This post is not meant to be shared. I do not intend to post it on Facebook, or Twitter, or any other social media (apart from this blog). I’m just making it to have something down, on record, of how I thought about Trump.
I sort of wish I’d made one of these before. I’ve hated Trump from the moment his campaign stopped being a joke, but I’ve only been vocal about it since the Trump Tapes went public. I have no way of verifying that I considered his policies ridiculous, his behavior repugnant, and his word unreliable back when he was apparently winning the hearts and minds of a small but nonetheless significant portion of Republican voters. I feel a bit hypocritical, to only be attacking Trump now that everyone is attacking him. Especially since I’m not sure I would be this aggressive if the scandal was happening to Bush, or even Romney.
That worries me, somewhat, but I feel like the people involved are an important consideration. If a tape surfaced of Bush or Romney speaking this way, it would be totally at odds with the persona presented in their campaigns—caring family men respectful of women everywhere. You could argue—and doubtless plenty would—that this would be a veneer, but it would be much easier to counter-argue that they had obviously changed in the ten years since the recording and now were repentant and ought to be forgiving.
Not so with Trump. Trump’s behavior since day one has been offensive, sexist, and perverted. He boasts of his infidelity in his biography and has openly made insinuations about women going through menstrual cycles. The Trump tapes are really not a surprise to anyone, they show a person absolutely consistent with the persona presented in the campaign. His initial half-hearted “apology” (“I apologize if anyone was offended”) only underscored this. Trump is the same at 70 as he was at 60. The Republican leadership knew this about Donald Trump long before they made their bed with him, and probably most voters guessed it. I have to think this is why some of his supporters haven’t dropped him yet—they made peace with this part of his personality months ago.
So why have the tapes changed everything? Critics argue that Republicans are fools for not dropping him earlier, back he was talking about Hispanic judges being too biased, or attacking allies to gain oil reserves, or locking up Muslims in internment camps. They’re right. That’s why I said I wished I’d put this up sooner. But while the religious right has never pretended to care about “political correctness”, or appeasing allies overseas, or being careful about profiling religious minorities, they HAVE always cared about family values and the sanctity of marriage. Or pretended to care, as this incident is showing about some.
When I was ten, my parents had our grainy little TV set on for an entire weekend and into Monday. In our house, we didn’t even regularly watch Saturday Morning Cartoons, so this was a subject that deeply interested me, even if it was mostly boring men in suits talking. I didn’t quite understand the details, except that the despised Bill Clinton had finally slipped up and been caught doing something very naughty with an intern, and was under threat of impeachment. It was very exciting.
We watched representative after representative approach the podium to give their two cents. One prominent Representative resigned in hopes that Clinton would follow his example. A democratic representative had a rather vague metaphor about the tin-roof house he and his brothers used to hide in during the rain (“WE NEED TA STAY IN TA HOUSE, BROTHAHS!”). In retrospect I think it must have been about the importance of holding together and party unity. It didn’t matter, really. All of the democrats had the exact same line. Yes, this is bad, but c’mon. It’s one mistake. He’s been a really good president. It hasn’t even been proven.
Watching, my parents scoffed, and my brothers and I followed their cue. Vile democrats. Pure politicians. No moral backbone at all. Their president could do whatever he liked, they cared only about power. All that they said about feminism was pure lip service. Only the Republicans were holding to values of truth and honor; arguing for a higher moral code. Vote after vote showed this—the speeches everyone was giving had no effect whatsoever. The votes split directly along party lines. Democrats, we agreed, didn’t honestly believe any of the things they were saying.
The case seemed pretty straightforward to me at the time, but many years later I found myself arguing with a co-worker at the warehouse where I was employed. He had declared that he’d be fine with Clinton coming back to replace Obama.
I was astonished. Bill Clinton was a buffoon, an embarrassment, a lecher. He had technically been impeached.
Didn’t matter, said the man. All politicians did it, you know. European prime ministers and parliament leaders were always having mistresses, and no one there seemed to think it was important. What a man did in his private life had no bearing on his professional talent. Clinton had revitalized the economy, he deserved a few secretaries.
(He didn’t say that last part exactly. I’m paraphrasing.)
I was thunderstruck. I grasped the cold logic of the argument (though in the moment, I rebounded that a man who was untrustworthy toward his wife—and the grand jury—was doubtless untrustworthy toward the nation.), but it presented a world utterly devoid of moral structure. Only results were important. How different the life of the unbeliever was, I marveled.
