The second debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump only confirmed that we are experiencing the most squalid presidential race in modern times.
Others have been labeled the "dirtiest" and the "sleaziest" but the current electioneering for the White House establishes a new category: the trashiest..
Trump and Clinton are an insult to America. Yet maybe they are a reflection of contemporary American culture. They are trying to win the vote of a society which, in its values, often veers to its inner teenager on prom night.
Ironic how — in Trump's case at least — media elites who pan and scorn traditional morality want to use it as a club to pound those it doesn't like.
This campaign has exceeded the trashiness of the Thomas Jefferson-John Adams match of 1800 (in which a writer hired by Jefferson called Adams a "hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman"), the Andrew Jackson-John Quincy Adams 1828 mud-slinger, the Lincoln-Douglas hassle of 1860, the 1884 Cleveland-Blaine slugfest, or the Hoover-Smith grease-slinger in 1928 when Hoover forces planted a rumor that Catholic Al Smith planned to build a secret tunnel over the 3,500 miles between New York's Holland Tunnel and Rome's Vatican.
"This is the best we can do?" I asked rhetorically after the first Clinton-Trump debate. After the second debate we must consider another question: "How did we get here?"
More specifically, "Why would God allow Americans to be reduced to such a tawdry choice for their nation's leader?"
Political analysis and demographic-sociological hoodoo might provide surface answers. For the depth, however, we must turn to the Scriptures. Three come to mind.
Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 24:14, revealed the whole purpose of history: "This gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a witness to all the nations (Greek: ethnes, "peoples") and then the end (Greek: telos, "purpose" or "goal") will come."
The whole purpose of history, Jesus was showing, is the spreading worldwide of the good news about the Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
Western Civilization, and the United States within it, played a vital role in launching the modern missionary movement. Now, however, the demographic center of world Christianity is no longer in America and Europe, but the global south. Perhaps what is happening in American politics and government reflects the dramatic strategic shift in the advance of the gospel of the Kingdom globally. The fading of the role of the West — led in the 20th century by the United States — in this historic purpose highlights the global nature of the gospel of the Kingdom.
Romans 1 is another possible explanation for what is happening to the United States. God's judgment comes upon people who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," rejecting the revelation that has been made so clear to them, writes Saint Paul. "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." (Verse 21)
God's judgment for this, continues the Apostle, is in the removal of His protective, restraining hand. "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them," says verse 24.
Particularly relevant for our season of confused and free-wheeling sexuality (so graphic in the presidential debate that the event should have been X-rated) is the removal of God's hand from the people who reject His truth:
"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper ..." (Verses 26-28)
The third passage that might explain how we arrived at such a tawdry political moment is in Jesus' words appearing in Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
Much of the Western church has lost the vision for holy living, having swapped it for the "feel-good-about-yourself" faux gospel. But the contemporary trashiness of politics and culture generally can stir a new level of hunger for holiness, and for leaders with integrity.
I wrote recently that any hope that Trump might give moral leadership will be in his choice for a running mate. Perhaps the best thing Donald Trump has going for him is Mike Pence.
Maybe that choice alone should compel a vote for Trump. Elect him and we get Pence. Elect Hillary and we get Kaine, who embraced Marxists in Latin America, and perhaps still dreams of the day when our nation might be a socialist country, like all the other failed states that litter the historical landscape.
Electing Trump possibly positions Pence to someday restore political, moral, and character excellence to the Oval Office.
That would be a good day for America, and make the present walk to the voting booth through the stench worth it.