The Newsom DeSantis debate revealed a divided America

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In “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate,” DeSantis and Newsom personify a divided America

December 1, 2023 -

In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo). Newsom and DeSantis held a debate on Nov. 30, 2023.

In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo). Newsom and DeSantis held a debate on Nov. 30, 2023.

In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo). Newsom and DeSantis held a debate on Nov. 30, 2023.

Last night Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis debated California governor Gavin Newsom in what was billed as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate.”

But while the given purpose was to provide both governors a platform to contrast the approaches they’ve taken to leading their respective states, the amount of bad blood that has built up between the two men over the last few years seemed to elevate the stakes beyond their respective approaches to governance.

Both governors came into office in 2018, and both were reelected in 2022 by decisive margins. More importantly, though, both were also in charge of leading their states through the Covid crisis, and much of their mutual resentment stems from that time. Their resulting rise in the national profile served to heighten their exposure on other subjects as well, and neither has been shy about pointing to the other as essentially everything that is wrong with the opposing party.

Consequently, when they met last night on Fox News for the debate, it quickly moved beyond the rivalry between their states to focus more on competing visions for the country. And, given the size and national significance of both California and Florida—the first- and third-most populous states in the nation respectively—framing the conversation in those terms made some sense.

Ultimately, the debate between Newsom and DeSantis was a chaotic and intense event that covered some important ground but also devolved into name-calling and contrasting claims that likely led to a restless night for those with the unenviable task of fact-checking the myriad statements made by both men.

However, my most enduring takeaway from the debate had less to do with their approach to any particular subject than with the general feel of the event. And, as we’ll discuss shortly, there’s an important lesson in there for us today regardless of where you fall along the political spectrum.

Revealing the wide gap in American politics

While President Biden is technically not running unopposed, his team has acted as though he is. It is unlikely he will appear on a debate stage until next September. As such, the only presidential debates that have taken place so far have been on the Republican side. Moreover, none of those have included former President Trump, who still has a large lead in the polls.

Consequently, while there have been some contentious moments, for the most part the candidates have been largely debating the best method to accomplish the same goals. With a few exceptions, their general approach to governance and their beliefs on the more significant issues are fairly aligned.

That was not the case last night.

What stood out most in the debate between DeSantis and Newsom was the vastly different ways in which each approached not only leading the country but also their vision for what the country should be in general. There was little to no agreement on any major policy throughout the evening, and seeing their views expressed in such stark contrast was a good reminder of just how wide the gap has become in politics—at least when expressed by politicians.

In contrast, the differences between candidates within either party seem—while not insignificant—relatively minor by comparison. And therein lies the lesson for us today.

Division vs. unity

When the majority of our conversations take place in contexts where everyone involved agrees on the big issues, then the little stuff starts to seem more important and divisive than it really is. And while that’s true in most areas of life, it’s especially relevant when it comes to our faith.

As Christians, it’s important to remember that what divides us is typically of far less importance than what unites us. Yet it can be easy to lose sight of that fact when most of our conversations take place with other Christians. That’s why, historically, the greatest periods of fighting amongst believers often occur in situations where most people at least claim to be Christian.

In the fourth and fifth centuries, for example, most of the debates and fights among believers occurred in the Eastern Roman Empire, where the church experienced relative peace and prosperity. However, in the western half of the Empire, where barbarians invaded and Roman society largely collapsed, a sense of community developed there even among factions of the faith that, less than a hundred years prior, thought the other side was going to hell.

And the same basic pattern plays out throughout much of Christian history.

The gravity of the issues that we allow to divide us is often directly linked to the degree to which we understand our need for other people. If Christians are in short supply and persecution seems imminent, the circle of whom we’re willing to work with gets much bigger. By contrast, if we have the option of going to church each Sunday with people who think and act like us, then that circle tends to shrink.

Are Christians “one”?

My purpose in bringing this up today is not to condemn the impulse to prefer the company of people with whom you have much in common. That’s natural, and such friendships can be greatly beneficial. Rather, my purpose is to challenge all of us—myself included—to be more intentional about stepping outside those smaller circles to engage with people who don’t share our beliefs.

That could include a lost coworker or neighbor, someone from a different denomination, or even just a person with whom you’ve never really had more than surface-level conversations.

One of Christ’s final prayers before the crucifixion was that his followers “may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). When we are intentional about making room in our lives for people who think differently than we do, it can help us become the answer to that prayer by reminding us of all that we have in common with our fellow Christians.

So whom can you reach out to today? Is there a person God has already brought into your life who would fit that description?

If not, will you pray right now that he would?

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