The Biggest Political Scandal of Our Lifetime

After a long summer of doubts, dismissal, and outright refusals to do so, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has officially launched a probe to determine whether articles of impeachment might be prepared against the President of the United States.  Only twice in our national history has Congress accused America’s chief executive of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.  In both cases — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — the Senate then did not convict.

Even in the age of the first “Twitter President,” when salacious rhetoric is the norm and political bruhaha is commonplace, this is pretty big news. But, President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president is still not the biggest political scandal of our lifetime. I think that title has to go to an act much more calculated, sinister, and fundamental; the wholesale acceptance of the “left vs right” narrative in American politics.

Now, this is not to suggest that there is no difference between liberal and conservative politics.  Without a doubt, there is much distinction between these two schools of political thought. This diversity of ideas is part of what makes democratic government thrive.  But, when did the common man or woman become a political ideologue?  When did political dogmatism become part and parcel of everyday citizenship?  

The fact is that the hyper-partisanship that has become a central part of our political discourse is based upon an outright lie.  It is not necessary to be always conservative or always liberal on every issue. Americans are thinking people. And this approach is intellectually lazy.

This current brand of hyper-partisanship - which was cooked up by political operatives as a means to build and preserve power - has pushed its way to inappropriate levels of identity formation.  We have been sold a narrative that makes political disagreement equivalent to social and personal opposition. If the Democrats like it, the Republicans hate it. If you want Democrats to oppose something, just tell them that Republicans support it. This false narrative has effectively divided the country in profound ways.

Not only has this deception effectively served to maintain old divides among American people and build ones, but it has also stalled the work of government.  To put it bluntly, government is not working. Sure, rules that curtail debate and the significant control exercised by party leaders contribute to this reality. But at the core of it all, is a basic inability to agree among the political factions that make up the government.

It makes great news-entertainment to watch heated battles play out over contentious social issues. But, while these BIG fights are plastered over prime time news and partisan social media pages, we are left with a government that cannot get the “little” things done. The problem is that many of the little things (like passing budgets that sustain important programs) have huge impacts for everyday people.  

Yes, the partisan lie we’ve been duped into believing is hurting us and our neighbors.

One thing that is almost universally true about political scandal is that it only benefits the powerful.  And that’s usually because the powerful are the purveyors of the scandal. With the public deception of hyper-partisanship, it is no different. To perpetuate this lie yields virtually no practical benefit for the poor, the working class, and the various minority communities of our country. In fact, it primarily serves to stalemate the government and make impossible the kinds of powerful coalitions that might actually create positive change in our society.  

Hyper-partisanship stands as a wall between more “conservative” rural poor and the poor of more “liberal” urban areas. This is in spite of the fact that these two communities have much more in common than one might readily assume. The scandal precludes even the search for a partnership. 

Perhaps the most ruthless impact of America’s greatest political scandal is the way in which it has served to further divide the body of Christ. It is horrible that there are communities with shared social and economic interests that cannot form coalitions because of the scandal. But, it is simply heartbreaking to think that politics has separated the heaven-bred family called the church.

We have been deceived - and I believe it has been through the deliberate efforts of men and spiritual wickedness - into believing that we as Christians have more in common with our political party than we do with other followers of the way. Disunity weakens the church.  And the church is called to be the “pillar and foundation of truth,” “salt and light” in a dark and dying age.  “If [by reason of broken fellowship on the basis of political difference] the salt has lost its savor, wherewithal can it be salted again?”

America needs the church.  And a divided body cannot be as effective for the nation in which we have been implanted as we would be united. 

The thing, though, that makes a scandal a scandal is when people find out. If President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president were never exposed, any scandalous deed would have gone unnoticed...no scandal.  I think it’s time we blow the whistle on this deception of hyper-partisanship. The wool has been pulled over our collective eyes. When people find out, I think they’re going to be upset.

Chris Butler is an advocate/organizer and the Lead Pastor of Chicago Embassy Church. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Aziza and their four children.