When I was a young boy I very early on expressed an interest in politics.
This wasn’t exactly a popular choice in my community. I grew up in the church, and I was taught early on that spirituality was what mattered most. Politics didn’t matter much compared to that. The altar was the place where real change happened in the world.
But nonetheless I still felt a natural inclination to the political world. A major reason for this was because I saw a conversation taking place there between not only Christians but the rest of the world. Few of my atheist friends ever ventured inside the walls of our church, but almost all of them had opinions about politics.
Of course, whenever I mentioned this among evangelical circles, there was always some level of pushback.
“Politics?” they would say. “Why would you want to be in that? It’s such a rough, nasty business.”
That statement, more than any other, speaks to the Evangelical mind concerning politics.
Evangelicals don’t behave like politicians, especially ones like Donald Trump. They try not to lie, they frown on the use of vulgarities. They don’t try to bully, or curse out, or purposefully intimidate people. They try to remain faithful to their families and they don’t sleep with porn stars. In their lives they try to do what is kind and Christ-like, not necessarily what is ruthless or effective.
So why, even after his crassness and lack of ethics is on full display, do evangelicals continue to support Donald Trump?
This is a point the media continues to miss. CNN and other sources are constantly reporting Trump’s iniquity in an effort to undermine his support. The Daily Show and others are constantly reporting chaos in the White House. But they don’t realize that most Christians couldn’t care less about Trump’s character. And chaos is exactly what they expect from him.
The entire political worldview of Evangelical Christians is different than democrats. They didn’t choose Trump because he represents Christian values or exemplifies their character. Few Evangelicals will say he is the best among us. He may not even believe what they believe.
The reason is because Evangelicals chose Trump they way one chooses a hitman. Politics being a rough and nasty business, one where Christian ethics can’t survive, you’ve got to turn to what works. And what works is someone brutal, unapologetic, prideful, and vicious. Even the left would agree that Trump is all of those things.
And so, if you listen closely, you’ll see this thinking in evangelical circles. There are memes going around saying “Trump is doing exactly what I hired him to do.” Not that Trump speaks in a Christian voice, or that he even accurately represents us. A gold star mother recently remarked, that she wouldn’t care how many “f-bombs” a fight fighter uses as long as he gets the job done. She said Trump’s behavior is excused for the same reason.
This all assumes, of course, that Trump is actually rebuilding America. It assumes the destruction of dignity and the chaos he is unleashing can somehow be good for our country. It assumes the day of enlightened and moral Christian statesmen – like our founders – is truly over. It assumes God will bless us for trusting our politics to a wild man, rather than doing it ourselves. And like any existentialist affair, it puts hope and trust in both parties honoring the agreement. Ultimately, it assumes that, like the mob of The Dark Knight, we won’t end up regretting the side effects of what we’ve done.
For years much fanfare has been made by the media against Congress on account of dismal approval ratings. Realclearpolitics.com and other major news outlets track various polling data, and what they have observed is widespread and continued disgust with the performance of elected officials. In 2014, for example, an all-time low was reached as approval for Congress sunk to single digits. Despite changes in Congressional leadership and a new president, current levels aren’t much better. In a recent video Arnold Schwarzenegger chastised Congress by claiming that hemorrhoids, the much maligned band Nickleback, cockroaches, and even herpes were more popular than they were.
What Realclearpolitics.com and top media outlets rarely report, however, is their own lack of popularity with the American people. As one of the few sources that engages in this assessment, Gallup reported in 2016 that American’s trust in mass media had hit its lowest point ever. According to Gallup the mass media’s 32% approval mark was the lowest since 1972, the first year such data was recorded. Similarly, a study commissioned by the Media Insight Project found that only 7% of Americans displayed a “great deal of trust” in mass media, a figure that stands only slightly above their opinion of Congress.
Despite such glaring signs of failure, you won’t hear major news networks pondering these figures often. Instead, many of the top media personalities assume an unquestioned role as the supreme arbiter of political debate. And yet this is exactly the role that President Trump has taken it upon himself to relentlessly question. In a recent press conference, for example, the president repeatedly took the media to task, called them dishonest and shameful, and afterwards named them “the opposition party” and “enemies of the American people.” Major news hosts from Fox’s Shepard Smith to CNN’s Jake Tapper balked at the suggestion, puzzling amongst themselves how anyone could believe this to be true.
But Gallup’s polling seems to support a popular justification for Trump's tone towards the press. The report demonstrating a sharp decline in Americans’ trust of the media notably spans age groups or political party. And Gallup admits that at least some of the more recent decline may be attributed to bias and the 2016 election in which the media was “hyper-focused on every controversial statement or policy proposal by Donald Trump” and “less focused on the controversies surrounding the Clinton campaign.”
