NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 4th of November, 2020.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: the 2020 election draws to a close.
Votes are still being counted across the country, but last night marked the beginning of the end for the 59th American presidential election. Americans first cast ballots for president in 1789. George Washington won that contest—unanimously. We’ve had several other landslide elections since then. But most of the time, the electorate has been much more divided. Twice the U.S. House \has had to step in to choose the winner.
EICHER: This year’s election has certainly given us some memorable moments in a most unusual year. But is it as momentous as the pundits would have us believe?
Well, it is Washington Wednesday. It’s Washington week, really. But joining us today to provide some perspective on the 2020 election are two of WORLD’s most experienced political reporters: editor in chief Marvin Olasky and national editor Jamie Dean. Hey there!
JAMIE DEAN, NATIONAL EDITOR: Good morning.
MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: Hi, Nick.
EICHER: Marvin, let’s begin with context. We keep hearing the word “unprecedented.” But we’ve had contentious presidential campaigns in the past. And this isn’t the first time we’ve elected a president during tumultuous times in the culture.
But for you, what previous elections have really stood out as similarly fraught?
OLASKY: I’ll give you three: 1800 when some said Thomas Jefferson would overthrow Christianity in American. 1860 which led to the Civil War. And 1876 which ended Reconstruction as armed men headed to Washington. Republicans made a deal, they got a president, and stopped protecting ex-slaves in the South. Nothing hugely militant since then.
EICHER: Yeah, and yet our nation survived all of those. Still, returning to the idea of an unprecedented year … does it feel different this time around?
OLASKY: Most polarized since I started voting in 1972, but we have been told in every election since 2000 that if the candidate we prefer doesn’t win, America is down the drain. I hope we’ll survive this one as we’ve survived the others. Although at some point, the sentence on a tombstone in the Princeton cemetery kicks in, “I told you I was sick.”
EICHER: Jamie, you’ve covered many of the recent elections. Does it feel different to you this time?
DEAN: Well, I think in general this year feels different than any year I’ve been working as a reporter. But when I think about the last few presidential campaigns that I’ve covered, I think one of the themes that floats to the top is how much hope and how much weight Americans of all political persuasions often put on one man or one woman to make things right—whatever their idea of right might be. That’s not true of every voter, but I’ve seen that thread running through the last 12 years. In 2008 with then-Senator Barack Obama and then in 2016 with Donald Trump who appealed not only to many Republicans but he appealed to some Democratic voters disenchanted with how things had worked out for them. Here was a man who could maybe make the country great again. In 2020 I think there were voters still certainly steadfastly devoted to President Trump and those who were enthusiastic about Joe Biden, but I got the sense that plenty of voters on both sides weren’t feeling that same kind of hope that they had in the past. No doubt some of that has to do with the very difficult circumstances we’re all enduring this year. But in varying ways, it seems like both sides were largely trying to avoid what they feared most about the other side. And that doesn’t mean that one side might not have a better argument for how to govern the country, but it may mean that Americans are being reminded that no one man or one woman can carry the kind of weight that we sometimes put on them.
EICHER: In a recent online column, you quoted a pastor named Adam Mabry, who has written about this kind of Christian response to politics. Talk a little about what you learned from him.
DEAN: Yeah, I’ll just quote from his book “Stop Taking Sides” because I really think it’s quite helpful. Mabry wrote this before the election was underway. He said, “While the world may lose their collective marbles when an election goes ‘wrong,’ may it never be so for the church of Jesus Christ. Remember, your King is on the throne already. While the outcome may change the moment, it changes neither the mission nor eternity. The world is desperate for a people who are secure enough in grace that they can flourish under Caesar, whoever he or she may be.”
EICHER: Marvin, the divisions we’ve seen in the church this year are in some ways disheartening. But maybe in the fractures … we’ve seen an opportunity for healing. Do you think God is planting seeds of renewal?
OLASKY: I hope so. It needs to start in churches. Here’s a suggestion for everyone listening: Next Sunday, say to someone in your church who disagrees with you politically what Abraham Lincoln said to the South in 1861, “We are not enemies, but friends.” It didn’t do much good then, but our chief goal should be to glorify God and enjoy him forever and not just elect someone for four years. And we can move towards glorifying him and enjoying him by not making politics ultimate and not breaking fellowship because of relatively unimportant things.
EICHER: How does this set us up for the future? Do you think we’ve entered an age of high levels of tension and division … or is 2020 an outlier and we’ll simmer down?
OLASKY: News media are such a big problem now. That’s our occupation, Nick, but this is trouble because networks and big newspapers used to make money by going for the middle. Now lots of them make millions of dollars by providing propaganda. And if they keep doing that and people keep buying it, we’re in trouble.
EICHER: Well, let’s talk about that, actually, before we go. I think you’ve raised something that I’d like to pursue just a little bit because there are lots of races—House races, Senate races, the Presidential race. We just don’t know exactly what’s going to happen until all of the counting is done and possible legal challenges to it. I think we can declare, can’t we, Marvin, that the media are the big losers here?
OLASKY: Yes, and big media are going to keep losing. The technology has changed, there’s real opportunity for others to come in and win an audience and we at WORLD should be in that competition.
EICHER: I mean, I think if you were simply to look at the national news media in the run-up to this, you wouldn’t have anticipated what happened tonight. This was supposed to be absolutely over for Trump and it was going to be a blowout win. And instead we’re still—late in the game—still kinda counting. That’s another big miss and you can’t just lay it at the feet of pollsters. You really do have to lay this one at the feet of the news media. I just want to continue to pursue that with you for a bit before we go because we do have a little bit of time.
OLASKY: Well, I was flipping channels among the major networks and the look of glee upon some faces when there were promising developments for Joe Biden were really—as in 2016 with Hillary Clinton—really strange. Well, not strange at this point. We’re used to it. But just totally unprofessional. So, yeah, this is a big problem. They’re not wearing the striped jerseys of referees, but they’re wearing blue blazers and blue uniforms and saluting particular Democratic candidates. As long as that continues, that’s going to be bad.
EICHER: I mean, and honestly, can we not say that from the time Trump was elected—big surprise, Trump was elected—I remember in those early days, there was all of this talk, “We need to sort of understand that middle of the country that we never understood. There’s something here that we don’t know about. We need to explore that.” That just never came to pass with the media and that’s a fact.
OLASKY: There was a tiny bit of parachuting into the middle of the country and venturing into those places where—as Hillary Clinton put it—the “deplorables” live. It didn’t last very long. And, yeah, we’re back to the same old-same old of just among the major networks, with the exception of Fox, of just being cheerleaders. Fox I looked at tonight some and actually it really was more fair and balanced than I’d seen before and that we’re getting from the other networks.
EICHER: Jamie, in your Dean’s List column posted Monday on WORLD’s website, you noted another momentous time in our country’s history when God’s people disagreed about the best path forward. Remind us of that.
DEAN: Sure, that was long before 2020. It was actually 1620. This month marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. On November 9, 1620, the 100 or so travelers aboard the Mayflower spotted the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts after just a miserable two months journey from England. And before they ever set foot on land, they were disagreeing about the best course of action to take. They did know they wanted religious freedom to worship according to the Scriptures. But they also knew what fellow passenger William Bradford wrote about them later. Bradford said, “They knew they were pilgrims.” And I think as Christians that is such a critical reality to remember about ourselves. In whatever age we live, whoever our leaders may be, we know that we are pilgrims. And I think we can give great thanks to God for that.
EICHER: Jamie Dean is WORLD’s national editor and Marvin Olasky is our editor in chief. Thank you both for joining us today!
DEAN: Thanks, Nick.