When Elections Don’t Go Our Way

Perhaps the best resistance to bad legislation and cultural decline is to live a quiet life of joy, hope and love at home, rooted in faith in Jesus Christ and bolstered by the sacraments.

‘Ballot Box’
‘Ballot Box’ (photo: Shutterstock)

The midterms are over, the dust from the postmortem analysis is settling, and 2024 is looming in the distance. If you’re pro-life like me, maybe you’re wondering where we go from here, and considering whether a move to a tropical island might be best at this point. There were some gains, yes, but overall the results were less than ideal.

(I do not assume, of course, that everyone reading this votes like I do, but bear with me here because what I have to say can apply to pretty much everyone, being that elections don’t always go your way, no matter how you vote.)

With so many people feeling disappointed in the midterm election results, how ought Catholics to think about the state of things?

Something I’ve learned along the way is that the vast majority of things in the political realm are things I can’t directly control. I can vote, I can educate myself about the issues and I can discuss those issues with other people. Maybe I can contact a senator or write a letter to the state Board of Education. (Please don’t take away charter schools!) But otherwise, well, I’m pretty much largely ineffectual. We all are, actually, which is what can lead to such deep feelings of discouragement and disillusionment. We know not everything is as it should be, but we can’t change it, and that is a hard pill to swallow.

I’ve given this a fair amount of thought over the years. It may seem like a lifetime ago, but before I was married and had children, I worked for a California legislator. It was a great job. I’d always enjoyed the political process, and there was something fulfilling about using my position to help people.

(It was also a fascinating job for a psychology major, what with the variety of people coming in to complain and ask for help. If you know, you know, but basically, legislators attract the severely mentally ill like moths to a flame. As office manager, I was the one who got to sit and talk with them, and one incident in particular resulted in the SWAT team being called, and a panic button being installed under my desk.)

Of course it was also a front row seat for viewing the inefficiency of the government. There was the time, for example, when a co-worker and I had to fly to Los Angeles to sit through a required presentation on workplace harassment. The presenter missed his flight, however, and so the roomful of state employees, flown in on the state’s dime, had to listen to the presentation over speaker phone.

One of my main takeaways from my time there was that politics, in general, is a clumsy, slow and complicated process, influenced by the citizenry but ultimately with a mind and momentum of its own. We vote in elections for people to represent us, but that doesn’t mean those people will do what we want them to do.

Having lived exclusively in California and Colorado, I can tell you that my guy rarely, if ever, wins. When I vote for pro-life candidates and measures, I vote knowing they will most likely be defeated. Three of my kids got to vote in the recent midterms, and so now they too have had the experience of being part of a political minority. But I refuse to give in to discouragement.

Why? Because I know that my primary influence on the culture exists within the four walls of my home. I know that the having and raising of children, this living out my vocation, is my ultimate contribution to the world, and I know that the last thing my children need is a mother who thinks the sky is falling because of what this or that politician is doing. Maybe it’s a controversial opinion, but I can seek to live well and pursue virtue and love my family regardless of who is in office.

This is not to diminish the real threat of soft tyranny, or take away from the idea of being politically active. And obviously it makes sense for people to be concerned and disappointed when they see the direction our country has decided to go. But most of our lives are not lived in or for the political sphere. Politics ought to be a means, not an end. 

As an aside, one of the arguments against women’s suffrage was that women wielded a tremendous amount of influence on politics without ever casting a vote. It seems a controversial and loaded statement now, and I am by no means saying women shouldn’t be voting, but I do believe there is some truth there. These women were raising children, conversing with their husbands and making homes. To claim that they were having no effect on society or in the public square would be to oversimplify the situation, at best. Surely the love, sacrifices and formation they were providing were indeed working to shape the culture at the time. It calls to mind the life of our Blessed Mother Mary, who lived in a most humble and quiet way, and yet managed to not only change but participate in saving the world. 

So I do what I can politically, and then I make dinner, and laugh with my teenagers and I go to my daughter’s volleyball game. I meet up with friends, shop for groceries and read my young children a story. My life proceeds moment by moment, day by day, and there are so many beautiful gifts God has given me that I can’t even name them all. I want to be busy about the things that God has entrusted to me, and there will be less capacity for that if I am perpetually distracted, influenced and discouraged by what is going on outside of my home.

Perhaps the best and most effective resistance to bad legislation and cultural decline is to live a quiet life of joy, hope and love at home, rooted in faith in Jesus Christ and bolstered by the sacraments. Far from sticking one’s head in the sand, it is instead boldly living the life we have been called to live, here in the real world. 

And that is something, thankfully, that no election can take from us.

A genuinely Catholic approach to baptism sees salvation as something communal and embodied.

Water Is Thicker Than Blood

COMMENTARY: Our baptism into Christ’s passion and death purifies our political passions and saves us from deadly idolatry.