American values: a conversation worth having

Various people have asked my opinion on the current political situation in our country. These kind people have said that they thought I would have an interesting viewpoint, or that they valued my perspective, or that they wondered where I stood. It sounds like a setup to me!

I spent the first four months of 2017 (and the Trump administration) in military training as part of a small group of 15 mid-level military officers. As various national and international events unfolded, there were many robust discussions. People outside the military might assume those conversations would go one particular way. They did not follow a stereotype, not any of them. Nearly every viewpoint you might find across America was represented among those 15 military officers.

Those 15 people in that class, you could say they are not ordinary Americans. They are people who care so deeply about service that they raised their right hand to take an oath. Most of them have served 15 or more years in the military. Every single one of them has deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, or Kuwait; many have done so multiple times over the past decade. They are people who care so deeply they have walked away from their homeland and their loved ones to serve.

My point isn’t to romanticize military service. There are many ways to make the United States a better place. Many callings weave together to make America great. I think my point is simpler but also more profound. If people such as mid-career military officers who share basic commitments, values, and service can not agree about what’s right and wrong with America, it ought to show us how hard it’s going to be to agree on the answers and even before that to agree on the questions when it comes to politics in America.

AMERICAN VALUES: TRUTH

I remember as a kid watching the nightly news spoken with authority by people like Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. Whatever has led to the unraveling, people who still trust news coming from their television tend to be partisan. They are people of Fox or people of CNN or people of some other media outlet.

We are in a crisis of truth anymore. The only source we trust is the source which tows the line of what we agree with. There are not facts anymore, only interpretation. America has gone tribal, and our tribes are organized around our politics.If you dare step across the line on any one issue, people from a particular camp won’t trust you anymore. From my standpoint as someone who believes there are actual facts and there is a moral reality out there (whether we can agree about it or not), we live in a culture unhinged from reality. The real trailblazers in our society are those who are willing to acknowledge facts that are inconvenient to them or their cause.

AMERICAN VALUES: COMPROMISE

If you talk to partisans in America today, the answer to our problems is people of principle in power. I think we need people in power who are principled enough to find common values and priorities. If the United States can’t start consistently balancing a budget, all the arguments about what to spend money on and what not to spend money on are going to be a moot point.

Because Congress can’t work together to make America a better place, the White House has increasingly turned to executive orders. The result we saw from the Obama administration to the Trump administration is a pendulum swing. If the polarization in our country doesn’t give way to some sort of moderate center soon, the pendulum swings between administrations will become more and more severe.

There are things I want from Congress. I’d like to live in a country where there is as much freedom as possible for as many people as possible. My preference would be for government safety nets to efficiently and effectively help the most vulnerable members of our society get to their feet. I want to see our government value and respect life across the board. But I recognize that the greater good (than getting precisely what I want) might be for our elected leaders to work together for positive change.

AMERICAN VALUES: COURAGE

If we want a better political climate in America, it’s going to take courage. This will be the courage to listen more and talk less. It will be the courage to give up some personal preferences in order for there to be progress for the greater good. And it will be the courage to work here and now for a better future. I hope I have that kind of courage. And I hope you do too.

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Dr. Jon Wymer

Jon works as the pastor of York Evangelical Free Church in York, Nebraska. He also serves part-time as a chaplain in the Nebraska Army National Guard and at Nebraska Methodist College in Omaha.