If anyone had told me, even last year, that conservative Christians would so completely ape the arguments of the 1998 left, I would have ignored them as hyper-reactive hypocrites who were failing to really engage with the religious right. But if anyone had told me last year that Trump would run and win the nomination, I would have laughed it off as the plot to a Simpsons episode. The 2016 race burned that naivete out of me thoroughly, to the point that I commented to a friend that I didn’t expect the Trump Tapes to change anything, really. I thought I had no idealism left to crush.
Yet it is one thing to know something intellectually about a movement, and to see it borne out by people you know and icons from your youth. Dr. Dobson and Sean Hannity were bad enough, but now I see the same excuses coming from family friends and fellow church members. “No one’s perfect.” “Everyone does it.” “We’re not electing him to a religious office.” Moral character doesn’t matter.” “God has raised him up; it is your religious duty to support him against the forces of the AntiChrist!” Worst of all are those who sneer: “Those democrats. Such hypocrites: they didn’t care about this with Clinton at all, but Trump says a few things and they’re all up in arms. They don’t even believe in objective morality!”
Perhaps some Democrats do not believe in objective morality. I have met a number who do, but honestly, that point is irrelevant. Because Christians DO. The nature of the Left, or of Clinton, does not change who Christians should be or what they should do. Nor, in this case, what they should not do. If Christians are to make any claims about the importance of character, about the sanctity of marriage, about the objectiveness of morality, they CANNOT overlook the moral failings of a man’s character simply because he is “too important” to their political strategy. That is exactly the moral pitfall that every Foyle’s War episode condemns.
Christian leaders argue that that is not what they are saying at all—that no one is arguing for Trump to get a pass on his sin. They are merely saying that it was a long time ago, and that he has apologized, and honestly, do we expect we can only vote for a man who has only been perfectly respectful his whole life to women? Christ preached forgiveness! David! Samson! Wilberforce! Plus, Hillary! Antichrist! Must be stopped at all costs!
Again, if this was any other candidate I might see their reasoning. I’ve urged the “lesser of two evils” argument myself. In the 2012 election, I strongly argued for my friend to vote for Romney rather than abstain. (which, incidentally, friend, I still think that was a stupid call—it wasn’t really a matter of conscience, just of your particular golden boy Ron Paul not winning the nominations. You abstained DESPITE THE FACT THAT Ron Paul himself told his followers to back Romney). There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, and infighting amongst the church is one of our greatest weaknesses And Christ does call on us to forgive, though as I said, I strongly doubt Trump has repented at all.
Trump has caused me to question a great deal. My membership in the Republican party, I’m certain is at an end. I’m also questioning much of my attitude toward politics. God is in control of the election and the world, all one really ought to worry about is his own conscience, and whether he can honestly support this candidate before God’s face. Sin is not about its effect on other people, but upon the believer. But on the other hand, I’ve also started to consider that perhaps Christians ought not to be seriously invested in politics at all, as they are the counsel of rulers and the vain devisings of people. God laughs at them, so should we, perhaps. In a world full of terrible candidates, the only moral choice is not to choose.
If so, then the only reason to engage in politics is out of love for one’s neighbor, in which case the “lesser evil” argument might still apply. I don’t know. I’m still thinking it through. With a less repugnant candidate, I might not be so picky. Maybe that condemns me.
But this is not any other candidate, this is Trump. Trump is not the lesser of two evils, he is if anything, the greater evil, an egotistical, lying buffoon who cannot even articulate sound strategies. He insults and bullies his way to the top. He represents everything that is wrong with our culture, and even against the conniving Clinton, I cannot support him, and it is my earnest hope that he loses the election. Christians ought not to be supporting him already, and the fact that they are still doing so is a black stain that will last for years to come.
And that’s why I’m making this post, because this is an issue that is going to last beyond this election, whether or not Trump wins, both for those Christians who vote for Trump and those who do not. Conservatives, more than ever, will be maligned as racists and sexists and idiots, but that will only be the tip of the damage. The real calamity will be the impact on our Christian witness. I know I will never be able to respect those family friends and those former icons in the same way again. The same is true of the world’s view of the religious right at large. We will have lost whatever moral authority we had. We will have shown ourselves to be not just in the world, but of the world.
In future years, I doubt anyone will be convinced by the near-universal refrain, “I never supported Trump!” I doubt, also, that anyone will be much more convinced by: “No, really, I never did, here’s this blog I wrote prior to the election.” It’ll be a long, slow process, dependent on how each person shows the work of God in their lives.
And maybe, that’s for the best.