Our nation is deeply divided. Tearing a speech in half is not going to fix things. Repairing roads and building bridges might.
President Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday evening at a historic moment. He spoke in the midst of the confused Iowa caucuses and the lead-up to his acquittal by the U.S. Senate.
Some of his address was surprising. The reaction to most of it was not surprising … with one exception.
No sooner did Trump conclude his address than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stood, held up several pages of her copy of his address and ripped them in half—followed by a few more pages and a few more and a few more.
As I watched, I was sure that wasn’t a strange tradition I hadn’t noticed before. Since I was watching a recording of the address after our kids were in bed, I replayed the scene to make sure I saw what I thought I saw.
Sure enough, Pelosi ripped Trump’s speech in half right behind his back.
Before I could jump on Twitter to see if others were surprised, I heard Judy Woodruff, anchor of the PBS NewsHour, express her surprise at seeing Pelosi tear up Trump’s address. No, this wasn’t some strange tradition I hadn’t noticed before. This was something extraordinary.
Tearing what’s already torn
I understand why Pelosi tore up Trump’s speech. The two of them have not had a productive relationship in, well, ever. They regularly spar, or worse. Beyond their embittered relationship, though, are the details of Trump’s address. Pelosi ripped up Trump’s speech, in large part, in response to his claims she and her fellow Democrats consider false, exaggerated or misleading.
A full transcript of Trump’s State of the Union address, along with thorough fact-checking is available at NPR. The Associated Press and FactCheck.org, among others, also provide fact-checking of the address.
While Pelosi and Democrat legislators disagreed with most of what Trump said, few things seemed to raise their hackles like his comments about healthcare. Pelosi appeared particularly disturbed when Trump said, “I’ve made an ironclad pledge to American families, we will always protect patients with preexisting conditions.”
In light of the Trump administration arguing in federal court that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and ought to be struck down, Democrats don’t believe he means what he said.
In response to what she took to be meaningless words, Pelosi tore his speech in half.
Oh, yes, she made quite a statement. It made for good TV, as did Trump by surprising Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Amy Williams and her children with the return home from Afghanistan of her husband, Sgt. First Class Townsend Williams.
But the nation doesn’t need good TV. The nation doesn’t need one more tear in its fabric. We need builders and connectors again.
What nearly everyone agrees on
Not everything Trump said received a polarized response. A few things he said brought cheers and applause all around. One of those things—perhaps the one eliciting the strongest bipartisan agreement—was infrastructure.
Everyone agrees we need to address and improve our nation’s infrastructure. Most of the first part of Trump’s address—the economy—rests on the nation’s infrastructure.
But while he and the legislature talk about roads, bridges and the internet, what we really need is a much more substantial infrastructure. What we really need is a depth of character and connection not being demonstrated by very many of our leaders right now.
Our leaders have coalesced around opposite poles. Their connection or loyalty is to their side, rarely if ever beyond that. Their character is consistent with their ideology, rarely if ever deeper than that.
And it’s not just our leaders. After all, our leaders come from us. Yes, they represent us. They also reflect us.
If we want our government to look and behave differently, then we need to look and behave differently.
Let Washington figure out how to appropriate funds for asphalt, concrete, steel and wires.
In the meantime, we have more important work to do. We have roads to repair and bridges to build our government doesn’t seem equipped to produce.
The kind of infrastructure that lasts
Thankfully, there are people among us who are repairing the kind of roads and building the sort of bridges we need most of all.
These people are banding together across theological, political and social lines to address immigration and to care for others along the U.S./Mexico border. They are joining forces in initiatives like Faith Fosters Texas to provide for the most vulnerable of our children. They are collaborating to bring their strengths together to provide the greatest benefit possible to those they serve here and around the world.
These groups have significant differences, but they all have one thing in common—Jesus Christ. Their spirit of cooperation and civility and their example of other-centered care is the kind of road repair and bridge building we need.
The greatness of their efforts doesn’t ebb and flow with the whims of the stock market. Their work doesn’t find its glory in economic prosperity and military might. The fruit of the people whose common bond is Jesus Christ is eternal fruit, an infrastructure that lasts.
Infrastructure nothing can tear apart
Followers of Christ can repair the needed roads and build the necessary bridges. Those people who believe they are the body of Christ and that they are to “seek the welfare of the city,” to care for “the least of these” and to serve one another, they have the ability to be the infrastructure that’s needed.
From the Scripture Christians read and the Holy Spirit living in them, followers of Christ know what civility and accountability are. They know what human dignity, decency and respect are and where they find their source. They know about compassion, wisdom, faithfulness and cooperation. They know who and what holds a people together.
But many have forgotten. Many have let their strength in Christ atrophy. Many look just like those in the House Chamber Tuesday night—clamoring for worldly glory and greatness, bickering with one another about how to get it, tearing each other in half over the details.
Infrastructure, though. Infrastructure, we agree on. We might actually come together over infrastructure.
Infrastructure is more than roads, bridges and wires. Infrastructure is what keeps us connected, moving and growing. The infrastructure we need is what Christians are at their best—co-laborers in Christ, living out his gospel in the world in word and deed.
Our leaders may succeed in giving us new asphalt, concrete, steel and wires, but they can’t give us what we really need.
Followers of Christ, we can be what our nation needs. Will we tear each other in half behind our backs, or will we be the body of Christ indeed?
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.