A Blow to My Optimism

I am, and always have been, a hopeless optimist. I always expect that my team will win, that everything will turn out alright. My Christian faith tells me that there is always a light in the darkness and that the darkness will not overcome the light. But my optimism has been dealt a severe blow last week, particularly Thursday evening.

I looked forward to watching the Republican convention and specifically Donald Trump’s long-awaited speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency of the United States. I was sure it would be a time of softening: no more bullying and bragging, juvenile name-calling, playground humiliating and insults, maybe even a little rational explaining of what “winning again” would look like and how it would happen; maybe even a general plan for rolling back ISIS which everybody agrees is a good idea. And I was certain that Mr. Trump, in the spirit of the presidents Bush and Reagan, would lift spirits with words of hope and affirmation.

Instead I watched four nights of relentless negativity and fear-mongering from speaker after speaker, and on Thursday, 75 minutes of bluster, bragging, threatening, fueling fear and feeding anger, a relentless description of my nation as a dark and dangerous place, weak and diminished internationally, with violence and crime on every street, all under a rigged and corrupt system. My physician yesterday morning wondered what country Trump was talking about, Kosovo or Sudan maybe, surely not the United States of America.

My optimism, naively as it turned out, led me to hope that the Republican candidate for president would ask the delegates to turn down the rhetorical heat, to stop the appalling “Lock Her Up” chant and express just a bit of respect for people and a political party with ideas and strategies different from his own, maybe even a tiny hint of regard for the two party system that has served the nation rather well, until recently.

There was, of course, none of that. I am chastened. So is my optimism.

What there was throughout was full-throated, red-in-the-face anger bordering on mob fury, and the loudest applause when…


Political correctness was held up for ridicule,

The promise, and threat, to restore “Law and Order” was made, several times, each time louder and angrier,

The intent to “Build the Wall” was repeated,

And “We are going to start winning again” was shouted,

And, of course, when the presumptive candidate from the other party was demonized.


From my perspective there was a breathtaking tone-deafness about how all of this sounds to Americans who are not white and middle or privileged upper class: how shouting a promise to restore law and order when it comes as an angry threat sounds like “lock up more black people”, how “All Lives Matter” or, worse yet, “White Lives Matter” sounds like “Black Lives Don’t Really Matter” to the African American community at the very moment there was yet another white police officer shooting an unarmed black man, this time a black Behavioral Therapist trying to help his patient, lying in the middle of the street with his hands up. This simply does not happen to white men. Of course police lives matter and attacks on police officers are an attack on all of us and must stop, and we owe police officers respect and gratitude for what they do for us every day.

And there was more tone-deafness to how focusing repeatedly on the threat to public safety from the immigrant community and the promise to build a wall to keep “them” out sounds to Hispanic Americans and to all of us who see the richness contributed to our nation precisely because of our historic hospitality to people coming here with other languages and cultures.

There were proposed radical and dangerous departures from bipartisan American policy and traditional Republican policy, reneging on treaty obligations, threatening to undo the security NATO has provided Europe for 70 years and which General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Commander, patiently explained is very much in the vital security interests of the United States, and a complete reversal of traditional Republican priorities of globalization and free trade.

Most troubling was the level of hate speech. “Hillary for Prison!”….”Lock Her Up” repeatedly erupted from delegates with no word of rebuke from platform or candidate. When a Trump campaign adviser declared that Mrs. Clinton should be tried for treason and shot Trump’s campaign office said merely that it did not agree with that sentiment. After all, the candidate himself has been using that overblown rhetoric for more than a year and has learned about its sad effectiveness.  Chris Christie brought his nastiest prosecutorial skills to the platform pouring even more invective into the conversation.

I pondered the consistent and monumental oversimplification of complex social and political realities. Somehow the suggestion of modest, common sense regulations on the sale and ownership of firearms got translated, “If she gets elected she’ll come after your guns.” No one has ever proposed anything remotely like that. Oversimplification always feeds fear and anger among those who refuse to think.

