An empty chair for a king

Published November 25, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.

Last month, I asked a visiting American professor: “Despite the efficiency of your democratic system, how do you explain the overwhelming cynicism, apathy, and desperation felt by many Americans before, during, and after the mid-term election?”

He replied: “Their cynicism is directed towards politicians, not democracy. In fact, they want to save democracy from politicians whose motto is: ‘Be realistic and practical.’ These politicians think that there is no morality in politics, only exigency.”

He went on to explain that in most of their elections, candidates are seldom preoccupied with issues that are essential to the well-being of their constituents.  They are focused on only one practical question: “What shall I do to assure my victory?”

His observation reminded me of G.K. Chesterton who said: “Politicians who say we have to be practical and realistic fail to realize that the core of life is not practical. If you examine what ordinary citizens really want, you will discover that what politicians label as impractical and unrealistic are actually the things that are essential and primary. Conversely, those things that politicians call eminently practical and important—like exercising your right to vote—are, to ordinary citizens, trivial and secondary.”

Indeed, ordinary citizens would rather busy themselves with earning a living, educating their children, falling in love, finding employment, and other activities more thrilling and rewarding than politics.

But precisely because politics ranks low in the ordinary citizen’s priorities, politics is left to politicians who are too dull to be bored by it. So we see everywhere very unqualified people who have become successful in politics despite being quite impotent in every other human endeavor.

I asked the American professor about the fact that in their past elections,their opinion on some issues, like the use of marijuana for recreation purposes, was included in their ballot. He was greatly displeased with this.

He ranted: “I don’t see any legitimacy in submitting such controversial issues to a referendum. If 70 percent of voters approves pot sessions, does this make these immoral practices right? This is not authentic democracy; it is tyranny by the majority. Moral issues cannot be determined by the power of numbers.”

He said this with conviction, but his face betrayed a sense of helplessness. He seemed resigned at being unable to stop the drift of his country towards a brand of politics that is remorselessly practical and numerical in its tendencies.

Somehow, I share his predicament. Our politics has become a clone of American politics. There is nobody, not even the justices, who are credible and authoritative enough to hold politicians and the democratic processes to a higher standard.

I read somewhere that the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, wants an empty chair at every company meeting. The chair represents the customer, who, according to him, is the most important person in the room.

Maybe politicians and government officials must bear that in mind. Every time they hold senate hearings or acrimonious meetings about important issues, they should have an empty chair in the room, reserved for the invisible but always present higher power—the KING who is at the summit of all governance, who represents a higher good that is beyond judicial interpretations, and whose will represents that of the people, not the manipulated majority.