The moral collapse of movement conservatism is nearly complete. The Washington Post reports this afternoon:
“It’s every person for himself or herself right now,” former senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said. “The nominee for president is so destructive to everyday Republicans.”
In the last three days, we’ve heard “conservatives” loudly justify a man’s bragging about committing sexual battery as nothing more than “locker-room talk.” Even worse, we’ve heard them say — out loud — that this is just how men behave. Judging from the avalanche of pro-Trump tweets over the weekend, his supporters have reached the point of arguing that if you haven’t been around this kind of conversation you’re not a real man. Bizarrely, Laura Ingraham even suggested last night that it’s time for Republicans to put on their “big-boy pants” and get behind the nominee.
We’ve now reached the point where you must plainly lie about men and masculinity in order to justify your support for Trump. A generation of conservative efforts to persuade the culture that there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about masculinity is being undone in a matter of days because a fading reality-TV star must be carried into the White House. Now you’re only wearing your “big-boy pants” if you embrace the masculinity of campus-feminist fever dreams, where every guy is a frat boy and every fraternity runs a rape room. I first started playing team sports when I was in elementary school. I played in school and community basketball leagues for decades. I joined the Army eleven years ago. I served in Iraq with an all-male combat arms unit. I know “locker-room talk” better than the average person, and in all those years I’ve heard lots that is crude and crass. But I’ve never heard a man brag about assaulting a woman, grabbing her whether she wanted it or not. Typically, the man’s point was to boast about how much women wanted him. A sexual predator was a creep and a criminal. He was most definitely not wearing “big-boy pants.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins by asking, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is simple: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In Trump’s GOP, the chief end of man is “winning,” taking up a cross is for suckers, and the last shall just be last. Better to reign in Washington than serve anywhere else. That’s Trump’s party, glorying in its own shame.
And so it is with leaders of the Religious Right. Who among them is sticking behind Trump despite the revelations in Friday’s tape?
And today, Pat Robertson defended Trump’s p-ssy-grabbing remarks, dismissing them as Trump’s merely trying to be “macho.” Read the Washington Post account, which has embedded video. Robertson concludes in that clip by saying that Trump speaks to “adoring crowds wherever he goes” — as if that were a defense.
That, brethren and sistren, is the end of the Religious Right as we knew it. Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who has stood up to people in his own denomination to oppose Trump, writes the obituary. Excerpt:
These evangelical leaders have said that, for the sake of the “lesser of two evils,” one should stand with someone who not only characterizes sexual decadence and misogyny, brokers in cruelty and nativism, and displays a crazed public and private temperament — but who glories in these things. Some of the very people who warned us about moral relativism and situational ethics now ask us to become moral relativists for the sake of an election. And when some dissent, they are labeled as liberals or accused of moral preening or sitting comfortably on the sidelines. The cynicism and nihilism is horrifying to behold. It is not new, but it is clearer to see than ever.
There is good news, though, behind all of this, regardless of how this election turns out. The old-school political Religious Right establishment wonders why the evangelical next generation rejects their way. The past year is illustration enough. The evangelical movement is filled with younger, multiethnic, gospel-centered Christians. They are defined by a clear theology and a clear mission — not by the doctrinally vacuous resentment over a lost regime of nominal, cultural “Christian America.”
The people who have used the gospel to sell us politically cynical voting guides have done damage. But they are not replicating themselves in the next generation.
The old-guard is easier to engage in politics, because they find identity in a “silent majority” of Americans. The next generation knows that our witness is counter to the culture, not just on the sanctity of life and the stability of the family but, most importantly, on the core of the gospel itself: Christ and him crucified.
Amen and amen.
