Every four years we are told how crucial our vote is to the particular presidential election before us, and that it is the “most important of our lifetime.” Every four years, each political party presents a candidate that we are told, will be so catastrophic to our way of life that America will never recover. The principles, traditions, and liberties we so love will be lost by the first Wednesday of November unless we vote for the other person, who, apparently, is the only person who can save our nation.
This has been said so often, I’m wondering how this hasn’t become a “boy who cried wolf” situation. Perhaps our nation will carry on, largely unchanged, no matter who is elected. I mean, is it not a fact that most of the doomsday scenarios do not come to pass, and that sometimes things even get better? In the meantime though, maybe I will just ignore the rhetoric, do my civic duty without guilt or embarrassment, and maintain my cheery disposition.
But what if this election really is the most important election of our lifetime? I mean, by definition one of them has to be. But how could I possibly know which one it is? By what standard would I make such a judgment? When I think about past elections, I’m reminded of the issues that were crucial at those times: the Bush tax cuts, 9/11 and the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars, the 2008 housing crash and Wall Street bailouts, massive federal deficits, Obamacare, and a whole lot of hand-wringing about climate change and “green” energy. Until Trump emerged on the scene, both parties continued or began foreign wars for decades, and both parties seem committed to spending money we don’t have. Nevertheless, despite all the rhetoric at the time of each election, the apocalypse has not come and there was was at least some notable agreement between the parties.
President Obama was, for many conservatives, a difference maker in terms of the usual back and forth or give and take. He was feared and loathed by the right because, unlike his Democrat predecessors, he was not content to tinker on the edges. Being a student of Saul Alinsky (who was no patriot) he sought to “fundamentally transform” and overhaul the American way of life. He was also of the school that questioned the legitimacy of America’s origins, because of slavery, imperialism, and capitalism. Hostile as his intentions may or may not have been, he was largely checked and balanced by a Republican Congress.
But is This Time Really Different?
The argument for this election cycle’s significance is that the very heartbeat of our country, the Constitution, is itself at stake. Yes, we are told that the Constitution is in the crosshairs and is surviving on fragile ground because one party wants to preserve it while the other seeks to destroy it. And this is not just a tactical strategy to change the Supreme Court by court-packing, there truly does exist a growing divide on whether the Constitution should even survive or whether America is a legitimate nation, again given our nation's history.
So is all this true? Are the stakes higher now than ever? And if it is true, then won’t that be true for every election hereafter given that the two parties represent such radically different visions? And what brought about such a change?
Well, yes, I certainly agree that this election is unusually significant given the emerging differences in understanding our nation’s founding and the different visions of whether to keep it great or start it over under different principles. This election is different because the choice between the two candidates continues to get further and further removed from being two sides of the same coin. Consider these five issues. Both parties agreed, at least in part, on these issues in recent decades past. Now, the differences are far more stark.
Abortion- Yes, I know this issue is always the first to come up, but it is and has been the pressing moral issue for several generations now. Until it is abolished, it will remain so. We are far removed from Bill Clinton wishing abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare", and while the Republican Party has proven weak in its efforts to abolish abortion, it at least makes strident efforts to defend the right to life for the unborn.
The Proper Role of Government (especially in a pandemic-like situation)- Both parties already represent mild to significant socialist philosophies (public education, progressive taxation, regulation of all industry, etc.). But Covid-19 revealed the fault lines regarding the limits of authority that the government would go to in order to tell citizens if or how its citizens can worship, gather, receive an education, or run a business. Covid-19 become a political issue precisely because of the two different schools of thought, with “freedom at your own risk” on one side vs. “safety for your own sake” on the other.
Judicial philosophy- As already noted above, there are radically divergent views of the Constitution’s legitimacy and its staying power. Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.) said that “Originalism is racist. Originalism is sexist. Originalism is homophobic. Originalism is just a fancy word for discrimination.” Those are not the kind of words that would have been said by a United States Senator a decade ago, but now they are mainstream.
The Goodness of America- Again, not so long ago, we all pretty much agreed America was a good and decent nation. Yes, even with its troubled history, we could still recognize its significant moral achievements. Now the difference between the parties here is more significant than ever. From the progressive academy and media comes something like the 1619 Project, which, at one point, argued that America’s true founding was the year slaves first arrived on this continent, not 1776 (That language was recently surreptitiously deleted.) Trump, meanwhile, established the 1776 Commission, which is aimed at encouraging “patriotic education.” Of course, he was immediately called a fascist for that. There is a reason why now, it is any historic American monuments – be they of Lincoln, Washington, or Catholic priests – that are up for destruction: because America is seen as good and worth preserving by some, but overdue for a downfall by others.
The Normalcy of Christianity- Christianity was once assumed to be the moral standard for the vast majority of Americans. We are now witnessing a rise in hostility towards Christian thought and practice. It is now a mainstream view to see Christianity as a mere product of “whiteness.” I guess we are all just relativists now, appealing to what we think seems good to us. To explicitly rely on heavenly revelation contained in a book called the Bible is increasingly considered one small step above witchcraft…if even above it. The loss of Christianity’s influence is mostly seen in the fights over abortion and marriage, but you certainly can see it in a civilization that has normalized pornography, mainstreamed pot, and idolized sports.
In the end, elections, on all sides and at all times, have attempted to use fear as a motivator to get people to vote. I try to ignore the rhetoric and think for myself. Policies and tactics aside, there is a growing divide between our two major political parties. As moral issues – not practical or financial issues – continue to define our politics, our politics are getting more religious. Christians, then, will bring their understanding of their faith into their politics. It will prove to be divisive both in the Church and the State. But given the stakes and given the growing divide, it does indeed look like each election really will be more and more consequential than the one preceding it.
Photo Credit- LAist