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Beware the Crusaders

Frank Bruni wrote a forceful column against evangelical Christians voting for Trump on Monday. It’s worth reading the entire thing, but here’s an excerpt:

Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?

Seems to work for Donald Trump.

Polls show him to be the preferred candidate among not just all Republican voters but also the party’s vocal evangelical subset.

He’s more beloved than Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor, or Ted Cruz, an evangelical pastor’s son, or Scott Walker, who said during the recent Republican debate: “It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed.”

… What’s different and fascinating about the Trump worship is that he doesn’t even try that hard for a righteous facade — for Potemkin piety. Sure, he speaks of enthusiastic churchgoing, and he’s careful to curse Planned Parenthood and to insist that matrimony be reserved for heterosexuals as demonstrably inept at it as he is.

But beyond that? He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-“losers” rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.

… I must not be watching the same campaign that his evangelical fans are, because I don’t see someone interested in serving God. I see someone interested in being God.

Trump’s widespread and enthusiastic following, along with his near-incessant domination of the news lately, has baffled me as well—considering his record and bombastic comments. Yet if this article from the Daily Caller is correct, then nothing seems to be able to stand in Trump’s way… not even his very un-conservative past.

Seeking answers, I’ve been trying to pull the pattern together. Slowly, conversations and news interviews begin to reveal that pattern: I’ve heard and read that Trump is different, refreshingly so. He doesn’t deal in the regular political BS. He’s not perfect, but no politician is. He’s not right on a lot of things, but on the things he gets right, he would actually get stuff done. People just want someone who will be a “fighter.”

Yet these people may fall into the trap of supporting someone merely because he seems refreshing, straightforward, and different. In doing so, they forget that the devil is truly in the details. They get so captivated by the simplicity, they refuse to look for the snares.

The reasons for not supporting Trump have seemed obvious on the face of it—he’s not really a conservative, by any measure of the word. Yet I’ve learned that his lack of conservatism does not deter everyone—because he’s different, refreshing, promises to get things done. He promises to overturn the Washington gridlock that people so thoroughly detest. And it’s definitely a tempting thought, isn’t it? Everyone hates Washington stagnation, the way nothing gets done, the way reform constantly gets stalled. It’s maddening.

But we must consider what a president is supposed to be—and why Trump is not suited for that office. Beyond issues of gentlemanliness, decorum, and diplomacy—skills in which he’s sadly lacking—Trump also lacks a necessary humility and appreciation of limits. The executive branch of our government is not meant to be dictatorial; the president is not supposed to be able to initiate top-down reforms according to his every whim and fancy. We need a president who respects the balance of powers put in place. We need a president who understands what his constitutional constraints are, and respects them. Do we really think Trump would be that man? There are few constraints he seems willing to respect. He’s more of a steamroller than he is a preserver or upholder.

Sometimes I think we like crusaders a little too much. We like their charisma and power, the way they promise to make all things right. We may not agree with everything they say, but at least they say it well. At least they promise to move us in a direction, to prevent us from sinking into stasis—or into quicksand. But action and power should never be praised for their own sakes. When a character such as Trump avows that he has changed from his more liberal days—yet says and does nothing to explain such a substantial transformation—it seems best to distrust him. Especially when he’s running for the most powerful and precarious office in the nation.

I don’t think that Christians should just vote for a Christian because they’re Christian. Just because Trump isn’t a virtuous candidate doesn’t mean we need to vote for Ben Carson or Ted Cruz, both of whom have a more thoroughly Christian background. But neither do I think we should ignore the moral characteristics of the candidates, or dismiss that consideration lightly.

Additionally, we must consider how our desire for “simplicity” may, in fact, have damaging repercussions for our larger witness to a hurting and broken world. There are people out there who can’t skip over the details, who can’t ignore the everyday realities that Trump may dismiss with a wave of his hand. There are people for whom the mass deportation of illegal immigrants would have immediate, painful, even tragic results. This doesn’t mean that we don’t consider things from a careful policy perspective. It doesn’t mean that we reject important reforms just because they’re painful. But it does mean that we bring a needed seriousness, grace, and concern to the conversation. It means that we don’t just embrace the funny, charismatic, easy-solution candidate. Rather, it should urge us to seek out as much information as possible. It should force us to research deeply, talk with a diverse set of people, ponder carefully the possibilities set before us. It should in fact turn us away from sound bites, not toward them.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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