While bias is an obvious concern, in actuality what many Americans resent is the media’s perceived self-importance and obvious sensitivity towards pushback. These attitudes have been on clear and particular display in the wake of Trump’s press conference. Guests on numerous media shows, for example, have claimed that “it is the responsibility of journalists is to report the truth” and have called it “wild” and “crazy” that Trump would dare not show respect for certain reporters. Joe Scarborough of MSNC even warned Trump, "don’t fight the press, the press always wins.”
Yet it is precisely this notion -- that an institution of American society is beyond reproach and cannot be argued with -- that Americans find distasteful. Republicans in particular have watched leaders such as George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney try to appease the media and then get skewered at the media’s hands. Trump’s strategy represents a marked departure from this appeasement, more in line with Ronald Reagan’s “I’m paying for this microphone!” toughness or Newt Gingrich’s 2012 lecture of John King. Trump’s particularly vicious approach has drawn blood from this vein, exposing an arrogance and self-righteousness now on full display.
This shouldn’t be cast as overlooking the real and important role of a free press, and most Americans citizens agree. Studies confirm that the very same Americans who disapprove of today’s media also value sound and reliable reporting. They judge the media based on very reasonable factors such as accuracy, completeness, presentation, and transparency. What they abhor, however, is a press corps that assumes exclusive rights to the truth rather than allowing Americans to determine it for themselves. They cannot stand, for example, major news networks who were so completely certain of Hillary Clinton’s presidential victory that they experienced shock when actual democracy occurred.
Rather than a press that “always wins,” Americans want to see a robust debate and interplay between the government and press. They do want to hear the media’s fact-checking and accusations of dishonesty against President Trump, but they also want to hear from Trump himself. That the president argues publicly and meets his challengers openly, albeit sloppily at times, is a major source of his appeal. While there are very serious repercussions if the press were to surrender, there is also a middle ground or “sweet spot” borne out of continued tension between the two.
That place is the one in which we regain our role as judges of the truth rather than having a media personality do it for us.
It feels as though decades have passed since Donald Trump’s reputation rose from that of an eccentric game show host on entertainment television. In truth it wasn’t all that long ago that Trump was viewed by many as nothing more than a conspiracy theorist with too much time and money. More of a political punch line than a legitimate player, Trump seemed to be making a living off of extremist claims and wild theories that no serious person believed to be true. Even as he rose to challenge Democrats in the general election, the appearance of Trump’s growing and resilient support seemed to do little to nudge liberals out of their Clinton comfort zone.
Then 2016 happened. And now the man that Obama once smeared for his seeming irrelevance is heir to the most powerful political office in the world. And what makes Trump’s victory particularly ironic is that the American left has been trying to explain their defeat with the same type of fringe conspiracy theories they once associated with Trump himself.
Today, just a few days prior to the inauguration, Democrats and left leaning independents are still engaging in the same kind of biased, unfounded conspiracy claims that Trump pioneered years ago. Many of Clinton’s supporters have tried to console themselves, for example, with the notion that FBI Director Comey is to blame for their loss. The director’s “strategically-timed” memo reminded the public of Clinton’s inability to handle classified information, and that must have swayed last minute voters away. Russian hacking is another popular theory for the left, with resident Obama today levying ultimatums and sanctions against Russian intelligence officials and diplomats. And if either of those theories fail, progressives can always default to tired complaints against the Electoral College and the rules of American politics that preclude simple majority rule.
None of those theories hold any real potential to change the verdict of the election, however, nor do they do much to actually explain why Trump won. The reason for this is that the 2016 election wasn’t all that close, and such theories cannot begin to explain the sound defeat Clinton experienced in swing states like Pennyslvannia and Ohio. The fact that progressives are still clinging to them shows that they remain ignorant of the strong pulse of the American public that Trump tapped into during the campaign. Trump’s massive movement grew from his promise to take on the status quo and corrupt establishment in Washington, D.C. He promised to “make America great again,” and to return the country to a time when the United States had a bright economic future and a system that rewarded traditional values and hard work over elitism and political cronyism.
But as much as he talked about “the good ol’ days” and America’s radiant past, Trump’s campaign was far more about America’s future. It was this aspect of his campaign that truly captured the country’s imagination and its vote. Trump’s crowning achievement was that he and his supporters seized America’s political future from the pre-written narrative that progressives liked to believe was inevitable.
