In the two days since the first presidential debate — an ugly spectacle, no doubt — I’ve learned one thing: Nearly everyone is eager to acknowledge the problem, and few are committed to finding the solution.
Tuesday night’s harangue-filled infotainment extravaganza was a 90-minute session during which Americans looked into the mirror at the culture we’ve created.
Lawmakers both conservative and progressive shook their heads at the showdown that unfolded this week. Political prognosticators and TV anchors bemoaned the incredible lack of decorum glowing through their screens, often injecting their own biases. The truth was apparent only a few minutes into the debate: no one was winning, save the TV networks raking in millions in viewership dollars.
Yet so many have repeated the feel-good refrain: “This isn’t America.”
The sad reality, though, is that — at least in this season — this is America.
Thanks to a mainstream media industry obsessed with entertainment over information and with its own political interests, as well as an electorate increasingly skeptical of anyone who doesn’t look or think like them, we have become what the apostle Paul warned against in 1 Corinthians 13.
America is the land of resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.
As for the substance of the debate itself, there were clear mistakes from both candidates. President Donald Trump was a constant interruption early on, and former Vice President Joe Biden soon joined in. The president later took personal shots at his opponent’s son. Biden likewise called the commander-in-chief a “clown” and told him to “shut up.”
To be certain, this climate long predated Trump and Biden. The difference today is the facade has faded away. So no one is blameless here.
Despite what unfolded on national television — and the collective disapproval that ensued — there hasn’t been a unifying voice appealing to our better angels. Even Biden, who has repeatedly called this election a “battle for the soul of the nation,” posted an ad Wednesday covering Trump’s head with a crying-face emoji and replacing his words with the sound of a weeping baby.
America is deeply and destructively divided. And the sad reality is, if you look on the internet or TV, so many people seem OK with that. To many on the left and on news channels, Biden’s performance was perfect. To those on the right, Trump could do no wrong. By spinning the two candidates’ performances and breathlessly declaring who “won” the debate, we’re only contributing to the problem and drifting further from the solution.
Trump and Biden hold radically opposite positions on matters of incredible importance to this country. But because of our mired political landscape, those extreme policy differences — the stuff that really matters — is lost.
We live in a world right now in which those whose political interests aren’t met are given a free pass to burn, loot, and destroy cities across the country. Where, depending on what cable news channel you tune into, the blame for our current climate falls entirely before one side of the aisle or the other. Where the personal faith of a nominee for the highest court in the land is used as a weapon against her strictly for political gain.
I said early on that this is America today. The evidence bears that out. But here’s the good news: we do not have to stay that way.
We can stop being a nation of resounding gongs and clanging cymbals. To do that, though, someone has to agree to go first. This is where Christians have a real opportunity.
Daniel Darling, senior vice president of the National Religious Broadcasters Association, wrote in a recent blog post that Christians “were built for this moment” because our hope in an eternally better way — Jesus — “is the antidote for this anxious age.”
“We need leaders willing to tell us the truth but also help us see a way forward,” he wrote. “And we especially need Christian leaders to do this: pastors, institutional leaders, political leaders. God has not called us to live in another time and another era. He has placed us right here, right now, in 2020. And he is not wringing his hands in fear. He is not surprised by what surprises us.”
So here’s my suggestion: If you, like most Americans, were disappointed by what you watched Tuesday night, choose here and now to be better.