore, don’t know each other’s families, and don’t even say hello or make eye contact in the hallways of Congress.
Veteran politicians from all points of the ideological spectrum tell me the political climate in Washington today is the worst they have ever seen.
Polarization is the new way of life in American politics.
Our media — especially our cable television channels and talk radio stations — have created a poisonous political environment literally ruled by vitriol and anxiety. And the American public, for the most part, is not turning to media sources to inform and even challenge them, but rather to the pundits and “journalists” who will reinforce and even intensify their existing prejudices.
Change the channel from one “news” outlet to another and the political postures may change, but the tone and style remain the same: Ugly.
The 2012 presidential election promises to be the ugliest in many years. The amount of money that will be spent, without any transparency, will fuel the politics of attack. And the presidential debates thus far along with their media coverage have been the most shallow and disheartening in recent memory.
The economic gap between those at the top (the “1 percent”) and the rest of us (the “99 percent”) is greater than any time since the Great Depression, and the poverty rates are the highest in 50 years. A new generation has risen up to focus our attention on the core issue of inequality, which is a fundamental biblical matter. But how the Occupy movement will affect our actual politic process remains to be seen.
Superficiality is what seems to characterize our politics, media coverage and expressed cultural values best. We are in the shallows. And not just politically.
Now is the time to go deeper, much deeper. It’s time to delve into the places that supply our better values and instincts, to the practices that renew our faith traditions and ethical priorities.
It is time to engage in the spiritual reflection that would restore the moral compass our politics and economics have lost.
I have decided to take that charge — to go deeper — personally. Beginning in January, I will be taking a three-month sabbatical from my work at Sojourners.
The purpose of my sabbatical is to slow down, rest, read, think, and pray. I hope to write a new book that will be a biblical and theological defense of the common good —something very important and largely lost in our age of rampant selfishness. I will also be exploring some new approaches to doing public media in ways that transcend ideological warfare and explore the moral center we sorely need to reshape our nation politically and economically.
I have a great team at Sojourners that will keep everything going strong these first three months of 2012, and will continue to offer you the resources you will need this election year. I am self-imposing a personal media black-out for these months, not commenting on the news and political developments in the first quarter of this fraught election year.
Hopefully, I will emerge from my retreat and sabbatical in April with something to say, understanding some things in a deeper way than I do now.
So please pray for me, as I will be praying for you.
Pray especially for the faith community and all those who listen to us to take on a genuinely prophetic and pastoral role in these dangerous and discouraging times.
And let’s all of us try not simply to react to the shallow and strident politics of this election year, but to go deeper. For our own sake, for our nation and for the world.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.