MINISTER’S COLUMN: Reflections on Disaffection and the Election

By Rev. Matthew McHale, Minister


This past month I have found myself preoccupied with the presidential election. I read multiple articles a day about the latest developments: leaked emails, inflammatory language, and the results of the newest polls. Part of me is concerned for the future of this country, part of me can’t look away from the train wreck, and part of me finds the media circus entertaining in a “gallows humor” sort of way. Mostly, I am hate-watching (like a bad television show) this election.

What is perhaps most troubling is the almost complete lack of substance. This has been an election almost entirely focused on personality and sensationalism. Yes, it was definitely important that we talked about sexual assault, as well as the undercurrent (overcurrent?) of bigotry, the sexism and xenophobia, the rampant lies, and dangerous threats to reject the elections outcome. Yet, the fact that we spent so much time on what amounts to a frightening sideshow meant that the serious political issues have largely disappeared from the discourse.

I have been frustrated by the lack of substantive discussion about the disastrous potential consequences of Hillary’s plan to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria, or the future of our potentially endless “war on terror,” or what role America should take in the world, more broadly, when our status as the sole-superpower is shifting. We decry the alleged meddling of Russian hackers in our elections, while ignoring both our long history of helping overthrow numerous democratically elected governments, and how corporations and the super-rich have already wholly undermined the democratic process through unprecedented levels of political spending. (If there’s one thing we can be sure of this election, it’s that those who hold the power and the money, will win, regardless.) And, despite its being the biggest threat humanity has faced in its 200,000-year existence, not a single question about global warming was asked during the debates.

Meanwhile, there has been almost no coverage of the historic events at the Standing Rock Reservation, where the largest gathering of Native Americans in over a century is protecting their ancestral lands and the waters from the construction of a massive shale oil pipeline. Nor that their peaceful presence and prayers are being met with attack dogs, riot gear, and military assault vehicles, in scenes reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Nor that journalists are being arrested and charged while reporting the event. Likewise, Hurricane Matthew has already slipped from our consciousness, despite thousands dead and over a million still recovering in Haiti. We’ve heard little about the multi-billion dollars fraud perpetrated by Wells Fargo against its customers. The media largely ignored how the U.S. backed the soft coup in Brazil and how the Saudis have bombed civilians in Yemen using American airplanes.

And because most of us have been so focused on the presidential election, we’ve largely ignored the local races, and the two dozen state, county and city propositions dealing with critical issues like the death penalty, pharmaceutical price-gouging, taxes on the wealthy, infrastructure spending, and environmental regulations. Since these are the places we can have the most impact—whether as volunteers, activists, or simply as voters—and that will have the most direct impact on our lives, it’s wise to put our energy there.

In that spirit, I was just elected to serve on the Board for jUUstice LA. And I am excited to work with you and with other congregations to bring our Unitarian Universalist values to fight for equity, the economy and the environment in the greater LA area.

As the election enters the final stretch, go ahead; turn your attention to something else. (Perhaps Emerson’s Fall Fling on November 5!) Since about half of all Americans are stressed about it, it might be good for you, and you’ll be a lot more likely to make a difference.