The very concept of progressivism as an ideology is built on an assumed notion that society is moving unswervingly towards the future – and not just any future but a very particular one. Progressives believe that the change they welcome into the world is of an egalitarian, humanistic variety that prizes secularism and abstract reason over the supposed simplicity of tradition, family values, and religion. Progressives assume their imagined future to be undeniably and obviously superior to the status quo as well as the past. They believe the triumph of such an agenda is ultimately a forgone conclusion merely requiring the process of time.
Donald Trump, for all his faults, threw a much-needed wrench into this false narrative. Trump reminded progressives that America’s political future has not yet been conclusively written, and he articulated the very real possibility that the America of tomorrow could look very much like the one from the past. His impassioned, unorthodox, and at times messy campaign served to breathe life into America’s stiff political process. His rise shocked the educated elite, sent college progressive students running to safe spaces, and dethroned the media’s narrative of a queen walking into the White House. Instead of the teleprompted narrative they expected to receive, progressives discovered a wide open election and an unanticipated victor. Trump reminded them what it feels like to lose, and he taught them that a progressive future is just one of many possibilities for our country.
What will Trump’s presidency be like? It’s certainly hard for anyone to predict. No doubt progressives are already predetermining his failure for not ascribing to the same values they hold. The ascension of an unscripted right wringer doesn’t fit neatly into their narrative, and so elites will soon seek to explain Trump away as a short detour on the otherwise steady path to victory. But many attentive progressives might actually be pleasantly surprised by a President Trump who personally seems to share more in common with them than the traditionalists and religious right who helped Trump rise. Those conservatives may eventually get the Supreme Court nominees they were promised, but much to their frustration they could discover an entirely different and even liberal Donald Trump if Democrats regain Congress. Even more so, the establishment should prepare themselves for a volatile love-hate relationship with a president as likely to enrich them as levy an export tax without warning. With so many groups, and so many different opinions of the soon-to-be President of the United States, only one thing can be known for certain.
We are in for one wild ride.
According to German legend, the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a rat catcher who owned a magic pipe. The Piper could play his magic pipe to seduce any creature he wanted into following him. For a large fee the Pied Piper offered his services to the town of Hamelin, which was facing a terrible rat infestation at the time. The town accepted the Piper’s offer and afterwards the Piper played his magic pipe to lead the rats to a nearby river and drown them. However, upon the Piper’s return the mayor of Hamelin believed that the Pied Piper had originally caused the infestation in order to become rich. He accused the Piper of being a conman and refused to pay him. The Pied Piper retaliated by using his magic pipe to lure away the town’s children. Depending on the version of the story, the Piper enacted revenge by either killing the town’s children or holding them for ransom.
Thanks to certain Clinton campaign emails obtained by Wikileaks, we now know that the Pied Piper of Hamelin is a metaphor for how leading Democrats viewed Donald Trump. In a leaked memo entitled “Strategy on 2016 GOPers,” assistant campaign manager Marissa Astor referenced the campaign’s strategy to “elevate” certain candidates to the Republican nomination. Rather than fearing Donald Trump or his anti-establishment message, leading Democrats actually wanted the real estate mogul and television star to win the Republican nomination. They purposefully didn’t want the media or campaign to “marginalize the more extreme candidates” and instead preferred that they “take them seriously” and elevate publicity for their campaigns. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats believed that a Pied Piper nominee would prevent Republicans from gaining the board coalition necessary to win the general election.
The formula was simple. Hillary Clinton’s campaign would stimulate Donald Trump's nomination chances with extensive media coverage and lure conservatives away from mainstream, wide-appealing beliefs. A volatile candidate like Trump would exhibit personal vices and lead the Republican Party into extremist, untenable positions that would severely limit crossover appeal. By the time Republicans realized that they had been duped into an indefensible candidate, the Pied Piper nominee would feel entitled to support and seek vengeance for any questioning of his credibility. The result would be disastrous for Republicans and give Hillary Clinton the easiest possible path to the presidency. Today, with the Republican Party currently in chaos and Clinton surging weeks before the election, the situation seems to have played out to the letter of the campaign’s design.
This leaked memo means that conservatives now have proof that Donald Trump’s campaign was subsidized and favored by the same Democratic leader that Trump aims to defeat. The memo means that Trump supporters, the very same conservatives and independents who have been most vehemently anti-Clinton, have been playing into the Democrat's gameplan from the beginning. Conservatives must understand that the Clinton campaign preferred to face off against candidates with “scandals or ethical lapses” and an anti-establishment message, and of course in Trump’s candidacy they found the best possible scenario they could imagine.
