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Actually, There Is A Christian Case For Trump

Fran Flynn (C) prays during the 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry as they await the arrival of President Donald Trump on January 3, 2020 in Miami, Florida. The rally was announced after a December editorial published in Christianity Today called for the President Trump's removal from office. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Pete Wehner’s new piece in The Atlantic is misleadingly titled, “There Is No Christian Case For Trump.”That’s not actually what Wehner is saying. Instead he devotes his essay to dismantling a case for Trump put forward by the eminent conservative Evangelical scholar Wayne Grudem. And in that particular task, Wehner does a great job.

I was drawn into the piece because I do believe that there is a Christian case for voting for Donald Trump, and I expected to disagree with Wehner. As it turns out, I still believe there is a Christian case for voting for Trump, but I agree with Wehner that the one put forth by some of Trump’s most staunch Evangelical supporters is not it.

In my view, the Christian case for voting Trump is apophatic — a term used in theology to describe God by saying what He is not. I believe Trump is a cunning man of low character and low competence, and I don’t believe he is a Christian in any meaningful sense. But here is what he is not: a supporter of laws that allow us to exterminate the unborn with no conditions; an enemy of religious liberty; a promoter of laws that would write transgenderism into civil rights law; a person who considers traditionalist Christians to be what’s wrong with America.

(I would say also that whatever his flaws, he’s against the ideology of Social Justice, but that is not a specifically Christian concern.)

His Democratic opponents are all those things that he is not. Let me put it to you like this: if we were having a national election in 1860, and your choice was between a Trump figure who opposed slavery, and who appointed anti-slavery judges, or a Democratic opponent who was far less corrupt, and far more clubbable than the vulgar Trump figure, would you still say that there was no Christian case for the Trump figure? Most serious pro-lifers regard abortion as on the same moral level as slavery. In my case, in 2008, I was so angry at George W. Bush and the GOP over Iraq and the financial crisis that I wanted to vote for Obama. Besides, I wanted to be able to say that I voted for the first black president. But because of abortion, I could not bring myself to do it, as a matter of principle.

So, the practical case for voting Trump is going to be enough for many Christians. If I end up voting for him, it will be precisely because of that, most of all on the issues of abortion and religious liberty. For that reason, I believe that the policies that bad man Trump will pursue if re-elected will be more in the interest of the common good than what the Democrats would do. Not just my own tribe’s good, but the common good.

I hadn’t thought much about this until I read Wehner’s piece, but all the Christian friends I have who are say they will likely vote for Trump are doing so out of resignation: because as bad as he is, the alternative is worse. Almost all of them are Catholics, but I have a few Evangelicals who feel that way. The only Christian friends I have who are enthusiastically voting for Trump are some of my Evangelical pals. Though I am likely to vote with them on Election Day, it’s from a very different point of view. Like Wehner, I truly don’t understand why they see Trump as truly good, as opposed to the best we can hope for in this fallen world. Wehner takes a stab at answering that:

But it isn’t enough to simply remove the tension; they need to justify their decision.

It isn’t enough for many of Trump’s evangelical supporters to say that, by their lights, he is advancing policies that promote the common good even as he is acting in unethical ways that deeply trouble them. In that difficult trade-off, they could admit, they have decided that the former should take priority over the latter. Instead, they have created a cartoonish image of the president, pretending that his character flaws are trivial and inconsequential, while his policy achievements put him near the top rank of American presidents.

What’s most interesting to me in all this is the psychology at play. From what I can tell, in many cases Trump’s most devoted evangelical supporters are blind to what they’re doing, so in a sense they’re not acting cynically or in bad faith, even as they are distorting reality.

I have observed firsthand that if you point out facts that run counter to their narrative, some significant number of the president’s supporters will eventually respond with indignation, feeling they have been wounded, disrespected, or unheard. The stronger the empirical case against what they believe, the more emotional energy they bring to their response. Underlying this is a deep sense of fear and the belief that they are facing an existential threat and, therefore, can’t concede any ground, lest they strengthen those they consider to be their enemies. This broader phenomenon I’m describing is not true of all Trump supporters, of course, and it is hardly confined to Trump supporters. But I would say that in our time, it is most pronounced among them.