Mr. Trump is correct that we are in a crisis. But it is not the crisis he attempted to manufacture Thursday night. The very real crisis is the death of a political tradition and party that, for more than a century and a half, produced a reasonable, smart conservative voice and conversation partner and collaborator with the Democratic Party in the critical matter of governing the most powerful nation in the world. It was the party that nominated Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. David Brooks, who makes no secret of his moderate conservatism, wrote “Trump is dismantling the Republican party and replacing it with a personality cult. The G.O.P. is not dividing, it’s ceasing to exist as a coherent institution.”

Will civility and respect and thoughtfulness and fairness and consideration and a concern for Liberty and Justice for All return to the long and amazing story of American politics any time soon?

The eternal optimist in me wants to say “Of course”. But today, I’m not sure. So I am leaning on the biblical promise that sometimes there are journeys in the wilderness and times of exile but the light still shines in the darkness.







  1. Lynn DeJong says:

    Wow, you absolutely nailed it. Wish that I could share this on Facebook with Christian friends who believe it is right to vote for him.

    Lynn DeJong


  2. Tony Volpe says:

    Cheer up John. Your optimism will return when you hear Tim Caine and Hillary speak next week

  3. Linda Akins says:

    Needed to have all my jumbled thoughts from last week’s spectacle put into words. Thank you for doing just that. Only bright light for me last week was that restrictive voter registration laws in my state were overturned by some very smart and fair minded judges.

  4. castaway5555 says:

    John, many thanks … your analysis is clear and even-handed, with the point well made – something is seriously wrong the GOP, and now poses a threat to America. Your comments about optimism and light make great sense. As for the Bible, it isn’t always light and peace; sometimes its loss and exile and death. I hope and pray that we’re not headed in that direction, but, for me, a Trump presidency would be akin to Ahab’s rule of Israel.

  5. Amen, John! I hope it does not come to it, but I am preparing for exile.

  6. Well stated. With one exception. The two party system was doomed to failure upon its inception. The current toxic choices leave only one alternative. Libertarian.

  7. ANNE GUNN says:

    The death of our two-party system helps no one. I agree that this is one of the tragedies, so far, in this election cycle. I wish I felt there wouldn’t be other tragedies. The reminder of “the biblical promise that sometimes there are journeys in the wilderness and times of exile but the light still shines in the darkness” was needed and appreciated. Hold onto the light!

  8. Robin Sharp says:

    Thank you. I am sharing this with friends from my seminary in Pittsburgh. Many feel the same way. I can’t help of thinking of the German Church which supported Hitler as opposed to Bohnhoffer and his friends who stood against the Nazi party.

  9. Caryle Wilkie says:

    Hi John, Thank you for stating so clearly everything that so many of us are appalled by. You state everything so clearly. We need to be willing to stand up, speak up and get out the vote. Your words encourage us to do just that. God Bless you John.

  10. Betty Elphick says:


  11. jack macmullan says:

    As always, great “stuff’.The GOP is a mess, and their candidate a potential disaster. However, i must say that Hillary has lived so much of her professional career in the “grey area”, and I cannot get excited about either candidate. So from my perspective, we are going to vote for the lesser of two poor choices, and America deserves better choices from both parties.

  12. Sorry to be the only person who thinks differently…we welcome “legal” immigrants (like most of our grandparents…at least mine. We need a strong military if we are to defend our country against terrorists. We need people who are knowledgeable to make trade agreements that will benefit Americans. We need manufacturing jobs here in America without government regulations that close our factories…we had a great factory “Fesslers” featured on a few Tvshows cause they were still surviving made in America apparel…now out of business..couldn’t make it due to gov. Regulations under Obama. Yes, it was a serious speech, but take off the rose colored glasses…you would rather vote for a compulsive liar who risked the safety of all Americans? Clinton only wants to make history..when she says “we are working for you”. I want to scream HOW???

  13. Bessie Cox says:

    I have no words for this article and the responses followed.

  14. Ted Davis says:

    Of course you are right, John. The mystery for me has shifted. It is no longer about the Republican nominee himself, although I too am appalled and scared, but about the very large number of people who see his approach as an answer to their concerns.

    For me, optimism (and for that matter, happiness) is a decision to approach the world with optimism regardless of its current state (often completely messed up) — and it is not some calculus about whether things are relatively better or worse than before. Decision not calculus…. Then, like always, it is up to us.

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