As I listened, I first felt myself getting annoyed and agitated with the policies and ideologies and assumptions that run counter to my own thoughts about what is just, free, and good. I found myself again disappointed with statements on immigration that are more concerned with the increased strength and victory of the border guard rather than being concerned with our immigration system and policies - the whole "our best offense is a good defense" mentality. I grew tired of hearing marginal successes inflated to monumental achievements. I grew tired of what felt like fake or forced statements about the success of bipartisan measures.
But just about the point that I was feeling the most frustrated, I realized that there was a distinct pattern to what was being said. And it helped me recast the speech in a more understanding and even compassionate light, despite my personal disagreements with some of its content.
The bulk of the speech was framed in terms of a clear-cut "us and them," or "us and it" mentality. Good and evil were clear-cut. Right and wrong were black and white. Wins and losses were obvious. The whole speech was a matter of being convicted about the good (and confidently hopeful in it) and about fighting to preserve that good in the midst of everything that would seek to trample it. Fighting evil to preserve good. Added to this was a fierce patriotism that viewed America as the (sole?) vehicle of good for the world.
"We must trust in the ability of free peoples to make wise decisions and empower them to improve their lives for their futures. "(Introductory remarks)All of these statements embody a deep-seated belief that good and evil are real entities, and that life is a constant fight between them. They embody the belief that good and evil are clearly and easily defined. They embody the belief that good always exists under the threat of evil - a threat which the good must constantly and vigilantly work to stamp out.
"So we must come together, pass this agreement, and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life." (Speaking about agreements with Colombia)
"Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace. In the last seven years, we have witnessed stirring moments in the history of liberty. We've seen citizens in Georgia and Ukraine stand up for their right to free and fair elections. We've seen people in Lebanon take to the streets to demand their independence. We've seen Afghans emerge from the tyranny of the Taliban and choose a new president and a new parliament. We've seen jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers and celebrating their freedom. These images of liberty have inspired us." (Introduction to his remarks on foreign policy)
"The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists -- evil men who despise freedom, despise America and aim to subject millions to their violent rule. Since 9/11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists. We will stay on the offense. We will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to our enemies. We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear."
"The enemy has made its intentions clear....My fellow Americans, we will not rest either. We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated."
"America's leading the fight against global poverty..."
"America is leading the fight against global hunger..."
"America is leading the fight against disease...."
"By trusting the people, our founders wagered that a great and noble nation could be built on the liberty that resides in the hearts of all men and women. By trusting the people, succeeding generations transformed our fragile young democracy into the most powerful nation on earth and a beacon of hope for millions."
And the turning point for me, in hearing the speech's tendency toward such a stark dualism, was when I realized that George W. Bush's politics themselves and even his approach to politics/political conversation arise out of a particular worldview that arises out of a particular theological bent.
There is a thriving brand of theology in which good and evil are just that simple. God is good, Satan/the devil is evil, and all of life is a struggle to resist the power of the devil and to cling to God's goodness. It is a theology that makes a very real distinction between the pre-saved life and the post-saved life. It is a theology that takes conversion very seriously - converting from the sinful, evil life to the good life transformed by Christ. It is a theology that stresses increased moral perfection in the lives of the saved, since our transformation by faith in Christ demands that we reject all of our former, evil ways.
When this is your theology, it is your worldview, and it therefore impacts the way that you approach all issues in life, whether or not you realize it. I came to the conclusion, therefore, that this year's State of the Union was actually more of a sermon than it was a political speech. It was a treatise on the ongoing fight between God's good intentions and the devil's evil ones. Every issue has a clear-cut solution because good (God) and evil (the devil) are clear-cut.
I'm not saying this to be sarcastic or facetious. Not at all.
I'm saying it because I found that I had more compassion with Bush and his politics when I realized that our disagreements have less to do with contentious politics and more to do with what we mean when we speak of God's goodness.
I don't have the same theological worldview - I don't see brokenness and death and evil as powers to be defeated as much as I see them as the terrible after-effects of sin and the fall. I don't see good and evil as clear-cut in this world, because I am always both sinner and redeemed. I don't see life as a fight against evil as much as a continued sharing of God's goodness and grace through acts of compassion and transformation. My redeemed/reconciled/converted condition is nothing over which I can boast, nor is it anything over which I can claim any power. Saved by God's grace, I live in gratitude. I am therefore more an agent of spreading the news of God's grace than an agent of winning people over to the side of the good with the intent of fighting the evil.
And so in this way, I have made peace with all of my grumblings last night. Not because I agree with everything that has been happening in our government, but because both George W. Bush and I are daily faced with the same question: "What does it mean for me to let my faith impact the way I interact with the world on its behalf?" It doesn't mean that I'm happy that we have answered the question in strikingly different ways, and it doesn't mean that I don't think that such a dualistic, militaristic view hasn't proved harmful. But it does mean that I'm grateful that we've both been posed such an important question, and that we will continue to wrestle with it until God's New Jersualem descends upon this earth.