Divided by purity politics: Why squabbling among progressives is pushing democracy into the Abyss
This should be easy. We have just endured the most corrupt, inept, and relentlessly predatory presidential administration in our history. We have witnessed a willfully and tragically mismanaged public health crisis and a coordinated insurrection designed to overturn an election and install a despot.
We have watched an extremist minority commandeer the highest court in our nation and mount an unprecedented repeal of the rights of women, of environmental protections, of voting rights.
The coming election should be the slam dunk of the century, but it isn’t. We should be easily coalescing around our collective values, but we aren’t. We should be rising up together to eradicate this fascism en masse — but we’re not.
That’s because the Left has a purity problem and if we don’t get over it, it’s going to destroy us.
Republican leadership across this country is declaring open war on diversity, on education, on the legitimacy of our elections. Our checks and balances are nonfunctioning, our systems of protection have been compromised—and we are warring with one another.
Our daily newsfeeds are is littered with knee-jerk Liberal objections to mainstream candidates and vice-versa: questionable past behavior, one-time verbal gaffes, or previous political positions that we’ve decided are certain deal-breakers. We immediately disqualify potential allies in the name of our personal values or religious beliefs, allowing no gray space of compromise, no personal evolution for people, and no possibility of future alignment with them. We passionately partner in the work of our adversaries.
Worse, we easily find ourselves violently fighting with one another over matters that are in fact trivial, when compared with all that hangs in the balance. As I watch tribes of deeply entrenched advocates of candidates warring with other Democrats over semantics and minutia, I realize we’re not paying attention to our recent history at all.
Meanwhile, the other side is simply circling the wagons, making concessions, consolidating power, and gaining traction—spirituality and morality and virtue be damned. This is why we’re where we are today.
For all their sermonizing and finger-wagging, Conservatives have never allowed their personal morality to get in the way of a political win. We saw this played out in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Prior to Donald Trump announcing his candidacy, any self-respecting Evangelical would have declared a three-time married serial adulterer with multiple bankruptcies and a history of racist statements and predatory business practices—the complete antithesis of Jesus. What a difference a few months made.
As Trump’s political stock rose, their religious convictions began to miraculously evaporate in the light of political opportunity. Celebrity evangelists who previously claimed to abhor everything he represented, suddenly and gladly leased out their megachurch pulpits, social media platforms, and Christian University commencement stages.
It turns out when the devil actually does bring you to the mountaintop and shows you what you get in exchange for your soul—your solid rock theology is a lot more like jello.
Politicians like Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, who at first made vehement, impassioned assaults on Trump’s character, intellect, and suitability to lead — have found themselves falling over one another to bow at his feet and kiss his ring — willingly discarding their previous disgust and gladly auctioning off their souls for a space in the bed of a powerful man who they are willing to sleep with for the shiny trinkets of power, position, and opportunity he gives them.
Professed Christians who’ve spent their entire lives loudly brandishing their family values, devotion to God, and steadfast commitment to the ways of Jesus — have proven themselves able to shove all that in a closet, hold their noses, and play dumb.
That has been the story for the past few years of this American story: millions of people on the Right trading in their personal and religious values for the coming of a kleptocratic kingdom they will all benefit from. They have sacrificed their individual convictions on the altar of the bigger win — or at least, what seems like victory in the moment.
I’m not asking moderates and progressives and liberals and Left-leaning believers to do that. I’m not suggesting we collectively sell our souls the way our counterparts have.
We are different from our political and religious adversaries, precisely because we are more committed to our personal convictions than to purchasing influence. We do stand for something greater than empty pulpit pounding and phony public histrionics about Christianity under attack or returning to our days or former supremacist glory.
We are driven by moral and spiritual prompts that refuse to align with monsters or horde a consuming power that will corrupt us. We aren’t fueled by a contempt that would snap its finger and wipe out everyone else.
But if we can’t lay down our all-or-nothing, my candidate or no candidate purity and set aside our strident virtue in order to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against a formidable threat — we’re soon going to find ourselves with no voice whatsoever.
Rank-and-File Democrats, this is bigger than you. Frustrated Progressives, this is bigger than you. Defiant Third Party holdouts, this is bigger than you. Exhausted abstainers, this is bigger than you. Ambivalent moderates of all parties, this is bigger than you.
We all need to understand how urgent these moments are. We need to stop killing our allies with friendly fire and we need to discard the inconsequential battles of preference so that we can win the singularly vital war of which we all will prosper.
When our republic is secured and our essential liberties are restored, then we can go about the necessary and very attainable work of navigating our differences to renovate America into something we all can take pride in.
But if we fail to confront this existential threat because we are distracted and divided by moral litmus tests, lazy squabbling, and performative purity politics, we will have all squandered the moment in front of us.
We need to win together because when we win, life and the planet and the future does too. It’s time we pulled ourselves together.
The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com
John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.