In case you did not hear it on the show yesterday, the host played it repeatedly, check at about 27:30 of this hour of the Kevin McCollough show featuring his interview with Trey Gowdy and specifically why the congressman is retiring from politics. If I may be so bold as to summarize Mr. Gowdy, he is saying that the justice system is about finding truth. The political system is about finding advantage either to win an election or to get a measure passed, rendering the truth at best secondary and often victim. It made me think seriously about whether the Preacher of Ecclesiastes claiming that most human endeavor is futile had a point. Most of the time I turn to Ecclesiastes to find solace – that someone felt things were as futile as I sometime do – but at times like this I wonder if it is more than a feeling.
I thought about this as I thought about reaction to the SOTU and the release of the Nunes memo. Most of the discussion about both things is entirely valueless for it is not about the SOTU or the memo. Even I have used them as devices to talk about the talk. There is this guy making huge waves in Canada by the name of Jordan Peterson. Some of the stuff I am reading about him made me think of vanity as well. In the middle of the article just linked is a video of Mr. Peterson attempting to have a discussion with a student claiming to be transgender. Mr. Peterson is trying to have a substantive conversation, but the student keeps asking “Why won’t you use my preferred pronoun?” It is as if the student has never read Romeo and Juliet. (What am I saying? They probably haven’t. For the Cleveland Browns fans out there I am referring to the balcony dialogue in which the ill-fated couple discusses the vanity of names. “A rose by any other name….”) Even the climate change discussion, which is supposed to be about science, is vanity.
In Mr. Gowdy’s lament he discusses how the justice system has a finder of fact, a judge or jury, while the political system does not. He implies that it is the absence of such a finder of fact that renders the political system so futile. I think most people would agree with him and that represents an enormous breakdown in our political system. As designed the public, aided by the press, is supposed to be the finder of fact in our political system. That’s why a politically neutral press has traditionally been so important in America. But even as the press continues to politically polarize, the public can still fill the fact finding role, it is just a lot more work than it used to be. Unfortunately, we live in an age where no one digs for the news, it is too easy to ask our phones to tell us what it thinks is news.
Hence we live in a age more about manipulation than fact finding, and this is a grave danger indeed for it is down this path that freedom ends.
Years ago, after I visited Chernobyl, I read several books about the disaster and its aftermath. One has stuck with me over the decades. This book claimed that Chernobyl, more than any other single event, accounted for the end of the Soviet Union. The claim was based on the fact that the accident had such large ramifications that it was impossible for the Soviets to control the information about it. In other words, for a brief period the Soviet citizenry had access to facts, not spin, thus tremendously eroding confidence in the government and bringing it to an end. While freedom is again waning in Russia, I recall the heady days of the late 80’s and early 90’s when there seemed such possibilities.
What is even more interesting is that when I went to find that book to provide a link, Amazon turned up 85 pages of books on Chernobyl, and every one I looked at was, if not horror or science fiction, agendized. Chernobyl – the greatest nuclear disaster in history – is no longer something to be known and understood but has been reduced to argument fodder.
Truth really is the key to freedom. Jesus said so. Further Jesus said so in one of His extraordinarily rare political discussions. He is arguing with religious authorities of the time, trying to point out how they seek their own aggrandizement over serving the people of Israel. How they seek power over justice. He is pretty rough on them and they do not take it well. Eventually Jesus has to steal away or else be stoned. At the core of Jesus argument is His contention that He, God incarnate, is the source of truth, and therefore freedom.
The key to restoring our political system lies in reestablishing the role of the average citizen as finder of fact. The key to that lies in restoring the average citizen’s connection to the ultimate source of truth.
Mr. Gowdy rightly diagnoses the problems within our political system these days. That may be his greatest achievement in his service as a member of Congress. But like so much that is wrong with our nation today, the answer does not lie in the political system.