Whoever said that last night’s debate was not going to move the needle one way or the other, that the cake was already baked, was probably right. That was a dreary affair in which neither candidate was particularly attractive. Nothing in that 1.5 hours made me hopeful. All I walked away from last night thinking was that it is going to be a long four years. It was a spectacle, but then so is a train wreck. Donald Trump remains, far and away, the preferable candidate of the two, but that is about all I can say. Even then I do not know what becomes of the Republican brand after this.
Bret Stephens’ weekly column was submitted before the debate, but it almost perfectly captured the problem. Stephens discusses taking his son to see the movie “Sully” and reflecting on how deeply Chesley Sullenberger’s character contrasts with our current political climate:
Various words describe this attitude. Chivalry. Gallantry. Duty. Manliness. All of them are old-fashioned. All of them are out of step with prevailing ideological certitudes that are supposed to make us firm believers in gender-neutral bathrooms and value-neutral judgments—and adamant cynics about nearly everything else. And all of them are an implicit rebuke to presidential candidates….
One considers weeping.
There is more dreariness. Damon Linker noted:
Am I right that not one word was spoken about abortion, same-sex marriage, or any other culture war issue? The relig right really is dead.
— Damon Linker (@DamonLinker) September 27, 2016
And Rod Dreher seconded:
With a stake through its heart and a garlic necklace. https://t.co/I9qCrALA0C
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) September 27, 2016
Did any one hear a vision for the nation last night? I heard about some “solutions” to some “problems,” but mostly I heard about Clinton and Trump. Issues were secondary in last night’s insult fest, whether those insults were delivered with seeming calm aplomb or with blustery force. I heard nothing that appeals to our better nature, calls us to unity or forges a national will. I apparently am not alone in this assessment.
But as dreary as last night was, it was exactly what a nation that watches train wreck reality TV from Honey Boo Boo to the Kardashians and debates on the internet with all the chest-thumping verisimilitude of professional wrestling asks for. The culture war did not come up because it is often not discussed in our churches or homes and those that do have such discussions do so with all the grace of the proverbial bull in a china shop. Who cares about marital fidelity when Honey Boo Boo’s sister talks about her genitalia with unusual colloquialisms in front of the entire nation, and we talk about it at fellowship time on Sunday like it’s a topic for civilized conversation?
We’re a broken nation. That’s not news, that’s just where the gospel starts.
But it is not where the gospel ends.
Last night made it apparent, as if it was not before, that genuine national leadership does not always reside in the office of the president. We have to fill the office, there is work to be done – but genuine leadership can come from a lot of other places. So where is that leadership going to come from? Media clearly fills the void, but it does not lead – that’s a big part of the problem we have right now. Some one, or some group, needs to do more than fill the void, they need to actually lead – present a vision and take us towards it.
If we truly have the gospel, then we have the vision. It is a vision grounded in grace that creates civility. But are we leading? If not, is it because we do not truly have hold of the gospel? It is high time we started to answer these questions. The nation needs what we have.