The Other Side of Life: Lent and the Twin Abstentions

My fellow God-fearers, know that we are two days into the Lenten season, bookended by Mardi Gras and the Resurrection. Like Jesus fasted in the wilderness before launching his ministry, we are to give up something that sates us. Although my usual self-denial is metaphorized by 40 days without swearing or chocolate, I’m giving up on something much more gosh darn important and savory and much more central to who I am.

Abstention one: I’m giving up on defending Republicans. Abstention two: I’m taking a break from actively bashing Trump.That isn’t to say that I’m abandoning my party of Lincoln, Reagan, Kemp and Bush or my “compassionate conservatism”—which I’ve branded as “radical centrism”—but I can no longer defend the party that has abandoned me. It has become a party that excuses Donald Trump’s quasi-fact-infused ineptitude, a party that has all but ignored runaway deficits. It has allowed the American people to be held hostage for 35 days, costing the economy billions of dollars, without any appreciable result, while turning its back on the core ideals of small government and rule-of-law, economic sustainability and the Constitution. It has looked the other way as the responsibilities of the bully pulpit have been abandoned for petty, personal-made-meta attacks upon individuals and institutions.
OK, I’m starting abstention two right now.

In the midst of this, I have turned my eyes toward the ultra-local, where all politics are most important and where a nonpartisan race is a breath of fresh and salty, sea-blown air. To the extent that we are always being blown about by the turbulence of national and interplanetary politics, a retreat to the safety of our neighborhoods—whether in Daytona, Orlando, Gainesville, or Sebring—reminds us that, at our dinner tables and in the Publix deli, we are all just family and neighbors arguing over whether we should or shouldn’t put paprika on deviled eggs.

We are not born as partisans, we are made into them.

Because of the nature of deadlines and the fact that Watermark is on a two week publication schedule, I have written and submitted this piece in advance—a prognostication—with the Tampa nonpartisan mayoral election 10 days in the future for me and just completed a couple days ago for you, the reader. (I also use this timing anomaly as justification for what seems to you like having broken abstention two after only two days).

Likely, Tampa’s mayoral race has resulted in a runoff between Jane Castor—with her bona fides as both a law-and-order candidate and a member of the LGBTQ family—and David Straz, with his bona fides as a successful businessman-and-diplomat and persistent community leader. Full disclosure: I donated to both campaigns (a little more to Castor’s), and am otherwise equivocal between the two. They’d both be fine, thoroughly unexciting and yet competent leaders for Tampa as it begins to take on the as-yet-theoretical effects of climate change (see also, Cohen) as well as the more pedestrian concerns around potholes and parking.

I can’t help but be invigorated by the lack of nastiness around this race. The last time I watched a white septuagenarian gazillionaire take on a just-fine, pants-suit-wearing, career public servant, the stakes—and the related, rhetorical-political drama—were hotter than Tampa in late July. Of course, the players in our local race are both upstanding citizens, neither of whom seems capable of being anything but honest and cordial.

Since this is a local, nonpartisan race, I’m not inclined to break my Lenten promises. I don’t need to defend a Republican, although one of the candidates voted for Trump and the other is the former police chief. One has seen the error of his ways, “He simply does not agree with [Trump’s] values,” while the other probably only recently developed a set of political ideas.
The closest thing to a low blow that I’ve witnessed between Mr. Straz and Ms. Castor is a veiled implication about racial profiling in Tampa. I may have even read too much into this.

As I think about how I’ll pass the time between Fat Tuesday and the runoff on April 23rd, I’m reminded that there are lots of great celebrations along the way, from St. Patrick’s Day through the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. The timing means that Lent will be over for exactly two days by the time of the municipal election.

Easter, in that sense, will probably serve as a resurrection of my own twin inclinations toward rabid concerns that the Republican Party is far better equipped—if it can reclaim its soul from the imposter Trump—to lead on the biggest and most consequential, existential questions that our nation faces, and that Donald Trump is wholly ill-equipped to lead that party. (Technically, not a breach of my Lenten promises, but rather a prediction of what I may say after Easter). Eventually, our city parks become national monuments; our nonpartisanship devolves into our national concerns.

Whoever wins, I hope she leads the same way she ran, inoffensively and competently, far differently than what the post-Lenten-non-local elections will bring soon enough.

Until then, I’ll be counting beads and throwing cabbages, tossing the luxuries of partisanship to the wind as I hide Easter eggs. I plan to indulge in the blandest, most politically refreshing yet unsatisfying political springs I’ve ever lived through.

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