Clarifying My Position on Trump

clinton_trump_splitSince publishing my earlier post ‘Donald Trump and Family Values‘ on October 8, I received a lot of pushback on my personal Facebook wall as well as my author page. This forced me to clarifying exactly what I was trying to say and exactly what I was not trying to say. For those who haven’t seen those discussions, I wanted to share some of what I wrote here since many readers of this blog may have had similar questions.

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I don’t care about a single incident of locker room talk, and if Trump talks like any other worldly guy this certainly doesn’t disqualify him for office. The Clintons’ misogyny is far worse and is something I am planning to research in depth. But we are not talking about merely isolated statements from Trump; the comments he has made about women in both public and private fit within an entire psychological profile of a bully who is unable to make rightly ordered connections with people (which is itself the first precondition to successful politics). His misogyny seems to be merely a symptom of this largely inability to connect with people on their own terms. David Brooks has done a good job explaining about Trump’s psychological condition and I highly recommend his article ‘Donald Trump’s Sad Lonely Life.’

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In my original post and all my subsequent clarifying comments, I was trying to offer a critique of the type of naïve optimism Trump is receiving from Christians who cannot even have an objective conversation about his weaknesses, including the weakness of positioning himself as pro-family values while holding these types of positions. As I have said again and again, if we must support Trump, let’s do so with our eyes open and let’s not assume that any criticism of him automatically signals support of Hillary. When I suggest that perhaps we should rethink the genuineness of Trump’s “family values”, Christian friends of mine apparently do not even agree that these are legitimate concerns to raise, for instead of acknowledging that these are valid questions to ask, they

  • deflect with emotional rants against Clinton as if it is axiomatic that the presence of a greater evil should short-circuit critical analysis of the lesser evil
  • with one side of the mouth they tell me not to judge, while with the other side of their mouth they “judge” Clinton and the liberal media in even harsher terms without appearing to perceive any inconsistency (I actually do not agree that it is “judging” for a journalist to offer evaluations and commentary, but that is a different issue) so that not judging becomes a selectively applied mechanism to short-circuit critical evaluation;
  • fail to acknowledge that these concerns about Trump have any legitimacy at all.

This last problem is outrageous and here’s why: the Church has historically stood as a prophetic voice against the ungodly, showing a different way of being human than what we find in the world. To let fear of Hillary cause the Christian community to refrain from fulfilling this prophetic role, to let our fear of Hillary cause us to retreat into silence, to let the fear of Hillary drive us into taking our seat in the company of mockers and standing with the scornful, to let our fear of Hillary cause us to abandon offering testimony to the world that Trump’s actions and behavior are wrong, to let our fear of the next four years cause the Church to abandon its obligation to testify that there is a different way of being human than either candidate represents – this I say is outrageous. Why should we trade our spiritual values for the promise of an earthly protector whose very lifestyle and modus operandi symbolizes everything that the Church has historically opposed? Ask these types of difficult questions to Christian Trump supporters and they’ll all answer more or less the same: fear of Hillary. But why should we be controlled by Hillary? Why should we abandon our historic witness out of fear of Hillary?

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…let me clarify what I am NOT saying. You ask, “I do not know what you are trying to say….Do not vote for Trump?” Just to be clear, I honestly don’t know whether we should vote for Trump or not. I have read a Christian article making a strong case FOR voting for Trump that seems to make sense. I have also read a Christian article making a strong case for NOT voting for Trump that also seems to make sense. Who is right? I honestly don’t know and I don’t feel I’m clever enough to figure it out. That’s okay, and I don’t think I should feel guilty if I decide to refrain from voting.

