Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Donald Trump & The Emperor's Clothes

At the end of his most recent post, Aaron dismisses the commentators on both sides of the party divide hyperventilating about this year's presidential election as an "extraordinary crisis." But, while Aaron certainly has a valid point about the ubiquitous hyperbole in our political discourse, I think he actually missed a good opportunity to examine why Donald Trump is such a polarizing figure and really may represent a turning point in our politics, especially for the relationship between conservative Christians and the Republican party.

Donald Trump, in his blunt, outspoken (not to mention "vulgar") way, has been able to expose the problem of political correctness in a way no other politician has done in the last 25 years. Before this year it was practically verboten to speak about certain topics, much less advocate for certain positions. The most obvious issues all have to do with Trump's "America First" platform: mass immigration, unfavorable trade agreements, and endless foreign wars. (Another key issue would be his opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.)

On each of these issues Trump is smashing idols of both the left and the right, as we generally conceive them in America. This is the more substantive reason why--and not just because of his objectionable style--that the GOP establishment fought so fiercely and for so long to prevent his nomination. Trump chose for the ground to fight on issues where there was a broad consensus between the Republican and Democratic parties that was opposed by a large proportion of the country. For instance, on immigration, he has shown that much of the country is deeply dissatisfied with current immigration policy (which is basically just "let them all stay here if they manage to get in"). The Democratic Party favors changing the composition of the electorate in order to dilute the European Christian heritage of the United States; but the Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican Party favors importing cheap labor for its constituency. This means that both parties are supporting a policy that artificially suppresses wages for workers born and raised in America. On the issue of foreign policy, Trump is the first and most prominent Republican (that I can think off of the top of my head, at any rate) to question all the wars we have been fighting since September 11, 2001; most mainstream Republicans were in thrall to the neoconservatives' push for regime change across the globe, just like the Democrats' presidential nominee is.

What confuses and frightens so many conservative Republicans about this election is that it took such a thoroughly disagreeable man as Donald Trump to attack the bipartisan consensus on so many important issues and actually restate positions that are more conservative than those of the GOP's establishment. He has discredited the party's current economic policy, which seems to be an unintelligent re-hashing of Manchester Liberalism's insistence on laissez faire, with a few concessions to special interests mixed in to spice things up. On foreign policy, Trump, though far from perfect himself, at least recognizes that most of what the U.S. has done in the past 20 years has been counterproductive and the result of a hubristic, Wilsonian desire to transform the Middle East one country at a time with an invasion and a few years of occupation, willfully blind to millennia of internecine slaughter there.

I could continue in this vein and analyze all the separate issues that have emerged in this election--and they are important. But here at the Guild Review we have another concern, which is just as, if not more, pressing than all those issues: What effect will this election have on the life of Christians (particularly conservative Christians) in the United States? Will he usher in a revival of Christian morality in our country, or will he at least stem the onslaught of the liberal, anti-Christian forces gaining strength in America?

Donald Trump, it must be said, has actually done conservative Christians a great service. He has exposed us as "losers," to use one of his favorite insults. We had no idea, but we really were losers!

In the last couple decades conservative Christians have pinned their hopes for at least a modest Christian renewal in this country on the Republican Party but have nothing to show for it except a few fruitless wars in the Middle East, more mass immigration from parts of the world that are culturally very different from the U.S., and more suffocating political correctness (especially on sexual issues). And now we are being asked to support for president a man who does not care at all about social conservatism! This is a man who has enjoyed flaunting in the New York tabloids his various girlfriends and wives (including his most recent wife who did nude lesbian shoots before she met The Donald). In the past few months he has had to work very hard just to pretend that he cares about abortion. And on the specific issue of Christianity, he admitted to the nation that he could not even fake being a Christian, and one of the most prominent speakers on the last night of the Convention, Peter Thiel, told the Party not to get "distracted" by culture wars.

The best we could hope for from Trump, then, is a general policy of laissez faire or maybe him throwing us a bone to keep us from whining too much. This means that the real challenge for conservative Christians from this point forward is twofold. First, we must admit that we supported many Republican positions that really may not have been that conservative or that Christian, and that Trump is right in some important ways. Second, we will have to find new way to fight for conservative Christian social issues now that it is clear that the Republicans are not really willing to make them a priority and that liberals appear to have gained the upper hand for the foreseeable time to come.

I wish I could offer a solution here, but these are all issues that I still need to ponder, and which don't have any simple solutions. Most importantly, though, these issues require us to honestly ask whether we have been duped, and what we plan to do about it.

Finally, as a bonus for readers who made it all the way to the end and who are wondering how I could think this way, I am providing two links to pieces by writers who have a generally similar outlook but can express some of these concerns better than I can: R.R. Reno's "Why I'm Anti-Anti-Trump" and Rod Dreher's "Trump & The God Vote."
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