The mixture of politics, Christianity, and conservatism has served as a continuing running theme in my life. I have delighted in the exploration, the debate, and the expression. And for the first time, I’m watching an election that is taking all the joy out of these things I have loved.
Trump v. Clinton is an acid in my life. Some things it dissolves. The things it doesn’t dissolve, it leaves marred.
Since I sat on the sofa with my mother watching Ford/Carter election returns coming in on television in 1976, I have been interested in politics. My dad was a proud former Goldwater voter, not all that surprising for a meritocratic engineer-type of guy. As a teen, I began paying close attention to the early CNN and its amazing show Crossfire with Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley. An interest in politics developed into something more like an obsession.
Two big things happened in college at Florida State University. The first was that I became a born-again Christian tutored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship to bring everything in my life under the lordship of Christ. Second, I came under the influence of some serious free-market economists in the persons of James Gwartney and Randall Holcombe. As a result, my anti-communist tendencies (pretty natural for a Cold War kid) combined with Christian social conservatism and powerful free-market thinking to create a worldview that turned me into a highly fusionist type of conservative without apologies.
Later, I would come to understand that there was a conservatism other than National Review’s style (such as the classic Burke/Kirk version) and that Christians came in a wide variety of viewpoints, too, but the underlying point is that I became a nerd of the type who has always been drunk on ideas and somewhat religious about them as well. Although stopping the Soviet Union and protecting the free market were the first attachments, I later found the writing of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer made a thorough-going pro-lifer out of me. And Schaeffer associate John Whitehead showed me the fundamental importance of religious liberty over the course of a summer at his Rutherford Institute.
Take this package of beliefs and intellectual commitments and combine them with the presidential election of 2016. I was a Marco guy with strong sympathies toward Ted Cruz, as well. (Why Cruz? I think that few understand the original constitutional design as well as he does.) It also happened that I was a conservative who appreciated Jeb Bush. Though he was often pilloried as some kind of sell-out squish, I knew he hadn’t governed that way in Florida.
In the beginning, I saw Trump as a novelty candidate. I called him the guy who says all the stuff your uncle drives everyone crazy with at Thanksgiving. When he criticized John McCain for getting captured, I was sure he was done. To my horror, he continued to climb. Debate after debate took place. Each time I saw a boorish performance by a man who was unprepared on policy and who just blustered his way through every encounter.
Of course, he won. In retrospect, I see his victory as a classic 1980’s business phenomenon that fits perfectly with his 1980’s birth as a celebrity. Trump’s coalition enabled him to perform a hostile takeover of the Republican party. Like most corporate raiders, it looks like he’ll take control, drain the party of its useful assets, and then leave behind a crippled wreck.
Despite this dim view of Trump and my support for virtually anyone else at the primary stage, I did commit myself to supporting him in the general election. The answer is simple and should be easily understood by all. I know Hillary and her plans. She is a pro-choice, secular collectivist of the type with whom I tend to disagree most vehemently. The best thing about her, in my view, is that she is a much worse salesman for her views than President Obama has been for his. Other will put the emphasis on her record, on Benghazi, on the email scandal. Fine, but for me it is the continued development of U.S. policy in a direction I think of as hostile to true liberty and the marginalization of unborn human life that troubles me the most. Next to this, I saw Trump as a wildcard and an amateur. I continue to think he would cede most governing to his vice-president and that he would mostly be a sloganeer and an image maker.
But I cannot deny the points that friends ardently opposing Trump have made. They view him as a faux-Republican, a total non-conservative, a man of wealth without an apparent moral compass, and a political opportunist who must not be trusted. In light of his recent comments which suggest sexual assault, they argue that he lacks even a baseline of character that we should expect of a president.
On the other hand, there are the friends who say that Hillary represents a generational threat for two reasons. They fear that she will embrace an immigration policy that will fundamentally reshape America’s electoral balance. (I disagree here, believing that even illegal immigrant families have a good chance of becoming Republicans.) In addition, they say that she will turn the Supreme Court like a pro, which she is, and that the causes of life and religious liberty will be set back for decades. While they often deeply regret Trump as the candidate, they feel that failing to support him represents a lack of seriousness and determination to fight. Those who are unwilling to sully themselves by supporting Trump should get out of the way and let real warriors do battle.
I have many friends in both camps. For my part, I have tended to be closer to group two than to group one because of my worries about the court. I figured that a blustering dilettante with no government experience could scarcely do the harm that a master of the process could do. For that reason, Donald Trump the candidate has seemed to be worth the trouble (if just barely).
But with this latest revelation (and knowing more is likely to come), the pain of the whole thing has intensified. I have had to ask myself whether there is ANY point at which my personal sense of honor kicks in so as to deny the candidate my support, even in the face of an awful alternative. (There must be such a point. There must be.)
My #nevertrump friends don’t understand how hard it has been for me and others. They look at me backing away from Trump in these last days and say, “What has changed? Didn’t you always know this about him?” In truth, probably so. All I can say is that when one determines to persevere in order to vindicate a cause he is able to withstand the stacking of a great many straws before his knees begin to tremble.
We have to face the fact that it is terrible to be a conservative, a Christian, and/or both who faces the electoral decision before us. There is no truly pro-life Republican or Democrat candidate. There is no true religious liberty Republican or Democrat candidate. There is nothing approaching an actual conservative of any type, really. There is no one who genuinely shares our values, our spiritual commitments, and our way of life in this race.
We have before us a creature of Washington and a creature of Manhattan, one whose wealth was made through leveraging government access and another who made money selling vice and paying off politicians.
Our situation is bad enough. The least we can do is to stop tearing each other apart and to stop treating one another as though we no longer recognize whatever good once drew us together. Goodness help us, we have all tried to do what we thought was right.