As he describes the bottom line:
[T]he religious conservative case for Trump comes down to gambling. That Hillary would be a disaster for religious conservatives is one of the safest bets you can make in American politics. Betting on Trump is a long-shot gamble, but as I tell myself when I buy lottery tickets, hey, you never know. Even if Trump were to come through on religious liberty protections, voting for him is still taking an incredible gamble on so many other things, both domestically and internationally.
Still, it might be worth it to some. If a religious conservative takes all of this into consideration and still chooses to vote for Trump, I won’t judge him. I suppose it is possible that I may be that man come November. I don’t see how, but maybe I will be. (I also might be the man who votes for Hillary Clinton, though it’s even more unlikely.) But I do not understand religious conservatives who enthusiastically support Trump, as opposed to supporting him in fear and trembling, knowing what a bad man he is. They are no better than the feminists who rallied to Bill Clinton’s side during the Lewinsky scandal because no matter how much Bill’s actions and character went against the things they believe in, it was more important to deny the Right a victory than to stand on principle. Similarly, many conservative Christians involved in politics this fall are not covering themselves with glory, to put it charitably.
I could make a crack about how I thought traditional Christians were morally opposed to gambling, but I won’t.
I could also point out that betting on religious freedom protections from a candidate explicitly running on heightened vigilance against a particular religious group is a pretty poor strategy. Even if you don’t think Trump himself will be cracking down on the freedom of Christians, how do you think the precedents he’d set with regard to Muslims will be used by a progressive secularist Administration in the future? His fellow conservatives in the LDS church have certainly thought about that even if he hasn’t.
But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll ask another question: what’s the plan if Hillary Clinton wins?
Or, let me pull back to a broader question. Suppose that you look out a couple of decades, and you see, as Dreher does, an America in which traditional Christians are a dwindling minority ever more clearly out of step with American culture, to the point of mutual incomprehension and even loathing. In that world, a polarized party system in which one party is resolutely determined to circumscribe the freedom of that dwindling minority while the other party pays lip service to its defense is a world in which that minority’s life gets progressively worse and worse year after year. One can dispute the probability of that world coming to pass, but I believe that’s what Dreher believes is coming.
If it is, my question is: what’s the political strategy for heading it off? Voting over and over again for a party that pays less and less attention to your concerns is clearly a losing strategy — for obvious reasons. So what’s the alternative?
It seems to me, clearly, that the alternative is making an overture to the enemy party. After all, as Yitzhak Rabin famously said, you don’t make peace with your friends — you make peace with your enemies. And you cannot make peace with your enemies if you decide, from the start, that your enemies will never make peace, on any terms. It seems to me that if Dreher really believes the Democratic Party is moving in the direction of outright persecution of traditional Christians, then it is a moral and practical imperative for traditional Christians to engage in outreach to the Democratic Party to try to change their course, and to keep trying if the first efforts bear no fruit.
But suppose the enemy really is as implacable as you imagine. If the correlation of forces is similarly dire, then what we’re talking about isn’t making peace but negotiating the terms of surrender. Even then, terms have to actually be offered. And it’s the people seeking an end to hostilities who have to offer them.
If that is the case, then — and I know this is a very ugly way of putting it, and I apologize in advance, but Dreher himself is the one who brought up “Japanese-soldier Religious Rightists hiding out on a desert island in the South Pacific” — my question is: what is the traditional Christian version of “we’ll surrender if you let us keep our Emperor?”
To be clear: I’m not endorsing Dreher’s worldview, nor his perception of what the Democratic Party wants or what the immediate future portends for America’s traditional Christian groups. I think he’s far too pessimistic about the prospects for some kind of change in the Democratic Party’s attitude towards traditional religious believers. I also think he’s far too pessimistic about the prospects for traditional religious groups in the emerging America — I think all kinds of churches may well flourish in the next twenty years, even as others are going to falter (and personally I expect some of the biggest conservative denominations may join the liberal Protestant mainline in faltering). I do agree that the Religious Right as we’ve understood it since the 1970s is thoroughly played out as a political force, and that this radically changes the context within which traditional Christians need to pursue their interests. But that doesn’t imply that I agree with all of the implications Dreher derives from that fact.
Nonetheless: if you believe the situation is as dire as Dreher seems to believe, then I think I’m asking a pertinent question.
I’d love to know the answer.