The road to the election: Cultural Questions

During this election cycle for the presidency it is impossible to ignore the remarkable way in which experiences with peoples of other cultures have formed the lives of the leading candidates. John McCain was born in Panama on a military base, but his personal journey is most notable for the brutal years he spent in a prisoner of war camp in Hanoi. McCain as a United States senator became a leading voice for reconciliation between the former foes.

Of Kenyan and American heritage, Barack Obama spent several years of his childhood in Indonesia. He speaks of how both the black and Anglo communities have formed his life. Though a Christian himself, Obama’s father was Muslim. Both Obama and McCain speak of how their personal journeys have informed their public lives.

Though her interaction with other cultures has been through more formal political and diplomatic events, Hillary Clinton has interacted with peoples throughout the world.

These stories are emblematic of the way in which other cultures are impacting the United States. By way of a completely inadequate survey, the fast-growing Hispanic community is touching American culture with its warmth and energy. The Arab community is increasingly participating in the American political process. The distinct worship of Hispanic, Asian and African Christians is energizing the American church. From the slums of Manila to the mountains of Bolivia, students from Eastern and other universities are having life-changing encounters which are producing a citizenry increasingly sensitive to the struggles, hopes and achievements of other peoples.

In this election, we are deciding what values will be emphasized as a nation. Each candidate would certainly bring to the presidency a particular nuance to how the United States will be informed by the viewpoint and experience of other peoples and cultures. Reductionist electioneering jingoism inevitably frames other societies and unfamiliar cultures as inherently hostile, or perhaps as needy dependents. Whatever signals one discerns from the candidates, it is important that the possibilities of engagement with other peoples and the wisdom that this engagement offers be affirmed as a nation.

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