Lately I’ve had all kinds of interesting conversations with friends and acquaintances about our two candidates for President. In one conversation, a relatively reasonable person said to me, “If you can say with a straight face that Hillary is as bad as Trump, you’ve got some serious blinders on.” Not fifteen minutes earlier, I had heard this from another friend: “I know it might be wrong to vote for Trump, but when I consider the disaster that Hillary will be for this country, I have to do it to stop her.” I also listened to a sermon on YouTube entitled “The Continental Divide,” the title referencing the “polar opposite directions” of the Republican and Democratic platforms. I read blogger Michael Sebastian’s opinion that, “If [Clinton] is elected to the presidency, her policies may bring an end to the United States as we know it.” Columnist Anne Applebaum, writing in the Washington Post, one-ups him: “And if Trump wins? [L]iberal democracy, and the West as we know it, may cease to exist.”
When you wake up tomorrow morning, if your candidate has lost, I imagine you’ll awake in a cold sweat, with lingering nightmares about a mixture of Orwell’s Big Brother and Napoleon the pig playing out in your mind as you picture the new President-elect.
If this describes you, I’m writing with a word of encouragement: It’s not as bad as it seems!
I think there is good reason, in the face of never-ending news coverage and hyperventilating pundits, to throw some realistic cold water on the hype that we are “at a crossroads” in America, and that the result of this particular election will set us on a historic course, one way or another. I’ll give four reasons that it is not as bad as it seems, regardless of the result.
. . . there are . . . things more important to the future of our country than who is elected the next President of the United States.
First of all, despite the hysteria, there are roughly ten thousand things more important to the future of our country than who is elected the next President of the United States. For example: the marriages and families of those who belong to Jesus; how we think and how we train others to think; whether and how well we participate in church discipline; your congregation’s policy on communion; your definition of “the gospel”; how you treat the poor in your town; and whether you do your daily work to the glory of God. Just for starters.
Our call to live faithfully, right where God has planted us, is far more consequential to the future of America than who is elected President in 2016. Lasting change comes from slow societal renewal, not primarily from political action. Though it seems lately that cultural change has come upon us suddenly—the redefinition of marriage, the dominance of gender identity politics, the decline of religious freedom, for example—all these things have cultural roots that have grown from seeds sown twenty, thirty, forty years ago and longer.
Second, while lasting damage most certainly could be done to the Republic by Trump or Clinton, neither is likely to be effective enacting policies that don’t have broad popular support. Clinton will likely not have the legislative support, at least under current alignments (barring catastrophic losses today or in two years by congressional Republicans) and Trump, for all his bluster, doesn’t seem to have the temperament or legislative support to work out a coherent agenda.
Our call to live faithfully, right where God has planted us, is far more consequential to the future of America than who is elected President . . .
We have the Founders to thank for this, of course. As David French puts it,
They built a system remarkably resistant to even sustained incompetence and corruption, with checks and balances so comprehensive that when America commits enduring sin, it does so only through the consent and participation of the governed, manifested through multiple branches of government.
. . . .
America isn’t invulnerable. It could destroy itself. But Hillary Clinton couldn’t destroy it if she wanted to. That doesn’t mean that elections aren’t important or that she couldn’t do serious damage, but politics is downstream from culture. . . . Hamilton’s system was built to survive far worse than Hillary Clinton, and it hasn’t failed yet.
Third, for all the talk of how the candidates are polar opposites, one an angel, the other a devil (depending on who you’re asking), with opposite views on immigration, varying respect for religious liberty, and disparate approaches to taxes and small business, these two are very close to interchangeable with regard to the qualities that matter most in a President. Both seem to be fairly dismissive of the Constitution and ignorant of the nature of the Chief Executive. Both are accustomed to power, and both run on the power of celebrity, rather than on the basis of accomplishment or competence. Obviously, none of this is good. But it doesn’t appear to me that one of them is good and the other is a disaster. Given their matching weaknesses, it just doesn’t seem that this presidential election—with these candidates—is as consequential this year as it has been in the past or may be in the future.
We have . . . living hope in the One who lives in us, loving our neighbors through us, all over 21st century America.
Last week, Reason columnist David Harsanyi titled a column “This is the Least Important Election of Our Lifetime.” He closed with this:
Of course, none of this is to completely diminish the importance of the presidential election. Obviously, voters are making a decision about the future of governance. Judges are at stake. Foreign policy is made. There are consequences. But if the republic can’t survive a bad executive, then it’s already dead.
Finally, to despair is a sin. It is tempting to lose hope in the face of our choices on the top of the ballot. We have hope, however, not just in the “end of the story” at the restoration of all things, but a current, living hope in the One who lives in us, loving our neighbors through us, all over 21st century America. If we allow Him to empower us to speak out, stand up, proclaim Christ, live well, and love our neighbors, He will change the world through us, one neighbor at a time. This is true in a Clinton administration and all the unpleasantness that it would bring and in a Trump administration with all of its consequences.
. . . let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work doing a better job of proclaiming the truth and loving our neighbors.
To be sure, the candidates that we have for the highest office in the land point to serious issues in our nation. The level of public discourse itself raises issues. And the election will indeed have real and lasting consequences. Yet the most important tasks of God’s people are local, in our churches and our neighborhoods. We must proclaim Christ as King, teach the faith, and love our neighbors. Our real lives are small, ordinary, and local, in sharp contrast to the unreal lives presented by immersion in social media and the never-ending news cycle on the national Presidential campaign.
The 2016 election cycle can and should serve as a wake up call to the Church in America, as she seeks to speak truth to those in power, serve those without power, and proclaim the lordship of Christ in the world. We ought to be challenged to do better, as pundits and pastors and commentators have been rightly shouting at us for months. This election cycle has uncovered our lack of unity as a people, exposed our inability to reason together, and raised questions about Christ’s Church and political action. This process has shown us where we need to apply our efforts.
But in the end, let’s not sweat the election results. Instead, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work doing a better job of proclaiming the truth and loving our neighbors.
1) Michael Sebastian, Why A Hillary Clinton Presidency Would Destroy The United States, March 24, 2016 http://www.returnofkings.com/83733/why-a-hillary-clinton-presidency-would-destroy-the-united-states
2) Anne Applebuam, Trump is a threat to the West as we know it, even if he loses, Nov. 4, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/trump-is-a-threat-to-the-west-as-we-know-it-even-if-he-loses/2016/11/04/a8dc9100-a2cc-11e6-a44d-cc2898cfab06_story.html
3) David French, Alexander Hamilton Will Save America from Hillary Clinton, October 18, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/441181/hillary-clinton-american-constitution-checks-balances.
4) David Harsanyi, This is the Least Important Election of Our Lifetime, Nov. 4, 2016, http://reason.com/archives/2016/11/04/this-is-the-least-important-election-of