Small-o orthodox Christians are politically homeless now. The Republicans are largely corrupt and useless (watch how they roll over for Big Business on religious liberty). Democrats despise us and want to punish us; besides, they are led by a cynical woman and her cynical followers who tried to shut up and even destroy women who were sexually assaulted by her lecherous husband. As David French puts it, the core supporters in both parties are happy to turn a blind eye to men sexually assaulting women, as long as it means winning. Remember Nina Burleigh, the prominent liberal feminist journalist who, when asked by the Washington Post in 1998, said this:
“I would be happy to give him a blowjob just to thank him for keeping abortion legal. I think American women should be lining up with their Presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”
This is not a happy place for us to be in, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We are going to have to learn the art of what Vaclav Havel called “antipolitical politics.” As I told folks gathered at this past weekend’s Front Porch Republic meeting at Notre Dame:
Havel, who died in 2011, preached what he called “antipolitical politics,” the essence of which he described as “living in truth.” His most famous and thorough statement of this was a long 1978 essay titled “The Power of the Powerless,” which electrified the Eastern European resistance movements when it first appeared. It is a remarkable document, one that bears careful study and reflection by orthodox Christians in the West today.
Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers Of The World, Unite!” He doesn’t do it because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” That’s how ideological fear keeps the system in place. Fear keeps the system in place. Fear allows the official ideology to retain power — and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity.
Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. That’s why people who may not really believe in it behave as if they do: to avoid standing out, to avoid suffering for their convictions. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity.
What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth” — and it’s going to cost him plenty.
He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him. But by bearing witness to the truth, he has accomplished something potentially powerful. Writes Havel:
He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.
Because they are public, the greengrocer’s deeds, are inescapably political. He bears witness to the truth of his convictions by being willing to suffer for them. He becomes a threat to the system – but he has preserved his humanity.
And that, says Havel, is a far more important accomplishment than whether or not this party or that politician holds power. He writes, “A better system will not automatically ensure a better life,” Havel goes on. “In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.”
Such as? Havel gives a number of examples. Think of teachers who make sure kids learn things they won’t get at government schools. Think of writers who write what they really believe, and find ways to get it to the public, no matter what the cost. Think of priests and pastors who find a way to live out religious life despite condemnation and legal obstacles, and artists who don’t give a rip for official opinion. Think of young people who decide not to care about success in society’s eyes, and who drop out to pursue a life of integrity, no matter what it costs them.
The answer, then, is to create and support “parallel structures” in which the truth can be lived in community. Isn’t this a form of escapism, a retreat into a ghetto? Not at all, says Havel; a countercultural community that abdicated its responsibility to reach out to help others would end up being a “more sophisticated version of living within a lie.”
I’ll have a lot more to say about this concretely in The Benedict Option when it comes out in March. We will have to do a lot of rebuilding, with no models in the modern Christian conservative experience to guide us.
But know this: within the community of politically engaged religious conservatives, younger Christians are refusing to post the Religious Right equivalent of the greengrocer’s sign. The values voters of the world are not uniting behind the Republican candidate, and the leaders of the past who speak for no one now but themselves and an aging donor base. In the Benedict Option book, I offer this quote from Christian philosopher Scott H. Moore’s The Limits of Liberal Democracy as the heart of the next conservative Christian politics:
Politics is about how we order our lives together in the polis, whether that is a city, community or even a family. It is about how we live together, how we recognize and preserve that which is most important, how we cultivate friendships and educate our children, how we learn to think and talk about what kind of life really is the good life.
This. It’s coming.
UPDATE: You cannot make this up. You cannot. Here is Ralph Reed, speaking today at a Liberty University convocation, according to a news release from Liberty. Excerpt:
Reed expressed his hope to see political discourse become more positive and issues-centered.
“There is so much negativity in politics,” Reed said. Quoting Philippians 4:8, he added: “I believe we should focus on the true, and the honorable, and the right, and the pure, and the lovely, and anything that is of excellence and worthy of praise; we should be cheerful, we should be winsome, and we should always be prepared to defend our faith unapologetically.”
After his message, Reed sat down with Falwell for a brief Q & A, sharing more thoughts about the election and advising students to stand firm in their faith amidst resistance. He encouraged them to fight to help keep America morally grounded. Without a solid foundation, Reed warned, the country will crumble.
“The thing that makes America great isn’t its money or its wealth or its cities or its power,” Reed said, “it has been its moral goodness — and if we lose that, we are lost.”
And people be like:
UPDATE.2: I thought Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” remark was despicable. But yeah, this guy, he’s deplorable. What is wrong with people like this?
This guy, at the rally with his wife and three kids, in his "She's A Cunt, Vote For Trump" shirt. pic.twitter.com/NDQMz1uteG
— Sally Kohn (@sallykohn) October 11, 2016