A few days ago, I was on a conference call for work. The topic was employee wellness, and we were talking specifically about holiday parties. The host asked if anyone had friends who were planning to host parties this year, and I joked that, “After this election, I’m not sure I’ll have any friends left.” Affectionately, my coworkers assured me that they’d still be my friends.
Next week, the remaining group of voters will cast their ballots to select our country’s leaders, and at least half of the people in the country will be disappointed with the results.
While I’ve only been alive for nine Presidential elections, this has been the most contentious/volatile/rage-filled one that I can recall. Older people I’ve asked have said the same thing. One example comes from a good friend of mine. She had placed a political sign in her front yard. A day or two later, her neighbors came and kicked it down. Her 10-year-old son who saw the incident described the neighbors as being in their 50’s or 60’s. Now, stop and think for a minute – when you were a kid, did you think that going onto someone’s private property and kicking down a sign you disagreed with was how adults should behave? Likely not, but yet otherwise normal, polite, and friendly people have become… well, not.
If you found yourself wondering which candidate the sign supported, your heart is in the wrong place.
There are a few very real factors that have contributed to the vitriol of this election, and while they’ve certainly been around for some time, the Age of (dis)Information has definitely stoked the fires of irrationality and unreasonableness around this election:
- The classic political ad formula – From my days working near those in the political world, the messaging around running for office followed a very specific formula: 1.) show an alarming problem with the opponent, 2.) pivot to positive messaging about your candidate, then 3.) in the final weeks, run negative attack ads. Though this has always been around, it’s now amplified by the 24-hour news cycle and our perpetual connectedness to media.
- Drama-supporting news outlets – If you’ve seen Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, you’ll know that the algorithms that determine what shows up in your social media feeds (including your search results and daily news feed) are designed to keep you engaged, often through controversy. Because after all, controversy sells. No one watches reality TV shows about groups of people who all get along really well, right? People tune in when there’s drama and explosions.
- Fear-stoking social media – Finally, as Facebook figured out a few years ago, consumers who are nervous / apprehensive about the future are better customers: the “right amount” of fear makes people spend more money. By showing us more posts that make us afraid and fewer posts that make us happy, social media can keep us uncertain or angry about the future. This, in turn, makes us better consumers for their advertising partners.
Part of me believes (and all of me hopes) that this will greatly subside after next week’s election. But as I said before, at least half the country is going to be outraged. If you find yourself in that group, let me share a little advice to help you recover. And, it’ll probably even help any political conversations among friends or family.
- Before praising or criticizing a candidate, first ask yourself – honestly – “How would I feel if the other candidate did this same thing?” If Trump told a black voter, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Biden, then you ain’t black,” would it bother you enough to not vote for him? Or if Biden off-handedly threatened to shoot protesters, is that a viewpoint of a President that you could accept / endorse? If you get into the habit of doing this, you’ll find yourself gravitating toward the political middle, winning (or deflating) more arguments, and avoiding your words coming back to haunt you. It’s a very practical application of “treat other people as you would like to be treated.” (Old Testament: Leviticus 19:18, and New Testament: Matthew 7:12.) And more importantly, it’s a constant reminder that 1. everyone is flawed, and everyone does the occasional bad thing, and 2. your moral compass shouldn’t point to “D” or “R”, but rather “G”.
- As a follow-up to the above, when someone does criticize a candidate you might align with, avoid the temptation to attack the other candidate in response. Instead, talk about the action of that candidate you align with. When someone says, “Trump/Biden did this terrible thing…” it’s okay to say, “Yeah, that was terrible. They shouldn’t have done it.” Or say, “I don’t think it was terrible. Here’s why…” Otherwise, you run two risks: first, by default, you’ll end up supporting something you really don’t want to support. Both candidates leave a lot to be desired on the morality front, and to write off their bad behavior because they might someday support laws that you might kinda sorta agree with a little is a terrible compromise of your integrity. Second, when someone criticizes the candidate you align with, retorting with, “well, your candidate did _____ which is much worse!” only devolves the conversation into, “At least my guy’s not as bad as Hitler!” “Yeah, well, at least my guy’s not as bad as Stalin!” No one’s mind gets changed or enlightened, and everyone comes away pissed off at someone they used to like. Ask yourself honestly, do you really value your party affiliation more than the relationship with the other person in this conversation? Do you value your proxy-relationship with this candidate more than your real relationship with this person? If you search your heart and conclude “yes”, it may be time to have a long, hard look at your priorities.
