“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:23-24)
The Boat of Purity and Ease, made of marble, sits at the north end Kunming Lake at Beijing’s Summer Palace. Legend has it that it represents Wei Zheng’s saying that “the waters that float the boat can also swallow it,” implying that the people can support the emperor but can also topple him. Leaders who ignore this reality engender mistrust and foment unrest. Peggy Noonan’s article, “Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected,” is an echo of that ancient wisdom.
In her article, Noonan talks about the growing divisions in America differently than I have heard until now. She says it is not Democrat versus Republican, but the protected versus the unprotected. She says that this is why the rise of Trump and Sanders is happening. It is a reaction to an elite political class in our nation (who she calls the protected). They are insulated from the effects of their own policies. They increase the reach of government — intrusively with controls rather than supportively with improvements. Their kids go to private schools. They live in privileged communities. As government workers, they are essentially our employees. But have they taken their roles to serve us seriously? Their fortune grows while the nation suffers. They share a different world than the rank and file of this nation (who Noonan calls the unprotected) and they are increasingly isolated from it.
That is why they and their wealthy friends in media and entertainment do not understand what the common people, the unprotected, of this nation do understand — that we owe them no loyalty. They have enjoyed a blessed lifestyle that fattens their calves without doing anything about the economy that is impacting a majority of this country’s citizens. They sow division in this country along their own prescribed lines. But the unprotected are beginning to see through it. Despite their manipulations, we do not live in a country divided primarily by race or class, but by an economy of the privileged and the not-so-privileged. You would not know that by the tin ear of the policy makers, but rather by the prevailing common sense of a people who have to absorb the impact of their neglect.
In the biblical quote above, Amos warned the entitled rulers of his day that they cannot continue to manipulate the majority of people in the nation while enriching themselves. Justice for a few is no justice at all. God Himself will deal with such unrighteousness. “Let justice roll down like waters,” filling the plain with good fruit… lifting all boats.
We have come a long way from the words of John F. Kennedy in 1963 that “a rising tide lifts all boats” (meaning that improvements in the country’s economy benefit everyone). But the notion is not “trickle-down economics.” Kennedy believed that government economic policy should focus on creating a macroeconomic environment wherein the most people could benefit from policies that produced growth. Our national boat is sinking! We see very little attention being paid by their fellow media elite to the economic plans of the candidates, but people instinctively know who is and who is not going to change the status quo that the political class is compelled to maintain for its own advantage.
The protected are convinced that they need to shore up the world they have created for themselves. Power and influence have served them well. They don’t want anyone to rock the boat. But as a nation rejects their rule, they are the ones who will miss the boat. And this boat we are in together is up for some serious rocking.
I grew up in a different era. Some things that we had regarded as common sense have been turned upside-down. The world is changing. This nation is changing. Young people have a different outlook — a different ethos. Folks my age can neither criticize it nor lament it… it just is. This generation is coming up under very different circumstances and is adapting to different realities. Common sense to them is not the same as it is to us. But in this one case we are in the same boat. We share the same economy that is impacted by the leaders we elect. I encourage this upcoming generation to pay very careful attention to the economic policies of the candidates. Some are going to maintain the status quo. They’ll tweak it a bit, but it will not change much. Some will change it significantly — sea changes if they can. The long-term effects will be felt by the very generation that is most likely to decide this next election. To them I say, “Do your homework. Choose wisely. Grab an oar and let’s point this boat to shore.”