Sometimes I’ve got an idea rattling around my head and the only way to find out if it’s got any mileage is to start writing. So here goes.
Somehow I’m trying to make sense of the fact that our current politics is dominated by a few right wing individuals who are equally loved and loathed. Some fete them like political messiahs. Others can think of nothing that will express their fury better than covering them in milkshake.
If I’m honest I’m baffled.
And I find myself taken back to a story from the Old Testament.
In the book of 1 Samuel chapter 8 we read that Israel wanted a king. Pardon me if I paraphrase this. If it’s too much of a heresy you can read it yourself.
Samuel was the leader of Israel. God had called him to do this from a young age and he led well because he followed what God told him. As he was getting old he appointed his sons to succeed him but they were corrupt and the people became angry. The people’s response was to ask for a King. ‘Give us a King’ they said ‘everyone else has one, why can’t we?’
So Samuel went back to God and told him that the Israelites wanted a King. God knew this was a rejection of him as their ultimate King and through Samuel he warned them of the heavy burdens a King would place on them. But they didn’t listen. They wanted a King and they got one, King Saul. Sure enough, though there were good Kings and bad Kings, they found out the hard way that it wasn’t really a King they needed. What they needed was to obey God not look to a King to fix everything for them.
The temptation is always to look outside ourselves for solutions to find a better life. The Israelites wanted a King rather looking back at themselves and their need to obey God – when we look to the external, whether it’s political change or hankering after a new job, house etc we miss the point, which is our need to be at peace and find contentment whatever our circumstances.
What’s that got to do with our politics?
More than ever politics is fixated on individuals. Whilst a leader represents a party, the increasing focus is on them being the embodiment of a political philosophy. Elections come down to a choice between potential leaders as much as a set of ideas. Donald Trump, who had never held any political office prior to becoming President is the world’s best example of the blurring between attention on the qualities of an individual and politicians being celebrities. This is intensified by a media, which loves to simplify and sensationalise.
In this climate someone with a political slogan and personal charisma can quickly propel themselves to the status of potential leader. Huge power can potentially fall to someone who hasn’t gone to the trouble of putting together a coherent proposal for how they would govern.
I find this a bit scary.
I doubt if Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and “Tommy Robinson” would like to be grouped together. What they have in common is that they are charismatic right wing populists who know how to draw a crowd and get a response. They can do this because people are looked for something.
I fear they are looking for a King – someone to sort it all out – Brexit, immigration, whatever it is. I fear that people will find the hard way that a political messiah was not what they needed.
So what would I suggest to make sense of this?
Firstly, I am not a fatalist. I don’t think politicians are all the same and I do think we need to get engaged. As a minimum we need to vote.
Secondly, it’s another plea to engage with complex realities. My greatest angst with Brexit, as expressed before, is the idea that there’s an easy solution. Leaving a 40 year old arrangement that governs much of our lives and replacing with it a new series of multinational agreements is not easy. Possible yes, easy no.
So thirdly, we need to respectfully interrogate the ideas people are putting forward. We need to demand the sloganeers put forward something of substance.
Which brings us to milkshake. Hurling a milkshake is a pretty instant answer to a political philosophy you don’t like but other than improving the balance sheet of milkshake vendors and dry cleaners I don’t think it’s much of a solution. It just adds to a politics of polarisation and abuse.
The best weapon to throw at a politician is a difficult question.
The best antidote to the politics of division is to love our neighbour.
There will always be politicians and they will never be perfect. We should though be very wary of too much power going to individuals especially when they haven’t spelled out what they would do with it.
We need leaders, we need good public administration. We don’t need a King.
This article first appeared on www.christiantoday.com