- Finally, to say what we’re all thinking, both candidates suck in their own rights. Seriously, these are not the best men America has to offer. (Personally, I think the idea of having “the best” people run the country died out a long time ago.) So when it comes to curing the ails of this country, don’t put your faith in Trump or Biden (or Pence or Harris, McConnel, Pelosi, etc. for that matter.) Easier said than done, for sure, but only for us. For God, it’s no work at all to save – or judge – our country.
In 2016, about 139 million people voted. The total voting-eligible population was about 231 million, which means that about 92 million eligible people did not vote. (Source) For perspective, Trump won 63 million popular votes, Clinton won 66 million. (Source) What does this mean? God could easily work in the hearts of people to turn out a few thousand of those 92 million in key districts and sway the election any way He chooses. Or, He could move them to carry a write-in candidate to a landslide victory. (Unlikely, sure, but not impossible.) If you want to really influence the election, you don’t need to take to Facebook to tell the world how terrible one candidate is. (I’ve recently come to this conclusion myself. It was tremendously freeing.) Instead, you have direct access to the one true Kingmaker.
For our country, the good things it represents, the people living in it, and the people running it no matter their party affiliation.
Full disclosure: the first time I ever prayed for our country as a whole was when I went to bed after watching that first debate. I saw it as the tips of two giant, hate-filled icebergs, and I saw no humanly hope for rectifying the damage. But, thankfully, that always seems to be the point where God steps in and fixes things.
The media will tell you that the future of our country is at stake in this election. That’s a lie.
How can you tell? Because God does not abandon His people.
- When God went to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the angel told Lot (who was the only righteous man in the two cities) that he could not destroy the city until Lot and his family were out. Genesis 19:22
- When God sent Jonah to warn Nineveh that He would destroy the city in 40 days, the city repented, God relented, and Nineveh remained for another 400 years. (Nineveh was a bad place. Residents would decorate their houses with the skins of people they killed. Jonah actually preferred to drown instead of going there.) Jonah 1:12
- When the king of Assyria arrived at Jerusalem and laid siege, after sacking 46 other Israelite cities during his war campaign, God sent a message to the king: it was He who used the king as a judgement against other nations, but now that the king’s pride had become too great, he will be turned back, broken, from Jerusalem. And in one night, God destroyed the king’s army of 185,000 soldiers. 2 Kings 19:35
On a per-person level, there’s no need to fear. If the country goes to shit, and you remain faithful, God will preserve you among the wreckage, for He does not judge the righteous with the wicked. Genesis 18:25 Ask Lot, or the billions of other people whose lives are proof.
Okay, but what if we get a horrible leader (or several) who wrecks the country and encourages bad things? What if they bring God’s judgement upon us, instead of His blessing?
That’s happened to Israel, too.
Israel had leaders who allowed – and in some cases, encouraged – the citizens to do bad things. And as a result, the holy and perfect God allowed judgment to befall them for their sins:
- exile in the desert (Deuteronomy 1)
- drought (1 Kings 17)
- famine (1 Kings 18)
- more famine (Amos 4)
- invaded, conquered and destroyed the temple
- captivity in Babylon (2 Kings 24)
- Roman occupation
- destroyed the second temple
- displaced for 1,878 years (70 A.D. to 1948)
- …and a host of wars throughout.
The list goes on. In fact, in all my readings, no other nation has suffered so much judgment from God and survived. For nations who weren’t His Chosen People, they would usually get one warning (if they were lucky), then they were destroyed. But for Israel, time after time after time, they would turn away from Him, and time after time after time He would bring them back. But He never abandoned them.
Even through 1,878 years without a country, God preserved them. They are the only example of a nation surviving more than five generations without a homeland. Stateless nations (think: Tibet, or the Kurds) may not be politically recognized as a country, but as a group of people, they all reside in a common area. Until recently, the Israelites haven’t, yet they’ve held on to their national identity for thousands of years.
No, God never destroyed Israel, but rather, He corrected them, to bring them back to Him – “God chastens those He loves.” (Hebrews 12:6) If we choose bad people as our leaders, we as a country may need the correction… and the corresponding revival that would hopefully follow. After looking at the way God has taken care of His people throughout history, this doesn’t worry me at all.
Look at 2 Chronicles 7:13-14:
“the LORD appeared to [King Solomon] at night and said: ‘…When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.'”
God has done it unfailingly for His people, and I sleep well at night knowing that He will do it again for those who call on Him.