Peter's Blog

Defending Democracy

Written by Peter Johnston on .

In years gone by I used this blog to explore some areas of politics that impacted particularly on the question of who we are as a society, reflecting this within the light of Jesus' ethic towards the stranger, the least of these, and the powerful.

Recently, I have been so overwhelmed by the rapidity and level of upheaval we see around us that it has left me little time to write about what is happening, though some commentary and use of what is going on in our world do make their way into sermons as illustrations.

Part of the reason for this is the sheer complexity of what is going on. I have found myself over the last couple of years sliding into a pattern of finishing work at night and then settling down to three hours or so of news consumption into the small hours, and paying for news sources from which (with care) I appreciate their reporting or commentary for its insight, commitment to the truth, and passion. We have long had a subscription to The Economist, but now that has been joined by subscriptions to The Guardian, The New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker and The Young Turks Network. I used to rely on the BBC for a lot of news reportage which is much cheaper to do, of course, but have become very concerned at what I perceive to be a lack of inquisitiveness over their reporting on Brexit and the mounting scandals around it.

It takes a lot of effort to try to keep up with what is going on, and time to read more deeply from authors writing about what we see unfolding and the parallels from history that serve as a warning to us. It is a warning that I fear we are sleep-walking past amidst the confusion of competing claims to the truth, subterfuge and incompetence on the parts of those with whom we have granted power and responsibility.

I read to Carolyn yesterday this longer form piece by Jonathan Chait and as I was reading it I exclaimed: "This really is an excellent summary!" Trying to keep in one's mind what is going on in politics and global relationships at the moment is rather like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle without the complete picture as your guide. Each story, each scandal, each new piece of evidence is a tiny part of a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Knowing how these different pieces fit together takes a lot of effort, but as I read Chait's piece it puts together in one place so much of what I have read in many disparate places - the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle - and is well worth your time.

We in the democratic world are facing a crisis at the moment, but like many such crises in the past it is not always simple to grasp the enormity of the peril when in the middle of it. These things rarely happen overnight. They happen step by step by step, a slow erosion of the norms and safeguards that protect the political experiment that is democracy.

For my generation, having grown up knowing nothing other than the relative peace and stability that the post-war commitment to democracy and to developing mutually beneficial international relationships (though not without their own problems) this is, I think, harder to grasp. We have an expectation that what is will continue to be, but that is not necessarily so. We must strive to defend what we believe to be in the best interests of the peace and justice of ourselves and our sisters and brothers.

Powerful elements, including Putin's kleptocratic regime in Russia, super wealthy political donors and multinational corporations, are corrupting our politics to an extent we have not seen in many generations. In these situations, needless to say, the people who will and are going to end up suffering the most are those who are the least of these, to use Jesus' phrase. And so we see migrant children locked in concentration camps in the United States, torn from their parents by a government which, instructed by the courts to return those children, kept no paper trail that would enable the reuniting of parents and children. We see Putin's regime manipulate the electorates of multiple democratic countries through donations, hacking, blackmail of politicians, online bots, bribery, with a sideline in the murder of opposing voices and a penchant for poison. We see the two main campaigns for Brexit (Leave.EU and Vote Leave) both now accused with evidence that demands further investigation of corruption and breaking electoral laws to gain an unfair advantage.

Who benefits from this corruption? Who benefits from the breakdown of relationships within countries and between nations? It is never the poor and marginalised. We heard a week or so ago how those who backed Brexit made a fortune on shorting the pound, possibly with Nigel Farage's knowing nod and wink to stir financial markets on the night of the election.

My understanding of the nature of God and of our image of God as Trinity, three persons in one, is that the very being of God is based around relationship. That relationship extends towards creation: seeking to bind one another together in a society that cares for each other: love God, love your neighbour as yourself. This is what I keep in my mind as what God's kingdom looks like: a commonwealth where we strive to make decisions that benefit all.

At the moment, the powers of selfishness and 'me first' are in the ascendancy here in Britain, in the USA, in other parts of Europe. If we really value and believe that Jesus had it right about society, then we must speak out and act before we find our voices silenced: reach out to our politicians, speak to each other, proclaim a different way of living together beyond the simplistic vision of winners and losers.

We are in this fight together.