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It is a huge oversimplification to imply that non-support of Trump somehow equates to support of abortion. Here’s why: it is by no means certain that a Clinton presidency would lead to less abortions in the long-run than a Trump presidency. It could be that a Trump presidency might so badly damage the Republican Party that future pro-life candidates would have less of a chance. It could also be that the alignment of Christians with Trump could so toxify the perception of Christian political action that future generations of Christians may react by going left on social issues (something I am already seeing in the younger generation in reaction to earlier trends in right-wing politics). It could also be that a Trump presidency will be so distasteful that the nation may react by electing someone just as liberal as Clinton, and if this happens along with less Supreme Court Justices retiring in the next 4 years than in the 4 years following, then Trump might inadvertently damage the pro-life cause beyond recovery. Or it could be that 4 years of Clinton will be just the hard medicine our nation needs for a conservative reaction that might actually help the pro-life cause. Each of these conjectures could be argued from different historical precedence. The point is that we just don’t know. In the long-term, will a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency lead to less abortions, less international terrorism, less legislating from the bench, to say nothing of deaths of innocent people through poverty, climate change and American imperialism? We just don’t know. We also don’t know whether it would be spiritually healthier to have a leader like Hillary whom everyone knows to be corrupt through and through vs. a candidate like Trump who positions himself as pro-family values and which so many Christians (including some of my interlocutors) are saying is the solution to America’s problems and someone we should therefore treat with kid-gloves for fear of assisting Clinton. Again, we just don’t know. But what we DO know is that the Church should not let fear of Hillary short-circuit the type of critical analysis that we ought to be offering of BOTH candidates. From the time of Saint John the Baptist to the present, the Church has had the vocation of testifying to a different way of being human than what we find in the world’s leaders (including financial leaders like Trump). That is why I object to well-meaning Christians telling me to keep my mouth shut lest the concerns I raise about Trump lend support to Clinton.

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The book of Proverbs warns us not to be deceived by surface appearances, to be discerning and not to be simple. Putting this into practice, I don’t think it should be terribly controversial for me to say “Let’s vote for Trump with our eyes open and let’s have a rational discussion about his weaknesses.” But we cannot have that type of rational discussion since our political discourse has turned into a circus, a shouting match where self-enclosed tribes think that a discussion is little more than a series of assertions, re-assertions and denunciations.

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From a friend: “If he wins, his victory will itself embolden these people, and he will continue to embolden them with his rhetoric. The potential results of this are terrifying. Even if those aren’t our goals in voting for him, by voting for him, we actively make them more likely to occur. That’s not an act, or a risk, we should be willing to take. Second, there are perhaps reasons that Clinton could be jailed. But Ford was wise to pardon Nixon, even though Ford was from Nixon’s party, and Nixon far more clearly deserved jail than Clinton does. If a President jailed his opponent, it would set a *terrible* precedent, and perhaps even *be* the repression of his opposition. And Trump has gone farther than that. Pence told them to stop, but people at his rally Monday shouted that if Hilary wins, they’re ready for a revolution–and told Pence they were with Trump not Pence. Especially coupled with his threats to jail Clinton–threats political scientists *on both sides* have said are dangerous–that rhetoric is extremely dangerous. (I’m bypassing his calls for people from white towns to intimidate voters from black towns.) Third, his crass comments don’t just reveal that he is unfit for office–they do that, but don’t just do that. They normalize the sort of activity he bragged about. (As we can see from the people who have *already* justified them.) If we resist him, that resistance keeps them from being normalized in our communities. But if we support him, we make that sort of activity normal in our communities. That is, we encourage our sons to consume pornography and make crass jokes about their sisters; and are complicit in our daughters’ subjection to that sort of attack (even if it’s “just” a verbal attack).”

My response: “a good point about Trump normalizing the sort of activity he bragged about (and which, apparently, he also put into action according to new revelations today, despite the denials at last Sunday’s debate – so much for Trump’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach). I can illustrate this type of normalization by sharing something that happened yesterday. My son did some work for a Trump supporter over the weekend. When he came back he was quoting to me numerous things Trump had said about women, including inappropriate sexual statements Trump made about his own daughter. I was shocked to hear those types of things even talked about in my house. Then my son announced to me “that is just how men speak now days. I’m not saying it’s right but it’s normal locker-room talk.” This was the first time I was aware that this type of language had been so normalized among the younger generation. When I heard what Trump said I was shocked and scandalized, but as this type of language and behavior is mainstreamed it ceases to shock and is (apparently) even considered normal by the younger generation.”

