It’s election time. It seems that the U.S.A. has been in almost-election mode for the last six months, with only another 14 months to go. Canada has dropped the writ for an election 40 days hence, ironically suggesting the biblical period of a time of trial and testing. Britain may soon go to the polls. As I write this column, Israel is in the final stages before the election that will be completed by the time it is printed. At stake in these elections is more than just whether there should be more or less government intervention in the economy – at stake is the very way the voters view the world and their place in it.
Elections are often focused on economic concerns and priorities. The end of Reaganomics and 12 years of Republican presidency in the U.S.A. came with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992; the single biggest factor in that election was summed up in one of the Democratic election mantras, which became popularized as the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!” The Canadian shift between Liberal and Conservative governments over the last generation has generally represented the concern of the voters with inflation, recession, unemployment, deficit and other economic indicators. Despite attempts by parties to set out larger visions of the future, the concern of many people has been with the bottom line, perhaps one reason why voter turnout has consistently run at under 70 per cent of the electorate over the last 30 years.
As I look at the emerging national issues in Canada and other nations, and the perspective and postures of various political groups here at home and around the world, I have come to realize that current elections carry significance beyond the organization of the economy. The issues and their presentation should cause us to think as never before about the very way we see ourselves, our world and our place in it. We should be conscious of the planet we live on and our need to care for it; we can be mindful of how we see our responsibilities to others, especially the least and most marginal among us, as well as our neighbours in the global community in which we live.
Priorities will differ among us, but we are all aware of the many things that demand our attention and response: climate change, poverty and the never-ending refugee crisis are among the concerns that can chart the political course for where we are going as a nation, who we are and who we wish to become. Will this nation be a leader and a model for the world in working for rights, peace, health and environmental concern, or will we all put our heads down and think only about economic advantage, financial security and personal well-being? Or worse, will we start to think about preserving the political and social advantages of a particular group of people at the expense of others? Will we consider issues such as gay and transgender rights not just as isolated issues, but as issues that represent the way we envision our society? Will we consider the environment not simply as the source of economic benefit in our lifetimes, but as the place in which we and future generations will live? Will we think about tax rates or social responsibilities?
There is a heightened duality in western nations; conservative agendas are being increasingly propelled by a populism that rejects authority and reason, that is fearful of losing cultural and social power, and finds strength in attempts to further marginalize those already at the edges. Questions are raised about large-reaching progressive visions and whether they are realistic or sustainable. While in previous elections political parties would offer different ways to address common concerns and reach common goals, this year it seems there is little agreement on opposing sides about even what the major issues are, never mind how we might respond.
In the biblical narrative, the Israelites fleeing oppression in Egypt wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, 40 being the biblical symbol of a time of testing and trial. As they finally crossed the Jordan River, the national leader Joshua stood before them and asked them who they would serve, and asked them to choose wisely. We will wander in what we hope is not a wilderness of political appeals; at the end of 40 days of what we might consider a time of testing and trial, we must also choose wisely. Our nation may well be at a crossroads, in which we can choose not only who will serve us, but how we will live and what our nation should become. Choose wisely.