I don’t particularly enjoy election seasons, especially when the office of President is on the line. I am not a big fan of politics, and a lot of time, I think political discussion only serves to divide people and vilify them based on their differences. In an increasingly polarized country, the last thing we need is to obsess over and magnify our polarization.
So it seems (to me, at least) that each passing election season becomes increasingly vitriolic, and this year is no exception. What does seem different to me about this particular election is the phenomenon of a candidate like Donald Trump receiving the groundswell of support that he has.
Make no mistake—I do not have a high opinion of politicians, and am under no illusions about the variety of character issues that many political candidates possess. It is generally assumed that politicians are dishonest, or at least, disingenuous, making promises that they have no ability (or intention) of keeping in order to get votes.
This degree of dishonesty, or hypocrisy, where politicians pretend to be a certain, desirable way in order to appeal to people drives people crazy. To a large degree, I think this is what appeals to people about Donald Trump: he makes no effort at pretense. What you see is what you get. He says exactly what he is thinking, and doesn’t worry about things like political correctness, or decorum, or, well, manners.
I can understand an appreciation for honesty, and even bluntness, but the degree to which Trump ignores basic standards of respect, politeness, and decency should never be held up as some sort of virtue or strength. Some thoughts from a well-written piece by Max Lucado:
I don’t know Mr. Trump. But I’ve been chagrined at his antics. He ridiculed a war hero. He made mockery of a reporter’s menstrual cycle. He made fun of a disabled reporter. He referred to the former first lady, Barbara Bush as “mommy,” and belittled Jeb Bush for bringing her on the campaign trail. He routinely calls people “stupid,” “loser,” and “dummy.” These were not off-line, backstage, overheard, not-to-be-repeated comments. They were publicly and intentionally tweeted, recorded, and presented.
Such insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable even for a middle school student body election. But for the Oval Office? And to do so while brandishing a Bible and boasting of his Christian faith? I’m bewildered, both by his behavior and the public’s support of it.
You can add to those concerns the fact that Trump is repeatedly on record as making racist remarks and repeating the use of a vulgar term for female anatomy to refer to his opponent, Ted Cruz. Heck, the guy can’t even be nice to the Pope!
I guess what bothers me the most is the fact that so many Evangelical Christians are supporting him. This behavior has generally been supported by one of three arguments:
(1) “I don’t agree with everything he says, but he makes some good points.”
This argument blows my mind—of course he makes some good points! So does Hillary Clinton. So does Bernie Sanders. So does Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, et. al. Every candidate who has ever sought office has made “some good points.” That is an incredibly low standard for a candidate.
The “some good points” need to be weighed against everything else that Trump does and says, and in no way do they measure up in my opinion.
(2) “He claims to be a Christian; who are you to judge his faith?”
I saw a man on Facebook the other day vigorously defend Trump’s Christianity, touting his good works in providing employment for people and being a servant of others (really?!). He then went on to castigate those who were questioning the authenticity of Trump’s faith, saying they were just like the Pope and had no business doing so.
Our society’s misunderstanding of the biblical concept of judgment is a real problem, but is also beyond the scope of this simple post. But here is the point I want to make: biblically, we are absolutely supposed to evaluate actions to determine if they are right or wrong.
The well-known gospel preacher Marshall Keeble used to say, “We are supposed to be fruit inspectors, not judges.” This echoes the words of Jesus in Matthew 7.16: “You shall know them by their fruits.”
In other words, while it is inappropriate for me to pronounce judgments on Mr. Trumps intentions or his eternal destiny, it is absolutely appropriate for me to look at the things he has said and done and see if those are in line with Christian principles.
When I do that, I see a man who has openly supported partial-birth abortion and gay marriage, who campaigns on fear, who cheated on former spouses, who openly promotes racist, misogynist, and xenophobic ideas, and who cruelly mocks and derides other people.
The fruit is rotten. And despite that, Trump’s version of “Christianity” doesn’t convict him of any need for forgiveness.
(3) “Sure Trump has some problems, but what about the other candidates? They are bad too.”
Of course, there is truth to this. I have already mentioned my low opinion of politicians in general. Cruz seems to have some questions to answer about the way his campaign is being run. Hillary has a lot of questions to answer about her integrity. Her husband Bill was President for eight years, and is infamous for his adulterous affairs. Politicians have problems.
But I do think there is a difference between Trump and other politicians. I hinted at it earlier, and it is really the point of this post.
François de La Rochefoucauld famously stated, “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” The meaning of that statement is fairly simple: a hypocrite is someone who says one thing and then duplicitously does something else. That is certainly not an admirable trait, but the hypocrite at least acknowledges that there is a virtuous standard that should be aimed for. That is the “tribute.” Hypocritical people try to put on a virtuous exterior, and though it may be false, it still upholds the value of virtue itself.
And to me, this is what makes Trump different from the rest of the political candidates. Other candidates try to hide their flaws and guard what they say; Trump doesn’t worry about that, and shows exactly who he is with complete disregard for standards of decency and respect.
Some people see this as refreshing; I see it as reprehensible. When Trump brazenly claims that he can say whatever he wants to and still get elected, he fails to pay hypocrisy’s tribute. Other candidates may hypocritically portray a virtuous life, but Trump declares that the virtues that we value as a society are worthless. He mocks them.
And shame on us, if we applaud him for doing so.