This truth offers little solace or comfort amidst an election nearing its end, but it should be broadcast to the American right as a warning for the future. It is worth noting that the reason the Clinton campaign favored Donald Trump and anti-establishment candidates was because Democrats explicitly feared the message and credibility of up-and-coming establishment candidates. The “fresh ideas” of Marco Rubio, Rand Paul’s “appeal to millennials and communities of color,” and even Jeb Bush’s “concern about average Americans” were touted as threats to a Clinton victory. Establishment or mainstream candidates like Rubio, Paul, and Bush may not have promised as much immediate change as Trump, but few if any would now dispute the notion that they would have fared far better than the failing general election performance thus far.
In the future, perhaps we conservatives should take vetted candidates more seriously before we throw our support behind a Pied Piper and play ourselves right into the hands of Democrats.
For nearly a year, hardline Trump supporters and members of the so-called “alt right” have labored tirelessly to defend the vulgar words and precarious political positions of the reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump. They have argued that America’s current political system, which relies heavily upon the power of representative government and centralized federal power, casts aside any serious concern for the wellbeing and perspective of ordinary Americans. They have claimed that Donald Trump, admittedly an unorthodox candidate, is the leader America needs to wreak havoc upon a corrupt system that manages to find ways to excuse the incompetence and corruption of the likes of Hillary Clinton. They delight at the prospect of this ‘bull in a China shop’ wrecking havoc upon the decadent establishment of big government and big business based out of Washington, D.C.
But on Friday the bull got too wild for the taste of almost anyone. The release of Trump’s 2005 remarks on his way to a soap opera appearance, dated as they were, have now sunk the campaign to a new low. It isn’t simply that Trump’s words are “lewd,” “vulgar,” or examples of “locker-room talk” as much of the press initially reported. If that were simply the case, Trump’s surrogates might actually feel emboldened by them. Donald Trump’s bashing of political correctness has in fact been a major source of his appeal.
These remarks, however, are different in that they cross a very serious line. In the exchange Trump is heard not only boasting about infidelity and the access he has to various women. He goes further, actually defending sexual assault and his choice to ignore the importance of consent. The deplorable nature of this dialogue is most evident when Trump states, in regards to making intimate moves towards unsuspecting women, that “I don’t even wait.” In no locker room, politically un-correct rant, or parallel universe anywhere are such remarks those of a man who should be President of the United States.
As a result the anti-establishment candidacy of Donald Trump is now in danger to its very roots, and it has everything to do with the link between power and sexual assault. As any sexual assault prevention course will tell you, sexual assault begins with one person having particular strength, power, or leverage over another. The perpetrator, possessing a strong sexual desire for the victim, loses any regard for the interests and rights of others. He or she becomes consumed with desire, and then abuses the power they have in acting without consent.
This is particularly relevant and damaging to Donald Trump because his entire candidacy is built upon his presumed ability to wrestle power from the corrupt. Trump argues that he is a patriot who can be trusted with the office of the presidency since he will always keep the interests of ordinary Americans in mind. Unlike the Clintons, whom he casts as the embodiment of corruption, Trump claims a personal resiliency to the temptations of corruption. Donald Trump is different, he and his supporters say, because he is a traitor to the Washington establishment and an elixir to America’s woes.
But now we know better. Behind closed doors Donald Trump is just as much an abuser of his celebrity status as Bill Clinton. As as the video shows Trump has clearly not had the interests of the women he encounters in mind; how then can he be trusted without the entire citizenry? Trump in fact purposefully talked about trying to seduce a woman to commit infidelity against her husband, and then he bragged about the access his celebrity status gave him. This is not the character of a patriot; it is the character of a man who will use power for his own gain and satisfaction.
Consequentially, GOP leaders now face what may be the darkest days in the history of the Republican Party. They are forced to recognize that their chances of winning the 2016 presidential election with Trump are over, and that they now have even bigger issues to face. The GOP will soon decide its moral future and soul by determining exactly how much tolerance its leaders have for blatant misogyny and defense of sexual assault. Amidst such chaos, Republican leaders like Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, and Mike Pence will gradually move away from electoral calculations and more towards conviction of their own hearts. For what decent and honorable man, when considering his own family, can in good conscience conjure up any argument for what he has seen and heard besides complete and utter disgust?
As Americans we aren’t accustomed to facing a lack of options. The home of the free and the land of the brave also happens to be the oasis of choice – everywhere you look in your average American town you find a flourishing of options for any given need or want. Later today, for example, I will visit a local grocery store where I will choose between numerous options for items as simple as milk. Shall I buy chocolate or plain? 1%, 2%, Vitamin D, or whole? Almond or dairy? Like every consumer I will decide this within seconds and move on to the next item. Of course an even greater diversity presents itself to me for bigger, more complex choices like investing in cars and homes. And in our society even relational choices are expansive -- popular dating websites like Match.com open one’s options well beyond those presented otherwise.
