Every four years we are told that our vote is crucial because a particular presidential election is the “most important of our lifetime.” Every four years, each party presents a candidate that, apparently, 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, the only person who can save our nation.
This is said so often, I’m wondering if this isn’t a “boy who cried wolf” situation. Perhaps our nation will carry on, largely unchanged, no matter who is elected. I mean, don’t most of the doomsday scenarios not only not come to pass, but sometimes things even get better? So, in the meantime, maybe I will just ignore the rhetoric, do my civic duty without guilt or embarrassment, and maintain my cheery disposition.
But what if this really is the most important election of our lifetime? I mean, by definition one of them has to be. How would I possibly know? By what standard could I make such a judgment? When I think about past elections, I’m reminded of the issues at the time: 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 lot of hand-wringing about climate change and “green” energy. Until Trump, both parties continued or began foreign wars for decades, and both parties seem committed to spending money we don’t have. Despite the rhetoric at the time of each election, the apocalypse has not come and there was notable agreement between the parties.
President Obama was, for many conservatives, a difference maker in the usual back and forth, 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. He sought overhaul of the American way of life. He spoke of “fundamental transformation” and he was a student of Saul Alinsky, not exactly an American patriot. He was of the school that questioned America’s legitimacy in the first place, given slavery, imperialism, and capitalism. Hostile as his intentions may or may not have been, he was largely checked and balanced by a Republican Congress.
The argument for this cycle’s significance is that the very heartbeat of our country is at stake: the Constitution itself. Yes, the Constitution is in the crosshairs and is surviving on fragile ground because, it is said, one party wants to preserve it while the other seeks to destroy it. And this is not just tactical strategy to change the Supreme Court by court-packing. There really does truly exist a growing divide on whether the Constitution should even survive and whether America is a legitimate nation, given our history.
So is it true? Are the stakes higher now than ever? And if that is true, then won’t that be true for every election hereafter since the two parties represent such radically different visions? And what brought about such a change?
Well, yes, I do agree that this election is unusually significant given the emerging differences in understanding our nation’s founding and the different visions to either keep it great or start over using 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 more stark.
Abortion. Yes, I know this issue is always the first to come up, but it is the pressing moral issue of several generations. Until it is abolished, it will remain so. We are far removed from Bill Clinton wishing abortion was “safe, legal, and rare.” And while the Republican Party has proven weak in its abolition of abortion, it at least defends 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 authority of government to tell citizens if or how they can worship, gather, receive an education, or run a business. Covid-19 has become a political issue precisely because of two different schools of thought when it comes to “freedom at your own risk” vs. “safety for your own sake.”
Judicial philosophy. As already noted above, there are radically divergent views of the Constitution’s legitimacy and 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 words that would have been said by a United States Senator a decade ago, but are now mainstream.
The goodness of America. Again, not so long ago, we all pretty much agreed America was a good and decent nation. Yes, with a troubled history, but also with significant moral achievements. The difference between the parties here is significant. 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 aims to encourage “patriotic education.” Of course, he was immediately called a fascist for that. There is a reason that any historic American monuments – be they of Lincoln, Washington, or Catholic priests – 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 as the moral standard for the vast majority of Americans. We are witnessing a rise in hostility to 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 see it in a civilization that has normalized pornography, mainstreamed pot, and idolized sports.
Elections, on all sides, attempt to use fear as a motivator. 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 the 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 looks like each election really will be more and more consequential.