Published April 9, 2019 in the Ames Tribune
By Eileen Gebbie
There have been some pretty catchy campaign phrases over the short life of our republic: Herbert Hoover’s “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage,” Dwight Eisenhower’s “I Like Ike!,” and Shirley Chisholm’s “Unbought, Unbossed.”
In the 1884 presidential election, the candidates had pretty funny attack slogans: Grover Cleveland’s “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine” and James Blaine’s “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.”
Clearly, Americans were not so invested in the ability to make acronyms, such as MAGA, in the 19th century.
Over the next 18 months, though, it looks like the phrase we might hear the most, as Americans and particularly as Iowans, is one we have been listening to for two years: “No collusion!”
This is, of course, in response to concerns President Trump’s election campaign worked with a foreign state to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 election in his favor. It continues to be a refrain in light of the Mueller Report, which, while it did not result in an indictment against the president, also did not exonerate him, according to Attorney General William Barr.
Now, whether you believe an American citizen committed treason to win the presidency, or you believe such an accusation is a product of an out-of-control liberal media, or something in between, the issue, and the phrase, are actually an indictment of us.
If such a partnership and outcome were possible, or simply so believed to be possible there was a federal investigation, both of these are our fault. They are the result of our failure to rigorously participate in civic life and to rigorously interrogate what we encounter in online life.
To say there was no collusion is, in regard to us as the electorate, simply false.
Consider the rise of white Christian nationalism. The premise of those who marched and killed in Charlottesville, for example, is the United States should only be a nation of people of European descent who practice an exclusivist brand of Christianity.
This means that all who are not white and not their version of Christian are not entitled to civil rights like equal access to education, health care, governance, and public facilities. This is collusion. This is collusion with hatred.
But getting to the state we are in today took more than extremists. It took a majority of us colluding with fear, colluding with impatience, colluding with absolutism. We have also colluded with apathy, with name calling and with straw-man attacks. We have colluded with disengagement and with segregation.
We the people of the United States have not formed a more perfect union, but a perfect scission through our collusion with all that destroys the body politic and flesh. So whatever “No collusion!” shouted by politicians means for each of us, it is a call for each of us to be truthful and to honestly assess what we have and what we might yet collude with.
In my religious tradition, we have stories about an ancient nation that is under the control of a foreign empire, Rome. Under the rule of empire, the citizens of the occupied state must pay taxes. Our primary storyteller and prophet, the person to whom we look to for the intersection of the sacred and profane — Jesus — is asked whether the citizens should continue to pay those taxes. Jesus famously replies, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
One interpretation, of many, is to pay taxes to those who tax, but pay the rest of your life to holiness.
Participate in the existing system, but do not let the system define you.
Cooperate with government, so long as the government does not prevent you from cooperating with your neighbors and this earth.
We need to pay taxes if we want roads and fire departments and sewer systems. We also need to make sure the people we elect to manage taxation are using our hard-earned monies to further the common good, be it public education, clean drinking water, or childhood vaccinations.
We are only as healthy and successful individually as our towns and counties in their entirety.
So what must we render unto our current presidential campaign in order to tend to, or at least not rend more, this union? And what must we collude with in our larger, yet personal, lives in order to do so? Maybe we could each adopt a slogan of our own to guide us through this campaign.
Here are some possibilities:
Colluding with discernment!
Colluding with listening!
Colluding with learning!
Colluding with dialogue!
Colluding with respect!
Colluding with civility!
Politicians will always pay clever people to develop clever slogans then hire volunteers and organizers and bots to promulgate them. Some may speak directly to what we want, some may incite the last thing that we need. It is up to us to know — before we read a Tweet or attend a rally and especially before we go to caucus and vote — what our values are throughout and beyond each election cycle.
Empires and democracies rise and fall. It is up to us to collude with what will allow us to endure, together.
Eileen Gebbie is the senior minister at Ames United Church of Christ