Dead Men Walking
Editor’s Note: We began our series on Energy with a journal from a current congressional staffer on sustainable human energy. The writer outlined the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of every human—and how in politics, too often we’re depleted in all four categories. We’re reduced to dead men walking.
How do we turn this story around? Another current congressional staffer takes a deeper look at the energy that drives us in politics, and reaches a powerful conclusion. But first we have to recognize the sad reality that the country watches with anxious regret as American politicos repeatedly choose dysfunction. And working on the inside, we prop up our own dysfunctional leadership, character, motives—and the list goes on—so that we can sustain our sense of self-importance.
Deep down, we hate the way we operate in politics. But we refuse to give up on the games we play because we’re desperate for power and the façade of significance it brings.
Playing political games and the constant cycle of burnout both stem from the same root. We don’t know what freedom is, despite our songs that make us feel otherwise. We need a new anthem to wake us up. We can live: walking death has no power over us now. Every political engagement can be energized by a powerful belief: LIBERATUS—we are set free.
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
The death of idealism is one of the saddest fatalities.
I’ve heard people talk of dead-men-walking politicos–men and women who came to Washington years ago with the fire in the belly and a cause on their lips, but somehow transfigured over time into cynical power brokers angling to exploit the next crisis.
In fact, one of my mentors warned me about this during my first year on the Hill: “You’ve got to be a little insane to go into politics. Most people enter it with high ideals and lofty goals, only to be sorely disappointed by gridlock and brokered deals. It wears them down until they lose the fire and have to quit.”
Before working in politics, I truly believed this would never happen to me. With conviction in my heart (along with more ambition than I care to admit), I arrived on Capitol Hill with the desire to be part of something big. To play a role in “turning this country around.”
But it wasn’t enough. Three months after that conversation with my mentor, I wrote the following entry in my journal that captured nearly a year of reflection after joining the political fray:
Life in D.C. changed after God provided employment. It was like a light switched on, and I was suddenly ushered into the crux of a city defined by competition, power, and perception…As soon as I got a job – particularly on the Hill – I saw what everyone has been saying my whole life: Washington is a dangerous place…
The never-ending debate is on the role of government in society. There are two fundamentally opposing views, expressed and argued ad nauseam. Yet the debate never ends. Perceptions and narratives characterize opponents and sow seeds of contempt. It’s to the point that I don’t know what to think anymore…
I can’t even put my finger on it or express it yet, but I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t sign up to fight fire with fire, to go eye-for-eye.
It’s that italicized line that scares me the most. Not to say that I’ve given up on my political convictions or have cashed in my worldview after coming to Washington; far from it. But the anger and contempt I face every day on the Hill make me very afraid that, rather than turning our country around, we’re turning against each other.
This is nothing I haven’t written about before. In honesty, the more I reflect on the sad state of American politics, the more I return to this refrain:
What are we doing here?
Are we making any difference at all?
This is the danger for so many of us in politics: if not death by overwork, then death by cynicism.
I’m looking for an escape from this death. I can’t say that I’ve found it yet, but I know it’s rooted somewhere in the gospel. I’m desperate to find it, because I don’t want my spirit to die before my body does.
If what we need is life, then I wonder if we could stand to hear this Proverb:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Maybe we could start this search toward a better form of politics by dispensing with the “ism” game. Perhaps we could move together toward redemptive service by abandoning the “definition game” in politics, where we seek to define our opponents out of the public square. If ideas truly matter (and I believe with all my heart they do), then shouldn’t we treat both our opponents and their ideas with respect? Writing off a political opponent as “stupid” or “evil” for his philosophy or her tactics is not helping anything. Moral outrage may be the most destructive force in politics.
What if we engaged with ideas and their human emissaries with earnest respect born out of a desire to understand? What if we used our words to ask questions instead of shoot arrows?
Would such choices erase conflict or competition from politics? Hardly. We live in a world cursed with evil and subjected to scarcity. This side of eternity, we will always find ourselves mourning the state of things.
But there is an aching hope deep inside me that tells me to watch for glimpses of glory now. Because the Kingdom is now—I long to see love and truth work in tandem and not in trade-off. Is it a bridge too far to use our words to heal while we use our ideas to change the world?
I wonder if these things depend on each other more than we realize.
The writer is a current Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. Congress.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
Have you sensed cynicism creeping into your heart lately? If so, spend some time paying attention to the words you choose and the way you talk about the people you disagree with politically. Begin calling out the good in your political counterparts and asking questions to understand their point of view. Whether you find your convictions challenged or affirmed, the point is to sow seeds of healing love with kindness.
LIBERATUS is a weekly journal creatively pursuing Truth and Beauty by empowering writers in American politics to tell the story of healing through freedom. You can join the pursuit by applying to write, subscribing to the journal, or by funding the movement by donating monthly or by making a purchase in our store.