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September 27, 2016
Michael McKoy

Two themes dominated the discussion at last night’s first US presidential debate:  justice and character.  Both these issues are critical to how Christians should think about voting in this upcoming election.

Economic Justice 

Moderator Lester Holt’s first set of questions concerned issues of economic growth and job opportunity.  Issues of economic justice and prosperity are rarely thought of as “Christian” issues, but the Bible speaks often of wealth as a blessing and the responsibility of the wealthy to contribute to society. 

In their answers, Trump and Clinton both spoke to the anger and anxiety Americans feel about the loss of manufacturing jobs. Befitting his unique status as a billionaire populist, Trump’s answers were simultaneously more generous towards large corporations—proposing massive corporate tax cuts—and more punishing—calling for heavy tariff on any products made by companies that moved overseas. 

Clinton in turn spoke of the need for large corps to pay a greater share of taxes given their greater prosperity.  Both Clinton and Trump’s policies harken back to Jesus’ words “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48).  They differ however; in that Clinton believes enough has been done to support larger corps and now they must contribute.  Trump believes more must be done to attract and reward businesses that stay in the US while punishing those that move abroad.

Social Justice

Holt next addressed issues of racial division and the police; hot topics that Christians can weigh into with the hope of reconciliation and a mind set of respecting authority.

Clinton sought to strike a balance between the two, but leaned more toward issues on reconciliation, directly addressing problems of systemic racism and calling for better relations between law enforcement and communities of color.  It is interesting to note that she pointed to faith communities as the first pillar of this reconciliation.  Trump put much greater emphasis on respect for authority, touting his endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police and criticizing Clinton for refusing to use the words “law and order.” He depicted poor urban neighborhoods, particularly in Chicago as lawless and violent with a need to return to practices of “stop and frisk,” which some credit for dropping crime in NYC but others accuse of encouraging racial profiling of Latino and African-Americans

These issues often seem divisive, but conservatives and progressives hailed the Ferguson Report for exposing the government abuses that targeted poor citizens of color.  Addressing such injustices, regardless of political party, must be a priority for all voters.

Character and Temperament

More than any of the specific issues, questions of character and temperament have been central to this campaign.  Trump constantly refers to Clinton as “Crooked Hillary,” while Clinton’s ads focus on Trump’s offensive and outlandish statements.  The importance of character and temperament in a leader cannot be missed in the Bible.  The book of Proverbs serves as a guide to future kings and leaders on the morals and wisdom necessary for righteous rule.  Samuel, Kings and Chronicles all show how poor or positive leadership can impact a nation.

Both Clinton and Trump have struggled with character and temperament flaws.  But during the debate, Clinton largely avoided any character attacks.  Holt failed to ask her about her thousands of deleted emails, and Trump surprisingly only raised the issue once. Clinton deflected the question with a briefly worded apology, and Trump failed to further press her.

Clinton however landed several blows against Trump regarding his unreleased tax returns, his discriminatory housing policies, and his fitness to be Commander-in Chief.  Clinton employed one of her favorite attack lines the “someone who can be baited by a tweet should not have control over our nuclear codes.”  Trump attempted to mock Clinton for resting before the debate, but Clinton used this to emphasize her preparedness to be President. 

It is fascinating to watch how Americans respond to these candidates.  A Gallup Poll on un-favorability showed both Clinton and Trump are considered the worst presidential picks since 1956.  Perhaps this speaks to character and temperament?

Unmentioned: The Supreme Court

Left unsaid was any discussion of the Supreme Court.  Overturning Roe v. Wade has long been a central GOP plank, while Democrats have promised to overturn Citizens United, which allows corporations to donate unlimited amounts to political campaigns.  Many Christians are also concerned that respect for LGBTQ rights may come at the expense of religious liberties.  In addition Trump has expressed desires to loosen libel laws, which may threaten journalistic freedom of speech.  Hopefully these important issues will make an appearance at the next debate.

Michael McKoy Michael McKoy, Assistant Professor

Department of Politics & International Relations, Wheaton College



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