When Belief Becomes Policy…

I recently began studying for a Master in Public Policy degree at Tufts University.  Someone asked me why I was doing this when I already had a Master of Divinity degree and they wondered how the degrees were related.  My answer is playing out in real time this week with the 2020 United States Presidential Election.  Although my initial impetus to pursue the degree came from a desire to counteract the harmful ways in which I recognize religion is being turned into a policy weapon, I see that this violence is much more wide spread.  Nor is it specific to one religion’s (Christian) fundamentalism.

…we are living in the age of the…“celebritician.” These are people who are not so much public servants who wish to help govern our society as they are eager to craft and promote a brand that has a high market value.

As we watch an electoral map unfold in what is an unthinkable way for many people on both sides of the political spectrum, what we are seeing is a combination of things. First, there is the vast difference in which sources people use to acquire news.  With the emergence of Fox news as a veritable state television network for Trumpism and with CNN working to create some kind of counternarrative to that bias, news and news sources have become inherently political.  Add to this the plethora of podcasts, YouTube channels, vlogs and blogs, none of which are regulated or assessed for bias, people are capable of creating their own comfortable echo chambers tuned specifically to what they want to hear…24/7.

Next, we are living in the age of the celebrity politician…“celebritician.” These are people who are not so much public servants who wish to help govern our society as they are eager to craft and promote a brand that has a high market value.  We first flirted with this with Jack and Jackie.  Then Ronnie and Nancy literally brought Hollywood to Washington. The Clintons monetized their political lives to a level that has been questioned by GOP pundits as criminal.  Michelle and Barack were the total anomaly that we couldn’t/can’t get enough of…and are willing to pay for no matter what the cost.  The pinnacle of celebritician has been “The Trump Show” fully produced for syndication with story arcs, villains and heroes, costumes and characters and of course fabulous hair.  Think Dallas in D.C.  Where this becomes problematic is when a celebritician becomes the total embodiment of what we expect to see as the face of public policy.

The final piece of this toxic equation is the level to which aspirational culture has taken over our political sensibilities.  I recently described this through the metaphor of how people attach a personal affinity to sports teams.  For many people in the United States, we attach a personal sense of ownership and aspiration to what sports teams do on the field, ice or court.  We don’t just cheer them on, we invest in knowledge about their training and the makeup of the team.  We follow and work hard to predict the statistics on how well they will perform and we believe on a certain level that we can will them to an outcome.  We project on sports teams a level of aspiration to “win” that may or may not be healthy from a psychological standpoint, but when applied to politics and policy is obviously doing us all tremendous harm.

What I’ve realized is that together these elements (information, embodiment, aspiration) add up to the reason I’m pursuing my degree.  Together they create the framework for something that is the cornerstone of what ministers are trained to understand deeply: belief.  Religious belief is based on a source of information, how it is embodied either by prophets or within the self and how that information and embodiment add up to aspirations for everything from having an afterlife to literally turning your body back into the earth.  Ministry is the business of belief and more and more so are our politics.

But it is not just that we have entered into a time where politics are beliefs, it is that we have no modern, evolved tools or language to process what that means.  This leaves the left and right hunkered down in their opposite corners assuming that every move made by the other side is going to be one of aggression or attempted erasure.  Ministers will tell you that living in suspicion is much more dangerous than living in fear.  Suspicion is the ground in which assumption grows and assumptions are what eventually become underpaid women, caged immigrant children and dead unarmed black people.

We are in a desperate need of a way to completely rethink what it means to be political.  We have to ask tough questions about what it means to navigate the world we have created where belief drives policy.  What are the common sources of information, the embodied sources of mutually respected leadership and the unified goals and aspirations that we can all work toward within a wide range of belief systems?  These are the questions that our policy makers must learn to be asking.  That is what I believe the future of public policy will hinge on.  Without it, we may literally tear each other apart.


The Face of Racism…

Senator Rand Paul (R) Kentucky (c) US Senate

The face of racism is unassuming.  It is not an angry cropped hair white 20-something holding a torch screaming “you will not replace us!”  It is not a barrel-chested gun toting self-styled militia guy wearing a Confederate flag.  It is not the “Becky” or “Karen” calling the cops.  The face of racism is any white person in a position of power and influence who prioritizes their need to parse their interpretation of words over the lives of black people and other non-whites.

The Senate of the United States has been closer this year than ever to finally making lynching a federal crime [S. 488 – Information about the bill and its companion H.R. 35 – Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act].  It has already been passed by both houses.  This would create a law that makes lynching, of any kind, a federal crime.  This would be justice for every black person, every white person, every Latin-x person every, Native, Chinese, Japanese and Jewish person and every LGBTQ person who was ever lynched.  This would mean that when a gang of people hunt down and kill another transwoman of color, there would be some kind of federal recourse for their crimes that needs to be considered.  It would mean that that the gang rape, torture and murder of a woman who is trafficked would have larger consequences.  It would mean that a group of men, regardless of their professional position as police, when they detain and forcibly pin down an unarmed and compliant man and do not listen to his cries for air and he dies, would have a federal violation to answer for.  It would be justice for George Floyd.

But the Rand Pauls of the world are like too many white people that I’ve experienced when the conversation turns to codifying the definition of racism and creating substantive policy to prevent it.  They get uncomfortable.  They turn to wordsmithing in order to avoid “unintended consequences” and they reason for “common sense”.  Meanwhile, black people and those who do not benefit from whiteness, but who are always at its mercy, are forced to attend another senseless funeral, another tear streaked vigil, another protest, another march.  How dare anyone call for a “common sense” response to rampant, historical, lethal racism wielded as a bludgeon against innocent people?

I echo Senator Cory Booker’s statement in the clip below that there is nothing any white person can tell black people about lynching.  Senator Rand Paul is trying to “amend” this bill so that it is more “specific” and that someone can’t be accused of “lynching” by giving someone a ‘bruise’.  As Senator Kamala Harris says, this is offensive.  But what Paul is doing is actually straight out of the playbook of the Southern Democrats who blocked similar legislation from 1918 – 1922 (Dyer Anti Lynching Bill).  Too often when policies are crafted to deal with racism, white fragility rears its head and asks that these corrective measures “don’t go too far” and that they “show restraint” and that they don’t create a punishment worse than the crime.

There is no crime worse than racism that kills.  Racism is born of pure hatred and holds no redeeming or justifiable purpose.  Racism deserves no defense or assumption of innocence.  End racism.  Racism doesn’t see itself and it doesn’t hear itself.  Racism is a white ophthalmologist who stares blankly in the faces of two black attorneys and tells them about writing law.  Racism is a white man arguing publicly about race with three black people and defending what he knows about lynching.  Racism is a white guy talking about a bruise in a conversation that begins with the many ways black people have been hung, burned, disemboweled and castrated.  Given every opportunity in the world for redemption, apparently racism is also still the United States.

And sadly this seems to be Senator Rand Paul.  But he works for us.  Please let him know what you think.

I am urging all of my colleagues and friends in Kentucky to please call Senator Rand Paul’s Local and DC office to get him to withdraw his proposed amendment immediately and clear the way for this historic legislation.  The time is now.  End racism.  Senator Paul is literally holding the lynch pin that could put at least one piece of the racism of the United States in its long awaited grave.

Contact Senator Rand Paul


Bowling Green
Main State Office
1029 State Street
Bowling Green, KY 42101
Phone: 270-782-8303

Washington DC
167 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510
Phone: 202-224-4343