Editor’s Note: This article was written last month by Raven friend and acclaimed author Frances Fuller, and is shared with permission. It was originally published on her blog.
This morning, April 26, I opened the online Beirut Daily Star and looked for items of special interest to me. The one that caught my eye was an opinion piece headlined like this: “A manifesto to end our dysfunctional politics.” I jumped on this article quickly, eager to learn how Lebanon is going to improve its broken system.
You see Lebanon has been without a president since May, 2014, because the system of electing a president has totally bogged down. Under the constitution only a Christian can be president of Lebanon, but one Christian leader who wants to be president, has formed a power bloc in the Lebanese Parliament with a non-Christian group, thus dividing the Christian community. The Parliament is supposed to elect the president, but the unusual alliance has produced a numerical stalemate. And there is no plan in place for dealing with such a situation. This explanation is, of course, simplistic. The whole truth is more complicated, but this is the gist of it.
The lack of a president in Lebanon has weakened the ability of the government to function as it should. Continuation of the situation also changes the dynamics between Lebanon and her neighbors, since Lebanon is impacted by every power in the Middle East and is the only one that must or even can have a Christian president.
My concern about all of this caused me to expect that the editorial in The Star was going to enlighten me about what might happen to improve the situation and give the Lebanese hope of making their government work. And I jumped to this conclusion in spite of knowing that David Ignatius is not Lebanese but an award winning American journalist, raised in Washington, D.C., educated at Harvard, and both an editor and columnist for the Washington Post. After all, I am not looking at the Post but at the Beirut Daily Star, where Ignatius has posts regularly, usually related to international affairs.
I was to be disappointed. The article was about our own dysfunctional American political system, dominated by big money and special interest groups. A Maryland Democrat named John Sarbanes has proposed a way to use public funding to match, six to one, all private donations, as a possible way out of the trap we have built for ourselves. The proposal appears in the current issue of the Harvard Journal on Legislation, but here I am, learning about it in a Lebanese newspaper.
So why was it in The Daily Star? The answer to this question is something I observed in 1980s Lebanon and is recorded in a section of my book, In Borrowed Houses. The brief chapter is entitled “Two Ways of Thinking.” It is a step by step comparison of attitudes in small weak countries and those in big powerful countries. One step in my progressive analysis reads like this:
The big country thinks its responsibilities include policing the affairs of the small country. The small country deduces from this behavior that the big country is responsible, along with God, for everything that happens in the world.
Herein is the explanation for why a proposal to mend America’s broken political system will be read with great interest in Lebanon. The Lebanese know, better than we know, that if our democracy doesn’t work, no one’s democracy is likely to work. If we love money more than we love the ideals on which our country was established, then money, not people, will rule the world. (They have already believed this about money for quite a long time.) They see the international repercussions of everything America does, while we are thinking of nothing but social issues and the tax rate and the personalities of candidates. Surrounded by enemies and inundated by refugees, one per two citizens, they are wondering where they will get the money to incorporate 450,000 alien children into a public school system of half that many, while leadership of the richest, most powerful country in the world, built by refugees, is in danger of being bought by a billionaire preaching fear of refugees. Feeling powerless, the Lebanese know, better than they know anything else, that whatever we Americans do is going to change their world for better or worse. You can bet they are listening with bated breath to news about the American election.
This is the burden we voting Americans lift every time we mark a ballot. We can cast a vote that gives the world hope. Or not.
Frances Fuller spent thirty years in the violent Middle East and for twenty-four of those years was the director of a Christian publishing program with offices in Lebanon. She is the author of In Borrowed Houses: A True Story of Love and Faith Amidst War In Lebanon, the 2014 winner of “The Author’s Show: 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” contest. She blogs at www.inborrowedhouseslebanon.com.