Race relations, personal ethics and terrorism were among the topics discussed by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26 in their first head-to-head presidential debate.
The 90-minute event hosted by Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., included no mention of abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism or religious liberty by either candidate and no specific mention of radical Islam during the discussion of terrorism.
More than 20 consecutive minutes were devoted to the subject of race relations. Clinton argued for criminal justice reform to counter systemic racial bias in America, and Trump said "law and order" is needed to increase the quality of life in minority communities.
"Too many young African-American and Latino men," Clinton said, have "ended up in jail for nonviolent offenses. And it's just a fact that if you're a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted and incarcerated."
The former secretary of state advocated reducing mandatory minimum sentences, "which have put too many people away for too long for doing too little," and increasing the number of "second-chance programs" in America's criminal justice system.
Trump said an aspect of maintaining law and order should be the use of "stop-and-frisk" procedures, under which police may question pedestrians then search them for weapons and other contraband. Although stop-and-frisk practices have been called racial profiling because they tend to affect blacks and Latinos disproportionately, as in New York City, Trump said such practices "take the guns away" from "bad people."
"We need law and order in the inner cities," Trump said, "because the people that are most affected by [urban violence and unrest] are African-American and Hispanic people. And it's very unfair to them what our politicians are allowing to happen." He cited Charlotte, N.C., and Ferguson, Mo., as examples.
Clinton criticized Trump for painting "such a dire, negative picture of black communities," citing "the vibrancy of the black church" among features of minority communities "we should be proud of."
Later in the debate, moderator Lester Holt of NBC News asked Trump about his five-year perpetuation of "the false claim that the nation's first black president [Barack Obama] was not a natural-born citizen." Though Trump acknowledged this month Obama was born in the U.S., Holt asked what he would say to "people of color" who were concerned about his advocacy of the so-called birther argument.
"I say nothing," Trump responded, "because I was able to get him to produce" his birth certificate. "He should have produced it a long time before."
Trump added, "When you talk about [racial] healing, I think that I've developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community. I think you can see that."
Clinton said Trump "started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen." She went on to allege Trump "has a long record of engaging in racist behavior."
The only evidence she cited for that claim was his birther statements and a 1973 Department of Justice lawsuit for housing discrimination that Trump said also targeted "many, many other companies throughout the country" and "was settled ... with no admission of guilt."
Trump said Clinton should not "act holier than thou" when it comes to criticizing Obama because she criticized him harshly during the 2008 presidential campaign and her campaign workers allegedly helped fuel the birther argument that year.
Regarding personal ethics, Clinton alleged Trump has made disrespectful statements about women and is "hiding" something by not releasing his federal income tax returns. Trump criticized Clinton for using a private email server as secretary of state and spending "hundreds of millions of dollars" on negative ads regarding Trump which are "absolutely untrue" and "not nice."
When the discussion turned to terrorism, the candidates clashed over cyber security, the Iran nuclear deal and their past views on the Iraq war. They also addressed cooperation with Muslim nations to combat terrorism.
Clinton said Trump "has consistently insulted ... Muslims abroad [and] Muslims at home when we need to be cooperating with Muslim nations and with the American Muslim community. They're on the front lines. They can provide information to us that we might not get anywhere else."
Trump retorted that "we've been working with [Muslim nations] for many years, and we have the greatest mess anyone's ever seen. You look at the Middle East. It's a total mess."
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the debate made some followers of Jesus feel "a sense of homelessness" because "neither of these visions of America really speaks for" them.
"That is seen even in the things that weren't talked about at all last night," Moore said Sept. 27 in a live video feed on Facebook. He cited as noticeably absent from the conversation "the unborn" and "other vulnerable populations"; "what kind of character is necessary in order to lead this country"; and "the equality of all persons not only under the law, but also in terms of the image of God."
Sadness over not identifying with either candidate's vision, Moore said, "can be good for the church" because it reminds believers they are "resident aliens" in the world and not "a political interest group ... to be appealed to and negotiated with politically."
The next presidential debate is slated for Oct. 9 in St. Louis. Vice presidential nominees Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will debate Oct. 4 in Farmville, Va.
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP (bpnews.net) reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.