Cards on the table: I don’t care about politics very often. I find it tiresome and, frankly, often very boring. But presidential elections are an exciting time in America. I know people in other countries watch what’s going on in our country and follows these elections like sports. So I pay more attention too. To be fair to myself (because if anyone should be fair to me, it’s me), I’ve been trying to be more informed than I have been and not just during a presidential election. I was far more attentive in the last midterm elections, too. So pat on the back for me. If you must know, I’m a registered independent, and I tend to be a moderate, but I shade towards the conservative side of things. I’m fairly distrustful of people having too much power in any circumstance, and that applies to governing as well. But I’m not passionate about this topic to be a rabid fan of any party or person. So… that’s me.
I remember tweeting this at the time that Donald Trump announced his candidacy:
Honestly wondering if Trump had advisers who said, “You’ll totally be taken seriously. You’ve got a shot!”
— A. Rodriguez (@arodriguez321) June 16, 2015
I just thought the idea was so ludicrous. Laughable. I was literally making fun of the idea and wondering when that advisor would hear “YA FIYAD” after Trump got embarrassed. I mean, this was the ridiculous guy from a stupid TV show. A casino guy. No way he’d be a player.
As you can see, I am not a political expert.
I’m still baffled by the acceptance of and support for Donald Trump. And not for political reasons. I mean, I still don’t actually understand much of what he stands for. The positions on his website don’t cover many topics and there aren’t a whole lot of details. So I really don’t get what someone is supporting when they support Donald Trump when it comes to actual policies. But that, to me, is a side issue that I’m less interested in.
I’m more fascinated by the willingness of so many people to completely ignore, discount, and overlook the fact that Donald Trump just doesn’t seem to be a very good person. Yes, yes, I know that we don’t think any politicians are actually good people. But Donald Trump is uniquely upfront about his flaws. He’s full of bombast and caustically attacks people who stand in his way. He’s said some pretty terrible things about women who have dared to question him. He mocks his political opponents. He’s made creepy remarks about the physical beauty of his daughter. He profits from people being idiots in casinos. I mean he’s a pretty sleazy dude. But rather than being put off by this, many people seem to delight in his straightforward manner and his willingness to say anything. I think we are seeing a redefining of what virtue is in this country.
In some respects, I think the love for Donald Trump is a reaction not just against political and economic policies within both major parties, but against the prevailing milieu surrounding what it means to be a good American and, indeed, a good person. For this, I think the progressive half of America should be willing to shoulder some blame, though I doubt it will. But the truth is that the message of inclusiveness says that there’s room for everyone…. who believes everything about the inclusive agenda. There is little recognition from progressive activists that the tone towards people (which make up a significant section of this country) who don’t get on board with “progress” is not very friendly. In fact, it’s openly derisive and antagonistic. “This is the right way to do things now, and if you don’t like it, you’re everything that’s wrong with the world and you’re an idiot.” There feels like increasingly little space in this country for people who believe things about religion, ethics, and government that people have believed for hundreds of years. It has happened rapidly and not, shall we say, graciously. Of course, none of that happened in a vacuum and certainly not unprovoked. There’s a lot of reactions in play here, but this certainly is one of them.
The response in Donald Trump (and, to a degree, Ted Cruz) is to respond in kind. It’s a “they put one of ours in the hospital, we’ll put one of theirs in the morgue” kind of scenario. “The rhetoric is red hot against conservatives? Well. We’ll get behind the guy with as much bombast and coarse ridicule as we’ve seen in a long, long time.” The desire, it seems, is to reach for even bigger weapons to win the gunfight. I think people feel insecure and frightened by the shifting nature of virtue in this country and they also feel angry for seemingly be ignored or belittled into insignificance. They’re reaching for someone who can defend them and fight fire with fire. Many people who support Donald Trump will concede that he’s “rough around the edges” morally, “but….” But he will fight for us and he could acquire power for us. It seems that being bombastic and merely against the dominant narrative of media and culture, has itself become a virtue. Of course, that kind of thing, “opposition,” is nowhere in any virtue list either in Scripture or in philosophy.
