Bummed your candidate lost? Bad sign.

I wrote this piece in 2012, after Mitt Romney lost the presidential race to Barack Obama. I had to tweak it very, very little in order to apply it to this year, after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race to Donald Trump.

Four years ago my Republican friends were moping about the election results. This year it’s my Democratic friends. They’ve been putting on a brave face, saying the usual platitudes about how God’s still in control, even though their candidate won’t be. And how very bummed they are. And how they’re gonna put their trust in Jesus.

Hopefully some of them recognize these are the things you say after you’ve been putting your faith in an idol… and God just smashed that idol.

But probably not. It took me quite a few years before I got to that point myself.

The first presidential election where I didn’t get my way, back when I was a Republican, was the 1992 election, when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. I’d voted for Bush. As had most of my fellow Republicans. A significant minority had instead voted for independent candidate H. Ross Perot. That meant nobody had the majority—but Clinton had the plurality, and secured the Electoral College.

So I was horrified. What the hell was wrong with Americans? Now this hippie was president.

(Amusing since a lot of people assume I’m a hippie. It’s ’cause of the long hair and beard. And the fact I don’t wear shoes very often. And the fact I’m now a Democrat. Real hippies realize I’m way too conservative for them. But I digress.)

See, I’d been drinking too deeply from the Christian Right Kool-Aid. In both parties there’s an element which tells you if the other candidate wins, the Apocalypse follows. In ’92 the Republicans I knew were convinced the very day Clinton took the oath of office, he’d immediately implement some freakish amalgam of Leninist Communism and Nazi Germany. Never mind that Nazis and Commies are entirely opposed to one another; any boogeyman would do, and thinking only gets in the way when you’re preaching fear.

Ronald Reagan had taught us said government is the problem; we believed him and that settled it. Margaret Thatcher had taught us you can’t tax your way to prosperity; we knew nothing about France or Sweden or Israel or Singapore or the Netherlands or Denmark or West Germany or Italy or even her own United Kingdom; we believed her and that settled it. So any plan Clinton had to make government help people? Communism. Or Nazism. Either. Both. Whatever. Clinton bad.

Thus when Clinton won, part of me expected those dire Republican warnings to come true. Clinton would usher in a new Orwellian dark age. I was depressed. Didn’t just feel like the party had lost; it felt like Christianity did. ’Cause weren’t we Republicans the good, moral ones? Weren’t we the prolife party? Weren’t we in favor of keeping the gays in the closet? Weren’t we in favor of getting 7-Eleven to quit carrying Penthouse in their magazine racks? We were the good guys! Yet we lost. The country was going to hell.

Somehow it never sunk in: The reason my hopes were dashed, was ’cause I put my hopes in the wrong thing. I’m supposed to put them in Jesus. Not the Republicans. Not a party platform. Not the plans our politicians had for America. Which they never got round to implementing once we actually give them power. But I digress again.

Took a few more elections, a few more bummers, before it finally did sink in: I was practicing civic idolatry. I have no business putting my hopes in anything or anyone other than Christ Jesus.

So if you’re bummed out ’cause your candidate lost, whether it’s Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry, Mitt Romney, John McCain, or Hillary Clinton, that’s precisely what you’re doing too.

Gotta fight the denial.

Now I know you’re gonna have a buttload of excuses why your post-election blues have nothing whatsoever to do with civic idolatry.

  • You’re bothered by the plans the candidate and his party have for our country. Different worldviews. Different priorities. Different theories of governance, diplomacy, human rights, economics, or justice. Plus you don’t care for their personal character.
  • You were hoping to retain this or that, or overturn this or that. Now you gotta wait two to four years for another shot at change. Or not.
  • You’re convinced their beliefs are immoral: They don’t see the weak and innocent as worth defending. (They have wholly different definitions of what comprises “weak and innocent.”) They’re willing to make vast moral compromises in the pursuit of power. Jesus wouldn’t approve.
  • And you believe if Jesus wouldn’t approve, America might come under a divine curse and lose its status. Its wealth. Its might. Its position as an outpost of God’s kingdom… which, I remind you, it never actually was.

Each of these things can also be idolatry. ’Cause clinging to them means we’ve not put our trust in Christ Jesus. All these things are gonna totally pass away once Jesus returns and takes over. And if anything shares that characteristic, it’s the wrong thing to worry about.

So be honest with yourself.

Once I was, I stopped worrying about elections. If I still had that mindset, I’d be just as bummed—or outraged—as the partisans on the losing side. ’Cause my hope would be in this world, not God’s kingdom.