Well, the results for my state’s primary election are in, and I’m really not surprised by them. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised.
We’re known as a state that undervalues education, that struggles with racism, and that wrestles with substantial income inequality and poverty. Our national “face,” for a lot of people looking at us from afar, is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who has faced accusations and lawsuits concerning abuses of power, racial profiling, election misconduct, and failure to investigate sexual crimes. So it’s not really a surprise that people who dismiss illegal immigrants as lawbreakers rather than understanding the dynamics of family ties and desperate need, who are okay with law officials playing racial favorites and coming down more harshly on Hispanics and Muslims, who harbor some nostalgia for the Wild West when might made right and the strong man was the honorable man, would overwhelmingly vote for Donald Trump.
For me, who have always looked at my state in the best possible light, it’s a disappointment that’s hard to get over. Maybe my fellow citizens here aren’t as good as I thought they were, from the subset that I happen to know well. Maybe this isn’t such a good place to live and raise my family as I’ve always thought, if people are so incredibly welcoming of the dishonest and self-serving “leaders” who offer them satisfaction and validation.
But do I love my state because of its (actual or perceived) good characteristics, or do I love it because it is my home and I want it to become the best that it possibly can be? Chesterton wrote on this exact topic over a century ago, and here I’m going to replace his example city with Arizona:
Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing – say Arizona. If we think what is really best for Arizona we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Arizona: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to [California]. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Arizona, for then it will remain Arizona, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Arizona: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. […] If men loved Arizona as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Arizona in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. […] Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.
– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
I don’t know many people who love Arizona in this way (although I do know a few, and I’m incredibly thankful for them). So many people I speak to are using the state for what they can get out of it, and counting down the time until they can move away. College students come for the universities and then head out again, glad to be gone. Snowbirds come down for the golf courses and mild winters, but keep themselves apart from the permanent population and head back to the places they truly consider their homes each spring. People gripe about the job prospects, the pollution, the bad drivers, the housing market, the immigrants, the homeless, the transit system, the public schools, and (above all) the weather.
And I get that we have problems, a lot of problems, and some very serious problems. But this is my home. This is the place I love, the soil into which my roots have sunk deep, even if it is pretty lousy soil (clay or sand, take your pick!). I get angry sometimes, at work or on social media, about the constant cloud of Arizona complaints, even when they’re completely justified, in a similar way to how I get upset when someone casts aspersions on my children (I was angry at my brother-in-law for over a year because he made a negative comment about Rondel once… I’m not quite that bad about my state).
Am I going to let this love just be an emotion, or am I going to put it into action, working to transform my home into a thing of beauty and grace? I tend towards contemplation instead of action, but true love will, I think, result in both. I think of a pastor at my church who, after years of traveling and living across the world, has settled down here and devotes himself to building community, establishing relationships across lines of race and religion, and creating a literal oasis in the desert. He sees Arizona with objective eyes, but because he also sees it as his home, he has made it part of his vocation to labor for its betterment, instead of leaving or complaining. If there were more like him, maybe someday Arizona really could become “fairer than Florence” – and maybe then, we would elect politicians who displayed things like beauty, love, justice, and truth.