Editors: Channeling election angst

As this year’s presidential primary season began, pundits tried to account for the rising poll numbers for two candidates outside their party establishments: the Republican Donald J. Trump, who had never run for office, and Senator Bernard Sanders, running for the first time as a Democrat after identifying as an independent or minor-party candidate since he first sought office in the 1970s.

Both candidates have drawn enthusiastic followers. Their constituencies have many differences, but both groups share a dissatisfaction with the current political process and deep unease about the future. Mr. Trump has been especially popular among white working-class voters who have seen big changes in American life and now feel a loss of control. Mr. Sanders’s supporters tend to be young and new to political involvement; their issues relate to their future. What can they hope to do or to be? Where will their country be when they reach middle age? Whether the mood of either camp is more properly characterized as angry or frustrated, both camps are looking to shake up the system. And the messages of both candidates resonate with voters who are ready to push the “reset” button on politics. 


Some pundits respond, perhaps condescendingly, that things are not really so bad. Unemployment and inflation are low, as are gasoline prices. The economy limps forward. Still, there is reason for the frustration and the anger, and the country can benefit from setting clear, urgent priorities for the next president and Congress. Wages are stagnant, and income inequality is growing. Upward mobility seems an increasingly elusive goal. The cost of a college education leaves graduates burdened with debt for decades. Health care costs continue to soar, and the homeownership rate is dropping. People are getting by, but they are not getting ahead.

The frustration over a lack of economic advancement is magnified when voters see an unresponsive political system and a lack of progress in our political conversation. Voters feel left out of a process that has politicians seeking and depending upon ever-increasing sums of money to attain and hold on to elected office. The big political donors, and the shadowy political action committees that generate so many campaign ads, stymie reform measures. 

We do not yet know how the anger and the enthusiasm for unconventional candidates will affect this year’s election. To believe that any new president, even with the best of ideas, can resolve our most contentious issues is naïve. But we must acknowledge the legitimate fears and the near-hopelessness held by so many voters. Even if one does not share this feeling, it is out there, living among family and friends and colleagues, and it will not go away without a willingness to engage not just with the political process but with one another. 

There is something commendable in the search for public officials who do get it right, who do care for the people they serve. Complacency on the part of the comfortable, expressed in a resigned “Washington is a mess, but my congressman returns my calls” helped to get us to where we are. It has prevented us from finding nonpartisan common ground on issues like campaign finance, redistricting and ways to hold longtime incumbents accountable for their records.

The Ignatian tradition urges occasional withdrawal into solitude—not to escape the world, but to learn what is really going on within oneself and within society. It does not take long to see that frustration and anger are part of what is going on in contemporary America. These emotions can be legitimate responses to injustice or feelings of powerlessness; they should not be ignored. But neither should they be given permanent status. The saturation of social media in modern life threatens to constantly turn up the anger, the perception of slights from political opponents and other people with whom we have no real contact. Voters must not simply react, one tweet or one dollar at a time, to the situation we face. We must take time to put things in perspective so that we can move forward creatively and in the context of community. 

St. Ignatius’ suggestion for regular downtime finds modern counterparts. Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, advised the 2012 graduating class at Boston University: “Remember to take at least one hour a day and turn that [technology] off.... Take your eyes off the screen, and look into the eyes of the person you love.” More recently, Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., the Jesuit superior general, advised in an interview with America: “Try to enjoy silence. If you come to enjoy silence, being alone, then you will find out that you are not alone. Then you can start a conversation.” This conversation—charitable, just, action-oriented, informed by love, reflection and respect—is what our nation needs. Let us look within, then reach out and begin.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
2 years 11 months ago
Do the editors really want an open and honest discussion in our society let alone on this website? I doubt it. It may be too discomforting. Why is there so much discontent in the richest country in the world with so much economic goods at our disposal. Where the main physical problem is obesity not starvation, where nearly everyone has a smart phone and access to all the entertainment one could ever have hoped for just 20 years ago. Economically, we must be doing something right, just not as much as our insatiable appetites want. Since the mid 1970's about 40 million legal immigrants have come to the US, let alone the unknown millions that are here illegally. They validate that here is the source of economic paradise. So why so much discontent? Maybe it is not economic poverty but a culturally and spiritual poverty that is happening which could lead to an economic poverty if we are not careful. Listen to this short broadcast from 50 years ago and see if it does not ring true. http://bit.ly/1SlAB0O I doubt that many of the editors and authors on this site really want an honest debate. As I said, it might be too discomforting.
Lawrence McDonald
2 years 11 months ago
I tend to be known as a pretty good reader, but don't really see that anything at all is being said in this editorial. The first commenter may well be correct: open discussion is not wanted. This country is in crisis- economic, cultural, social, spiritual. And political. We are inundated with lies told by liars, continuously. Groups are set against one another savagely. The political polls are a disgrace with regard to standards of research. The "pundits" (are there still serious people who listen or give any credence at at all to them?) Why are they even mentioned in an editorial of what should be a journal of serious thought? This editorial is simply not quality discourse, nor is it useful.
Richard Booth
2 years 11 months ago
I tend to agree about the superficiality of this editorial, in that most of what is written here has been over-talked/over-written so much that most people have already heard/read it in one form or another. Moreover, as we know, the Ignation suggestion of inner silence and reflection is common not merely to the Google executive but, more importantly, to equally old or older Christian and non-Christian traditions than that of Ignatius. However, the former notwithstanding, inner silence can be a curative for fear, which fuels frustration, anxiety, anger, and violence. It is old wisdom in a world of noise. But, taking up the banner of wisdom and good judgment is not exactly the historical marker of human beings. For those who may not have read it but are particularly interested in a deeper exploration of solitude, I would recommend the book "Solitude: A Return to the Self" by Anthony Storr (1988). Unfortunately, most are too hurried, preoccupied, and extrinsic to engage in the personal peace that allows us to see more clearly ways to solve our problems, elect integrated persons to high office, and give comfort to the many who feel absolutely overwhelmed by non-responsive others.


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