I have noticed the same thing. You see in the comments section here, when I criticize Trump, some version of, “We get it, it’s always ‘Orange Man Bad’ for you, you jerk.” By now I’ve gotten so used to that kind of thing that I can’t take it seriously, except as a strategy of denial by the one who says it. My answer is, “Yeah, Orange Man is bad, but the Democrats are worse, because even though they are well-behaved and presentable and nice to strangers, they support policies that make America worse in consequential ways, and in effect render the bad things about Donald Trump meaningfully less so. If I vote Trump, it won’t be because my heart is in it; it will be because my head is.
It might give you some useful perspective to know that unlike Pete Wehner, I believe the Republic is fatally decadent, and that the decline has been overseen, indeed managed, by respectable elites of both parties, as well as all major American institutions, including the news media and academia. I believe that over the next two decades, barring a political black swan, it will become clear that the GOP-appointed federal judiciary will be the last line of defense for key First Amendment freedoms, including religious liberty. So I am much less moved by protestations that OMG Trump is bad! than I would normally have been. I believe that we are in much worse shape than my friend Pete Wehner believes. Unlike the unironic MAGA folks, I don’t believe that Trump will improve things. At most he can slow down the decline so that more principled and competent actors can build out from what he accomplished. It is entirely possible that Trump accelerates the decline. I am completely confident, though, that to continue to trust the country to the usual Republicans and the usual Democrats would mean nothing good. If Bernie Sanders were a pro-life social conservative, I would strongly consider voting for him, even though I don’t like his economics.
Anyway, I find myself caught between strict moralists of the Left who say “you admit Trump is bad, so how can you possibly consider voting for him?!” and strict moralists of the Right who anxiously deny Trump’s badness, and attribute criticism of Trump to irrational hatred of him. That’s an interesting place in which to be. European readers, tell me: is this just an American thing, this felt psychological need to apply morals so strictly to voting?
One last thing: a reader in the comments section the other day speculated that when the Democrats gain the White House again, conservative Christians are going to be subjected to a “Second Reconstruction.” He’s referring to the punitive regime forced upon the South after its defeat in the Civil War. I think that’s a pretty smart construction, actually. Whether they were all-in on MAGA, or reluctant Trump voters as I’ve described above, or even if they were conservative Christians who voted against Trump — all of us are going to be in the same category in the eyes of the Reconstructors. You watch.
UPDATE: A reader comments:
I tend to share this view, but I will admit in recent months that seeing local politics at work, I am far more convinced that the Democrats are a much bigger threat than I had formerly seen them.

I am not talking about Nancy Pelosi. I am not even talking about AOC or Ilhan Omar. I dislike their ideology, but the federal gvt works slowly and without haste.

I am more referring to local, woke Democrats in positions like D.A., city council, etc. in cities. The ideology they are pursuing, of completely ignoring any quality of life related criminal behavior and deconstructing muncipal competence brick by brick, is horrifying. Decriminalization of theft, of open drug crime, vehicle break ins, public urination, etc. is turning our cities, and increasingly exurban towns, into absolute hell holes. These doofuses are bringing the medieval plague back to Los Angeles, where I recently visited my fiancee’s family. The stuff I saw there was shocking, and really sobering. It made me remember why I identify as a centre-right person to begin with, and why despite being a bit more on the Tucker Carlson side of view on markets, I will have no time for woke municipal governance.

This is not about religious liberty, where I broadly come down on Rod’s side. This is about actual physical threats to safety and human existence, let alone human flourishing, from ideologues with a dangerous and suicidal view of governance, with a worldview that sees justice as a commodifiable and discrete good that transcends law and good governance.

I do not want the federal government to be staffed by people who give aid and comfort to the mini-experiments being run in Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco, and increasingly, Denver, and who would want to replicate that on a nationwide basis. I don’t fear the federal Democrats to the same extent as the local ones, but I fail to see the meaningful difference in their worldviews.

A good point. It appears that Wokeness is taking over the Democrats as Trumpness took over the GOP.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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