With so much choice, it is easy to see why most Americans are struggling over their limited options for the presidency. On the left, Democrats are trying to reconcile the fact that the party of change has now nominated a lifelong establishment candidate. They try not to consider the fact that the person President Obama called “the most qualified candidate in history” is someone beholden to the same banking system that Bernie Sanders railed against. Besides not sharing their ideology, progressives know that Clinton has overlooked egregious lapses in judgment in an effort to contort her political image. Her closest advisors’ “extremely careless” mishandling of classified information smacks of hypocrisy, as we all know she wouldn’t have excused such actions for Republicans. That she knowingly lied about this, and has since faced no punishment for it, badly blunts the purist progressive surge that Obama rode into the White House.
On the right, conservatives are trying to find ways to justify the candidacy of a man who seemingly shares none of their values. The same members of the once Moral Majority who decried Bill Clinton for his infidelity are now trying to excuse similar behavior, as they claim their own candidate just happens to be “a good man with flaws.” The irony is thick with Christian leaders like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell Jr. now arguing in favor of an unrepentant, promiscuous strip-club owner for America’s next president. Others like Wayne Grudem have performed rhetorical somersaults to try and convince readers that voting for Donald Trump is morally defensible. In his recent piece for Townhall.com, Grudem argues that “Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current mud-slinging” even as Grudem himself calls Trump “egotistical, bombastic, and brash.” Such advocates want conservatives to believe that Trump’s ignorant, racist, and juvenile statements are correctable mistakes while his red-meat politics are instead heartfelt and trustable.
When honest with themselves, however, conservatives know a true believer when they see one; and like the progressives they know that their current nominee isn’t anywhere close. And Christian leaders, despite what they may pretend, know that Donald Trump falls far more into the mold of a self-righteous, unrepentant Pharisee than a humble, penitent follower of Christ. The problem for many people isn’t discernment, ignorance, or corruption-- it’s a lack of options.
We as Americans desperately want an option we can rally behind; we crave it because we are a society of action and we must have something to do. Without a legitimate option we aren’t sure where to turn. We are completely unfamiliar with doing nothing; to us it smacks of little more than cowardice. The Trump and Clinton campaigns know this, and it is why they are almost exclusively making their case by smearing their opponent. Both campaigns are attempting to bypass the quite obvious flaws of their candidate and convince voters that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. You must choose, they say, between horrible and worse.
Grudem’s article, for example, argues for precisely this. While opening by giving ground on Trump’s flaws, he then proceeds to try and change the issue from “Can I as a Christian voter support Donald Trump for president?” to questions far more palatable for his readers to answer. Among these are “Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation?” and “Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?” Grudem goes on to delve into a particularly existentialist form of ethics (as opposed to the Christian form he claimed as his expertise), to say that making any choice besides voting for a major party amounts to “doing nothing.” He then declares a non-vote for Trump to be a “direct vote” for Clinton, and oddly misapplies scripture (Obadiah 1:11) to say that voting for anyone other than Trump is an abdication of Biblical moral responsibility.
But Grudem is wrong; a non-vote for Trump is by no means a vote for Clinton. An actual direct vote for Clinton, of course, involves walking into a voting booth and marking the box next to her name. To pretend anything else is to base our actions on predictive polling and the expected outcomes of others’ private choices. It is to delve into the indirect effectual nature of utilitarianism and take the focus away from the true basis of Christian ethics – the intentions of the heart. In so doing we fall into “ends justify the means” morality rather than doing what we know to be right and trusting God with the outcome. And it is ultimately to take a great leap down a very dark path. For where, I would ask Grudem, does such justification end? Imagine, for example, were the race solely between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Would not those same existentialist, calculating voices like Grudem’s be arguing on behalf of Clinton as the “good but flawed” life-long Methodist versus her atheist, socialist opponent?
Instead, Christians must make our choices on the basis of our conscience. In so doing we must have a threshold, or lines of integrity we will not cross no matter the outcome. What this means is that there must be a level at which our political options cease to exist and we exit or refuse to participate in the majority system. For myself, I came very close to this threshold in supporting Mitt Romney in 2012. His lack of understanding of conservatism, his personally lavish lifestyle, and his obvious flips on important issues like healthcare and abortion disturbed me greatly. Much like Grudem I made the practical decision to support him, but I resolutely told myself no further – to continue voting Republican I must have a candidate who better understood and respected our nation’s founding principles and shared my values. Mitt Romney was my threshold. The next candidate didn’t have to be perfect, but he or she needed a better record of adherence to sound principles and consistent moral discernment. I was delighted to find among the 2016 Republican primary field that all but one person met that criteria; yet, alas, it was precisely that one person who achieved victory.
