The great thing about being a superhero is the special superpowers you have. Oh, and looking good in colourful tights is probably nice but, you know, I can’t confirm or deny that… When I was a kid I sometimes pretended I was Batman but the old pink blanket I used for a cape wasn’t quite the costume I needed to succeed. Anyway, there’s something that we crave in those complicated characters who can fly, spin webs, see with x-ray vision, use secret technology, and the like. The whole act seems pretty awesome and the bonus is you can rid the world of evil while you’re at it! But as we sometimes see in the stories, real power isn’t like that. Not quite that thrilling and certainly not that powerful. And actually in the real world power is quite dangerous.
Here in Ontario we are nicely into the hot, intense weeks before our provincial election to choose who will have power for the next four years. The incumbent Ontario Liberal Party led by Kathleen Wynne, has been in power for a couple of terms and are either loved for their generosity and social conscience or vilified for their use of big government and it’s first cousin, debt. Their primary competitor is the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, led by newly elected Doug Ford and the Ontario New Democratic Party is a player as well.
There is also an interesting cluster of other special interest parties running in limited capacity; here is the complete list because it’s so interesting (my three favourite party names italicized): Cultural Action Party, Canadians Choice Party, Communist Party, Equal Parenting Party, Freedom Party, Green Party, None of the Above Party, Northern Ontario Party, Ontario Alliance Party, Ontario Libertarian Party, Ontario Moderate Party, Ontario Confederation of Regions Party, Party of People for Special Needs, Pauper Party, The People’s Political Party, Trillium Party, Stop the Sex Ed Agenda, Vegan Environmental Party.
Can there really be that many strong differences in one province? Some of them seem fairly specific in their interests (pretty sure the Stop the Sex Ed Agenda Party has their platform nailed down), while others are more philosophical (Communist Party – I thought we already tried that way back in the 20th century). The major parties actually overlap their platforms but vehemently disagree anyway. What they all have in common is their certainty and their quest for power. Not all are prepared to hold power, but all want to have power.
Cheryl and I watched the last part of the leader’s debate on television last night and I particularly noted three things. First, they seem fine with talking over top of each other. Apparently interrupting, raising your voice and speaking at the same time as your opponent is an acceptable way of showing you are stronger, nobler, more righter (?). Unfortunately it is also impossible to understand what’s being said so it’s not helpful for the voters it’s intended for. But equally, it dilutes reasonable discourse on subjects of importance and leaves us where we started with opposing views and little else to work with.
Second, I’m not sure what everybody was fighting about. Seems like they are all in favour of the same things: affordable housing, lower taxes, better health care, higher wages, shorter hospital wait times, protected green spaces, opportunity for business, etc. I know, I know, the differences are about how to get there but still, wouldn’t it be great if our leaders could operate in a complementary atmosphere instead of a confrontational and authoritarian one?
Third, the small partisan crowd in the studio slowly became my focus as, visually to me at least, they seemed to believe that their safety and comfort could come from the arguing people in front of them. I’m sure that’s not true of each person but honestly, who goes to the studio to watch a leaders debate? Huh? Who? Huh? Exactly. People with a personal investment of some sort and they want to feel empowered. Word today is that there were some paid volunteers in the audience…
That’s why Trump is in the White House against any reasonable odds. A diverse faction of voters felt that they weren’t being heard and their alienation caused them to hold their noses and vote for this President. They believed that solutions to their frustrations were to be found in a new voice of power in Washington.
But why do people vote for people they don’t like? Or run for office and spend their days listening to criticism and defending themselves against partisan attacks and insults? Why do incumbent politicians run up debt with tasty morsels before an election? Why do political hopefuls make promises we all agree they won’t keep? Power.
I know the U.S. is a peace-loving country and the reasonable thing was for the U.S. military to get their budget number this year because it’s expensive to protect ourselves, obviously. We need a bigger Red Button and shiny toys that let us fight battles from back here. “The United States spends more on national defense than the next seven countries combined (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan*).” Have a look at the following link, keeping in mind that the graphic is a bit dated since Trump recently approved a new, larger $700 billion budget. Power. 0053_defense-comparison
Today the Attorney General of New York resigned because of a pattern of violence to women. And finger-pointing followed because he is a Democrat and Republicans need to take advantage. He, along with Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Bill Cosby and so many others assumed their power protected them.
Power is addictive in politics, business and even religion and family. I’m the boss. My word is final. I’m the head of this church, denomination, college, program, department, house. I make the decisions. Yeah, I own that. Watch TV, a movie, read a book – themes of power. With few exceptions even those who seem weak need to become strong to overcome. Power is the ultimate goal.
We even just like to be close to power; my tribe is stronger than your tribe, ‘pick me!’. Why else do people need to impress the boss or be on a committee or belong to any like-minded group? Why else do we want our team to win? Why else do people continue to lie for the President or vote party-line against their own morals?
History is full of the dangers of power, from emperors, monarchs, generals and dictators to colonization, slavery, child labour, and foot soldiers dying in wars of ego. In church history the same is true beginning with Constantine, the (crazy?) Roman emperor who adopted Christianity and began to legislate and formalize it. He married government and faith and formed Christianity into the official religion of the empire, then inserted Roman and pagan practices into the pure, simple (and successful) lifestyle of the Christian way. I don’t have the time to cover it here but religious history is strewn with dirty popes and religious leaders who controlled resources, censored information, held people hostage for money and manipulated the masses through threats of hell and violence. Power in the name of God. Of course it’s also the story of brave people who resisted and stood up against the rule of political and religious powers: the martyrs, William Tyndale, Joan of Arc, Galileo, Martin Luther and the Reformers just to scratch the surface.
I could go on and on. Struggles for power are everywhere. Power is an idol, you know.
Most people assume the Bible has fairly simple themes of religious wisdom, rules of how to act, heaven and hell, the church, end times, etc. and there is some truth to that, but scholars point out a larger theme all through Scripture that many are not aware of – the dangers of power.
Think about it: after creation Adam and Eve want to be like God; people build the Tower of Babel to have a mountain to live on like the gods do; Israel wants a king like the other nations but most of them abuse their power beginning with Saul, David and Solomon. Joseph, Moses, Daniel and the prophets struggle against it.
Later in the narrative confronting power is a major theme of Jesus. He brings with him a new lens with which to view power but is punished nevertheless. That, by the way, turns out to be Good News.
To be continued…
*Peter G. Peterson Foundation: https://www.pgpf.org