Contentious Debates Reflect More Serious Problem
The presidential debates have now concluded, but I can’t say they did much to help me make up my mind about how I will vote in less than three weeks.
Whether it was Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump—or their running mates—going at each other, it felt more like watching dueling sound bites. Or listening to a radio talk show where the host and callers interrupt each other so often that I usually change the channel.
When I saw this Washington Post commentary the day after the vice presidential debate, I could see that I was not alone in feeling this way.
As the author wrote, “Holy cow, was that debate a) hard to watch and b) super depressing. Constant interruptions—especially by Kaine. A total refusal to answer questions. Unsubstantiated statements galore—especially by Pence. I found myself wishing it was over by 10 p.m.—and I love this stuff more than anyone I know.”
It can get a bit depressing. I know because the same day I read that Post commentary I had lunch with a friend who would fit the definition of “political junkie.” When I said something about the election, he remarked, “I can’t wait until it’s over.”
I know how he feels. It’s as if we live in a never-ending election, where commentary and speculation continue without end. A month from now, pundits will be talking about 2020 as if this year’s election never happened. Would it not run afoul of First Amendment considerations, I would love to see a law limiting presidential electioneering to the six months leading up to November.
Still, there is something afoot here that is more serious than 2016 Election Fatigue. The interruptions, harangues, and stereotyping of the presidential debates only reflects the kind of dialogue that goes on daily in metropolitan areas and small towns alike.
It’s as if we have lost the capacity to listen to each other or see that someone who disagrees with our own opinion may have a valid point. It’s easy to point fingers at Washington, D.C.’s polarized atmosphere when it simply is the bubbling up of behavior that starts at the grassroots.
A Civil Society
I don’t like casting blame, since it’s too easy to go looking for scapegoats while ignoring the log in our own eye. Still, at a basic level I blame the church. We Christians are supposed to be peacemakers and love each other like the church in Acts, when believers’ love for each other was so deep and profound that it turned the world upside down.
Instead, when others look at the church they too often see us quarreling, stereotyping others because their doctrinal position doesn’t agree with ours (or they don’t read the right version of the Bible), politicking and stone-throwing. It leaves the collective world shaking their head and shrugging, “If that’s what faith does for you, then no thanks.”
I don’t have any simple solutions because none exist. But the words of David are as appropriate today as when he wrote them thousands of years ago: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
When Christians start taking that message more seriously, we may see more civility in our society.