And so like many voters in this election I have reached a political limit. I find that of the two most powerful nominees neither comes anywhere near having the moral integrity, commitment to principle, and devotion to public service that would qualify them for the American presidency. What am I to do? Of course, both of their campaigns and advocates are quick to dismiss the viability of a third party. They decry “writing in” a man or woman of noble character as cowardice and slam such a move as no better than not voting at all. But third parties, write-in options, and the long-established democratic practice of abstention were created for precisely the political quandary we face today.
To abstain, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, is “to hold oneself back voluntarily, especially from something regarded as improper or unhealthy.” An active abstention is that action in which a present voter takes a stand, not against one option or the other, but against the entire field. Unlike “staying home,” abstaining requires a presence and with it the devoted time and attention. It signals that the abstainer has the knowledge, presence, and capability to make a vote but is choosing not to for some larger reason. Historically, there are hundreds of examples of groups abstaining from electoral politics for the purposes of boycott or to make the point that their interests were not represented. And philosophers such as Jason Brennan have made compelling moral arguments for why an informed citizen should abstain rather than vote when a nomination process produces no viable options.
Abstaining, of course, can be an act of cowardice just as the major campaigns will claim. To abstain without reason is indeed worthless; the burden is squarely on the abstainer to articulate their moral imperative and make the purpose of their boycott clear. One must be adamant, resolute, and unequivocal in their abstention for it to have any effect. This in fact is what separates an active abstainer from the person who would hide behind the option or shirk civic responsibility by remaining idle.
Citizens who vote third party or write in names like Bernie Sanders or Marco Rubio will be called abstainers and boycotters in this election. And so we are, but cowards we are not. To make this point clear we must be resolute and explicit in our action. Active abstention signals that we respect the American system of government and its Constitutional electoral process, but we find no valid options among the leading nominees. It is a statement that we as informed American citizens believe that we deserve better candidates than what the Republican and Democratic nominations have produced. And given that neither of those party’s candidates meets the threshold of viability, our act of abstention is the only morally sound, defensible option we have left.
“BE IT RESOLVED,” states the preamble to the formal rules of the Republican Convention,” that the Republican Party is the party of the open door.” The preamble goes on to defend the purpose of the rules as to ensure the “broadest possible participation of voters” in its activities and to make the party “open and accessible to all Americans.” The ideological basis of the Republican Convention is thus the purposeful inclusion and tolerance of all American citizens regardless of heritage, race, gender, or religion.
Doesn’t sound like the party of Donald Trump does it?
Candidate Trump recently got himself into trouble for denouncing Judge Gonzalo Curiel on the basis of his Mexican heritage, despite the fact that Judge Curiel is an American citizen born in Indiana. Republican leaders, including some as closely aligned to Donald Trump as Newt Gingrich, have gone on record stating that they do not have an issue with Trump’s questioning the political (or in this case, unabashedly liberal) inclinations of any judge. It is, however, the fact that Trump links such ideology to culture and race that is the larger problem. Despite Trump’s own insistence that many Latinos are in support of his candidacy, his implication that political bias somehow causally follows race or heritage is something the majority on either side of the political aisle finds “inexcusable.”
Such comments cannot come as a surprise to those who have been closely following the presidential race. Trump began his candidacy on a tough anti-immigration stance in which he couched his proposal within stereotypical indictments against Mexicans. In defiance of the first amendment, he then argued for a ban against all Muslims on the basis of their religion alone. And it was Trump himself who stated that Syrian children should not be allowed to live or determine their own destiny if they happen to be born into the wrong family.
If Newt Gingrich’s comments are telling, then most Republican leaders seemed to have believed that Trump would pivot away from such rhetorical nonsense following a nomination victory. Many Republicans may have calculated that Trump’s bigotry was simply a form of pandering to the party’s excitable fringe elements. The fact is, however, that the candidate’s recent comments are simply the latest evidence that Trump means exactly what he says. And even if Trump were to distance himself from his own comments in the near future, Republicans should take this opportunity to decry such behavior and punish it vehemently. Such inflammatory talk should be labeled for what it is – indefensibly opposed to the purpose of the Republican Party, and a cause for disqualification from its nomination.