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Having spent over a decade as a political journalist for a UK publication (a job I voluntarily retired from last year), I find it hard not to sit through a presidential election without occasionally offering some commentary. Accordingly, there have been about half a dozen times where I have used either my blog or my Facebook wall and author page to raise concerns about Donald Trump. I’ve always been careful to qualify these concerns by saying that I am not necessarily opposed to voting for Trump. You see, I am one of those Americans who is still on the fence, and my occasional foray into the public conversation is my way of attempting to come to terms with the issues facing me on election day. But even my measured and qualified criticisms of Trump have been met with a backlash that has been severe and abusive. Last week on my author page a Trump supporter wrote “Are you a cuck?…Are my mean words hurting your cuck feelings?…More like a retard.” Even Trump supporters that are close friends of mine will routinely attack what they perceive to be my conclusions without offering a critique of my actual arguments – an approach which unintentionally conveys the message “Your arguments are not important Robin; the only thing that matters is that you don’t raise any concerns about Trump.”

I am not alone. Erick Erickson has received death threats for criticizing Trump and has even had to enlist body guards to keep his family safe. Trump himself has called Erickson a “weak and pathetic leader” when the radio-host put his career on the line to speak out against Trump’s demeaning rhetoric towards women. In a heart-wrenching but grace-filled article from last Monday, Erickson shares how his seven year old boy woke up in the middle of the night worried that the angry Trump supporters might return, adding, “More than once in the past few months my seven year old has asked why people hate us and hate me.”

At Trump rallies, supporters have descended to new lows never witnessed before in any presidential campaign, trumpeting slogans like “Trump that bitch!” and “Build a wall — kill them all.”

These are not things the church should be hush hush about for fear of what Hillary will do. As Erick Erickson has pointed out,

if Christians support “a man who revels in sin, they will only embolden men like Trump who previously presumed they could never run for office because of their baggage. If Christians buy the idle promises of Trump, designed purely to buy their votes, they will get more Trumps and worse Trumps, not less. If Christians do not draw a line in the sand and say we will not vote for a moral degenerate like Trump, there will be no stopping future candidates and future movements of people who need Christians to vote. ‘You voted for Trump,’ they’ll say. ‘Why not this guy?’ If you vote for Trump as a Christian, you are signaling that you are ready to move on from demands that a moral person stand up to run. Everyone who runs is going to be a sinner. There will never be a perfect candidate. But by choosing to vote for a sinner who revels in his sin, you give up your moral authority to oppose such a man in the future.”

I don’t know whether I would go so far as Erickson. There may genuinely be occasions where it is meritorious to vote for the lesser of two evils. But I do think the principle of what Erickson writes applies as a strict rebuke to those who would prefer the Church be silent and not criticize Trump.

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I am not claiming there is anything wrong with fear. There are times when Christians ought to be afraid. I will be the first to admit that we have good reason to be afraid of Hillary, and perhaps even more reason to fear a Clinton presidency than a Trump presidency, especially with the future of the Supreme Court hanging in the balance. But when fear drives Christians to perform actions that deviate from what is just and right, as when Trump supporters say we shouldn’t even raise questions about the way so many are attempting to shut-down critical evaluation, or the way they use neo-fascist tactics to abuse the families of Trump’s dissenters (see French’s piece in the National Review), we are right to be concerned, and it is part of the Church’s witness to speak out against this. Perhaps that will mean a more cautious, qualified and discerning posture towards our support of Trump. I’m fine with that. But what I am NOT fine with is this naive ask-no-questions approach that has an uncanny similarity to the way Christians in Germany supported Hitler, which I discussed in Chapter 15 of my book Saints and Scoundrels.

 

Further Reading