Biden and Trump Debate June 2024

The Dark Shadows over July 4

The 248th birthday of our country will be celebrated this year under dark shadows. Personally, I will not be doing much celebrating.

Let’s review our situation, shall we?

Former President Donald Trump already was leading in the presidential election polls before the June 27 debate between him and President Joe Biden.

In that debate, this is what I saw.

Joe Biden came across as physically and intellectually enfeebled. He looked and sounded alarmingly frail, often could not voice or complete his thoughts and was unable either to defend himself consistently or to prosecute the case against returning Trump to the White House.

His attempt to describe the structure of Roe v. Wade, for example, was a complete hash, and that was a huge missed opportunity for him. He seemed outraged at the “very idea” (a term he often repeated) that Donald Trump was once again going to be the GOP candidate, but his sputtering anger did not amount to an argument.

The debate has left Biden politically wounded and in a weaker position than before, however much he, his family and his campaign team try to deny it. What people saw at that debate cannot be unseen, and arguments about “one bad night” do not win undecided voters. He never should have attempted to run for reelection.

Donald Trump came across as much more vital and energetic than his adversary. He likewise simmered with outrage and contempt, offering much hyperbolic criticism of Biden laced with baldfaced lies.

“This version of Trump has turned an anti-immigrant message into the hermeneutical key for everything that is wrong with the country.”

I was struck by how his answer to nearly every question was to attack undocumented immigrants and to blame the problem on Biden. This version of Trump has turned an anti-immigrant message into the hermeneutical key for everything that is wrong with the country, a classic demagogue move that foreshadows many cruelties if he is elected. It was also a convenient way not to answer questions he did not want to answer.

It should be noted there was no handshake before or after the debate, no human contact, no friendly banter of any type. During one of the breaks in the debate, both sides aired apocalyptic advertisements, laced with violent images, attacking the other. The closing statements of both men were complete flops, offering nothing approaching a vision for the country.

Having watched political debates since 1976, this one was the most discouraging — not just because of Biden’s struggles and Trump’s cavalier lies, but because of how much the two men manifestly hated each other. These aged, angry men symbolized our exhausted, broken national politics.

Meanwhile, it certainly does appear likely that the legal prosecutions of Trump will not yield serious accountability and may ultimately collapse. Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida has managed to delay the classified documents case. The Georgia case is stalled indefinitely. The January 6/election interference case is likely not just delayed but gravely weakened by the Supreme Court’s just-released decision on presidential immunity. It is hard to believe the New York judge will issue a sentence for Trump’s conviction that will affect him seriously.

The pollsters and oddsmakers tell us it is likely Donald Trump will become president again. I remember in the days after January 6 how finished he appeared. I remember when the Senate had a chance to convict him during his second impeachment and not enough members of the GOP could muster the nerve. I remember all the good-hearted people I know who had voted for Trump a time or two and said that they were now done with him.

“I remember all the good-hearted people I know who had voted for Trump a time or two and said that they were now done with him.”

But if you look across the election map now, great oceans of red indicate Trump never really stopped being the president of large chunks of America, including what amounts to a mainly Solid South. Clearly, he speaks to and for tens of millions of people, including many of our fellow Christians. No one should ever again underestimate him.

Recently The Economist called him the most consequential U.S. politician since Ronald Reagan, and I cannot deny it. “Consequential” does not mean good; it means one who brings significant consequences. And just think, we may have only just begun to see what those consequences will be.

The life of the spirit and the mind and the witness of the church do not disappear even if one ends up living in an illiberal post-democracy-slash-autocracy. But the context for that life and witness looks entirely different.

It appears to be time to get ready for that new context.

This article first appeared on Baptist News Global.

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