Those familiar with party guidelines will be quick to note that the convention rules offer no litmus test for the ideology of the presumptive nominee. Given the party’s record of past successful nominations, such a test has not been required until now. But Trump’s pending nomination presents a dire situation -- a revocation of the Convention’s core purpose -- and as a result desperate acts within the confines of existing rules must be taken.
According to Rule No. 12 of the convention rules, for example, amendments may be offered if proposed and accepted by the Standing Committee on Rules prior to the convention in July. In fact, as explained in Rule No. 32 the Republican Convention laws themselves may be suspended on the basis of majority agreement of any seven states. Such an agreement could be reached if party leaders were to work quickly to generate a consensus and a path to nomination for the runner up (in this case Ted Cruz) or an alternative credible candidate who will pledge allegiance to the party’s purpose.
For the good of the party, allegiance to its core purpose, and in defense of Constitutional conservatism the Republican Party's leadership must pursue this course. Should Trump be disqualified, his supporters will no doubt cry foul and declare the will of democracy on their side. But lest we forget, the United States was founded not as a pure democracy but a Constitutional Republic with limits to government and restrictions upon its leaders. The Republican Party in particular, with its frequent conservative invocations of the Constitution and the wisdom of our nation’s Founding Fathers, claims allegiances to this identity. That the same GOP would nominate a man who specifically calls for a rejection of those Constitutional limits is a far greater tragedy than upsetting the temporary will of the people.
We as Republicans are, after all, the party who believes that liberty should exist for all. We believe that a person’s work ethic and contributions to society are the standards by which recognition is earned – not by what race he is or what family he happens to be born into. Ours is the party of Lincoln, Reagan, and Bush – the party that brought America the leaders who declared the Emancipation Proclamation, defeated the ideology of Soviet communism, and pioneered the war on terrorism. Ours is not the party of racism, bigotry, or xenophobia.
It is time we made this resoundingly clear by rejecting the embodiment of such vices in Trump’s candidacy. As such, being faced with his nomination may present, instead of catastrophic and ideological defeat, the opportunity of a lifetime for the Republican Party to put accusations of racism to bed once and for all.
The “Party of the Open Door” can live up to that name if its leaders close that door on the bigotry and racism of Donald J. Trump.
One of the most curious aspects of the 2016 President nomination cycle thus far has been the resolute support enjoyed by Donald Trump among many Christians. Trump has received endorsements and praise from such well-known Christians as Sarah Palin, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Willie Robertson. Despite his vulgarity and many questionable statements, Trump continues to press on from state to state and receive a steady stream of votes from many self-identified Christians. Politics is a rough and secular business, much of his supporters’ thinking goes, and therefore nothing short of a raging bull is going to make a difference.
There are, of course, plenty of Christians who oppose him. Few, however, are willing to take a strong stand against him the way they have against Hillary Clinton. I was shocked by a recent well-known pastor who bragged about the diversity within his congregation, as he said that many members were split between Trump, Rubio, or Cruz. The pastor said he would not endorse a single candidate, but that he had no problem with Christians voting for Trump. This, to him, was far different than a vote for Clinton because of her views regarding abortion.
And this is precisely the problem: Donald Trump may not be everyone’s political cup of tea, but he is still viewed as a viable alternative within the Christian community. Many Christian pastors and churchgoers would agree that his brashness, demagoguery, and hard-nosed campaigning aren’t particularly attractive, but how many would stand before their congregations and go so far as to say that no Christian should vote for Donald Trump?
Such a shift would require a poignant reason. And the fact that Donald Trump is vulgar is simply not enough – most people understand that such vulgarity is a near-constant occurrence behind the scenes of political life and Trump is just exposing it. The fact that he has engaged in infidelity is a non-starter as well; divorce and re-marriage have been a common part of American society (and the church) for decades. And the fact that he has bought and sold politicians doesn’t hurt him as much as it helps the case that he’s turning against his class for the sake of the people.
No, if there is one thing that should give every Christian pause; if there’s one thing that should make pastors rethink their sermons, and if there’s one thing that should make Christian voters rethink their choice, it is this: during the majority of his campaign, including his initial rise, Donald Trump passionately and resolutely argued that the American military should commit war crimes.
On the surface, this may seem like something easily dismissed as one of a million instances of exaggeration, pandering, or hyperbole common to the political game. Ted Cruz, for example, characterized his own plan to defeat ISIS as “carpet bombing Syria to see if the sand will glow in the dark.” Such a proposal of near-total war, if carried out, would leave countless civilians dead. In Cruz’s case, however, closer questioning and scrutiny by moderators quickly revealed that what Cruz actually meant was a precision-bombing campaign and that he was either unaware of what carpet-bombing actually entails or (more likely) he was using such language as a rhetorical device to show his commitment to ending the terrorist group’s existence.