I think this kind of mentality leaves real virtue in the rearview mirror. Both from progressives and conservatives. “My tribe” tends to be conservative, so I’m speaking to “us” here. Some data shows that evangelical Christians (whatever that means now) aren’t really as much for Trump as other conservatives. So more narrowly, my people maybe aren’t as for him as others in their political party. But anecdotally, I’ve heard from enough evangelicals that make it clear that they’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee. The functionalism that I hear and read from people is really alarming. By “functionalism” I mean that people are choosing to chase after political ends and increasingly do not care about the means of attaining them. This or that candidate or tactic has a function and that’s all that matters.
Now these kinds of decisions, the kinds of ends sought, are usually for good ends. For example, conservatives (and progressives) are concerned about judges that will be appointed to the Supreme Court. The Court is obviously very important and both sides want the “right decisions” to be made. In order to secure those decisions, then, both sides want someone who will stand up for them and crush their opponents. Wanting what you feel to be the right kind of influence on the Supreme Court is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. But does that good thing justify doing whatever it takes to get there.
I was raised to believe that the ends do not justify the means. That two wrongs don’t make a right. But more and more in our political landscape, those kind of truisms are cast aside for self-defense and the acquisition of power. “I’ve been wronged by X so I’ll back Y to get back at them and stand up for me.”
Christians should be uniquely equipped to forego this kind of reasoning. Yes, most of us acknowledge that looking for virtue in our politicians seems like a hopeless task. But even if it seems to be so, we shouldn’t abandon that task altogether. We above anyone else should demand that leaders have virtue, “behavior showing high moral standards,” in how they comport themselves. This might mean that we forego supporting the kind of person that might make us feel more protected and supported. But this is why Christians have a kind of immunity card:
We have a King already. We have a King who won’t be voted out of office. We have a King who has promised to care for us even when no one else will. Go outside and look at the flowers and the birds and know that that King cares for us more than any other king will. This kind of care and protection that we should trust in liberates us to rise above the trading of blows in a continual quest for power. We don’t need power.
This isn’t a call to abandon the field and seek to withdraw from society. On the contrary. Refusing to bow to the logic of the world is to seek to change the way the world thinks. If Christians united around demanding more from candidates and voted for candidates who responded (on top of voting for candidates who would actually be good at the job), might we not exercise some shaping force on society? At some point, Christian virtue has to override the perpetual thirst for power.
If I was to remove Jesus from the picture, it would be totally understandable to excuse almost anything from a candidate if they will acquire power to do the right thing. And there are a number of candidates (not just Donald Trump) who do/have done things that I find morally objectionable but may “deliver the goods” to their supporters. Representatives of either political party can figure out who their constituents want and why. I’m not interested, primarily, in that political question.
My question is more about the state of virtue in general in this country and the state of virtue within the Church. Have we bought into the moral pragmatism of our day? Have we, for fear and anger at being marginalized culturally, ceded some of who we are in quest to have someone that will back us? How do we engage the American political landscape with the conviction, not just intellectually but emotionally, that Jesus is King? If Jesus is King and fear has no power over us, how should we conduct ourselves politically and what should we demand of “our” candidates? I recognize that Christians can have a diversity of political convictions, but how do we unite methodologically around the kingship of Jesus?
I’m not sure how this gets worked out. I’m deeply concerned about the moral environment that would excuse things that I’ve seen and heard from Donald Trump and others. I’m concerned not so much about them, but about why so many of us vote for them. Our communities need leadership from our lives that speaks of a quiet confidence that the country could be reduced to rubble, but we rest in the hand of God. I’m not sure the current political climate sends that message about us. I think now is a helpful time not to fixate on the political, but to use the political as diagnosis. Virtue has value in and of itself. Many of us pine for the days when America was a virtuous country (not clear on when that was since we facilitated buying and selling people as property from the very beginning, but that’s a different question). So we must recognize that how we choose to conduct ourselves is itself part of becoming a virtuous nation. Using whatever means possible to force an agenda will not call us back to virtue. It will just further enforce a moral pragmatism that causes the symptoms that we theoretically despise.
Candidates will not fix us, not matter how brazen and strident the convictions. Actually being the virtuous people that we should be all the way down to the individuals in our community, that’s what moves us from where we are. Christians should lead the way on this. We, more than anyone else, should be fearless in our convictions about how life should be lived. Who cares if our policies are not the policies of the government? The government of God will not be toppled by this nation or any other. We are free to follow Jesus faithfully. Even in the voting booth.