Inflamed Passions, Itching Ears, and Other Pitfalls to Avoid While Watching Presidential Debates

How Christians can navigate the Trump-Biden showdown with discernment and love for neighbor.

As the 2024 election approaches, so too does our inexorable march toward presidential debates. And while the year’s first debate today takes place far earlier in the calendar than normal, this is far from a normal election.

Joe Biden, already the oldest president in American history, is facing criticism and questions about his readiness to lead and mental acuity. Donald Trump, also advanced in age, continues to spread unfounded accusations of electoral malfeasance in 2020 and, depending on the outcome, in 2024.

God’s people are called to love their neighbors and “seek the welfare of the city” (Jer. 29:7). One way we do this is to be informed and engaged in the contemporary political process. This means researching candidates for office, considering the ways our voting affects not just ourselves and our families but also our neighbors and fellow citizens, and, yes, at times tuning in to debates between candidates.

At their best, political debates highlight differences between candidates and give voters a clear choice when they cast their votes. Debates provide platforms for candidates to share not just specific policy proposals but also a broader vision for their community, state, and nation. This is consistent with the political science idea of “responsible party government,” in which political parties articulate an agenda that voters can reasonably expect from them should they win an election. Debates, in theory, afford candidates the same opportunities.

Unfortunately, debates usually fail to reach these goals. Instead of providing people with rich and substantive information to aid their inevitable voting, debates tend to devolve into scripted soundbites, attempts …

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