Along similar lines, Donald Trump also reversed course on his proposal after taking huge amounts of criticism from military leaders. The problem with Trump’s reversal on war crime is that, when pressed, it took him months to back down or clarify the way Cruz did. In fact, in multiple debates and interviews Trump (unlike Cruz) tried to logically justify and strengthen the case for killing innocent Syrian women and children. In doing so, Trump laid out a thorough explanation for why he believed that such execution is just. And it is this explanation and the fact that Donald Trump stuck to it for so long that should make all born-again Christians denounce him immediately.
For the majority of his campaign Trump argued that war crimes should be used to settle the tactical battlefield against ISIS. During this time voters received clear insight into Donald Trump's worldview and exactly how he plans to apply his brass tactics business approach to the political world. Essentially, Trump's method of operation is to attempt to level the playing field and then attack his opponent the same way that opponent would attack him, all the while using low blows whenever and however necessary. Such an approach already doesn't sound like the manner in which a Christian should conduct business, but it becomes even uglier and more dangerous when applied to war and politics where the stakes are higher.
Nonetheless, Trump has marched on this course for months. How can it be fair, he often claimed, that such terrorists are chopping off heads and drowning their prisoners of war when we don’t even waterboard the ISIS terrorists we capture? And, he argued, women in particular should be targeted based on guilt by association --- they have knowledge of what their husbands are doing. This knowledge is enough to not only convict them as co-conspirators, it is enough to consider them combatants and thus execute them the same way we destroy active terrorists. By implication children are unlikely to be rehabilitated and might as well be killed, for which child whose parents were slain by Americans would not turn against us? In this manner Trump showed that the 'Great America' he hopes to build is one which will rest on a foundation of retaliation applied to the political world.
This language should sound familiar to Christians. There are good reasons for us to be acquainted with the concepts – indeed, they make up large portions of the Hebraic laws and battles of the Old Testament. The principle of retaliation (“an eye for an eye”) is given in Exodus, and in 1 Samuel God commands Israel to leave no child or woman alive in their conflict with the Amalekites. Thus, in following Trump’s effort to apply retaliation to politics, we follow in the footsteps of the ancient Hebrews who under God’s authority converted entire villages into pools of blood. The only difference is that they did this over 3,000 years ago with swords and spears and we'd be doing it in the modern era with drones and A-10s.
It is precisely at this juncture that Christians should ask themselves exactly why Jesus Christ came to this earth and what he means to us. The relationship between the laws of Leviticus and what Christ said and did is crucial here. For our sake, did Jesus not come to fulfill the law, save us from the bondage of retaliation, and teach and embody the most excellent way? Was not the core of his teaching that the goal of life is to love God and love our neighbors, and that we cannot do the former without doing the latter? And did Christ not specifically say that such love must be extended to one’s enemies?
This isn't to say that Christ was a pacifist. He confronted the author of evil, and he faced human depravity at its worst. He healed, taught, and emboldened the innocent all while facing his enemies with steadfast resolve. Christ was victorious not because he sunk to the level of his enemies, but because he overcame their underhanded schemes as he held close to the Father and maintained his virtue. Christ fought evil with good as he embodied something the world had never seen -- sacrificial innocence delivered unto crucifixion which resulted in the defeat of death itself. The ethic of Christ is that we were all once made in the image of God, and that we return to this purity not by retaliation but by shunning evil and accepting Christ’s sacrifice as the essence of what is good.
Innocence is thus a supremely important concept for Christians. It is for this reason, I believe, that many Christians have been outspoken in their belief that neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders should be elected president. To elect another liberal candidate, they say, would result in more pro-choice justice appointees and many more innocent children being killed. I agree with such sentiment and for the sake of unborn children I too find it important that we take a stand to prevent another pro-choice president. But I also find it shocking that the same Christians who join me in this stand cannot find a similar reason to denounce Donald Trump.
The fact that Donald Trump finally backed down from his long-held position of proposing war crimes is merely the first indication that his brass tactics principles are unlikely to work in the political world. And even if he could make them work, they would still not be anywhere near the level of virtue to which Christ has called us. Whether or not Trump's reversal was heartfelt or politically motivated may become more clear in the months ahead; but one fact will be unchanged: for many months this man enjoyed wide Christian support while openly calling for our military to find, fix, and finish innocent children by shooting them in the head.
We can and must do better.