Klavan On The Culture

Why Some Wise Men Fear Trump

Why Some Wise Men Fear Trump
Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference in New York on May 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

No one was happier to see that chopper take off than I was: the end of eight years of ideologic incompetence from a president who was perhaps not so much anti-American as pro-globalist — globalism being the idea that a small collection of elites should rule the world through unelected bureaucracies that do not change course regardless of the outcome of elections. Bad idea. Bad president. Thrilled to see him go.

As for Trump’s inauguration speech, it had its highs and lows. “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American People,” was wonderful stuff. It spoke the hearts of the people who elected him, but also the essential intentions of our founders. “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength?” I doubt it, but we’ll see. Trump’s a pragmatic guy. If his policies make things worse, he’ll try something else.

Yet watching Trump assume office, I was aware of divided feeling. I was delighted that the voice of non-globalist American exceptionalism had been heard (God bless the Electoral College!), yet I was aware of a sense of misgiving that had nothing to do with my own personal distaste for some of Trump’s behaviors along the campaign trail.

Several intelligent and insightful friends from around the country have written or spoken virtually the same strange words to me: “Even if Trump turns out to be a great president, it’s a bad thing that we elected him.” On the face of it, this is absurd. The people hired him to be president. If he’s great at it, then those who were enthusiastic about him will be justified and we who had doubts will be proved wrong. For love of country, I personally will celebrate the discovery of my error with champagne and cigars. (As I’ve written elsewhere, I love what he’s done with the office so far.)

But my intelligent, insightful friends don’t usually say absurd things. I’ve tried to get them to explain what they mean, but they — all of them — fall back on listing Trump’s personal faults. He’s a “bad man.” And yet, even if that’s true, bad men can do good things and even great things. Personally, I’ve always thought Thomas Jefferson was a complete creep.

But there is one thing that links all these friends together: religion. Every one who has said these words to me is deeply religious, Protestant, Catholic or Jew. And religion, I think, may be at the source of my own misgiving as well.

Trump is the first post-Christian president. Don’t misunderstand this. I don’t mean he’s evil and I’m not even commenting on his religious beliefs. (He says he goes to church.) But he is the first president who ran a campaign without reference to Christian cultural norms. We  — myself included — voted for him in spite of the fact that he exalted his wealth and insulted those of his critics who were not rich as “losers” and “failures.” As for his sexual behavior… Bill Clinton committed adultery and may well have committed rape, but he lied about it. He knew it was wrong. He lived, as an adulterer and hypocrite, within Christian norms. Trump bragged about his adulteries and paraded his flirtations. He said he never asked God for forgiveness, he just tried to make his wrongs right.

Again, this is not a question of right or wrong, good or bad. Barack Obama believed in leftism, which is tyranny, and I doubt he truly worshipped anything not named Barack. But leftist tyranny is a perversion of Christianity; it is Christianity without Christ. It accepts Christian care for the poor and the weak and transfers that responsibility from the individual to the state. This is destructive and oppressive — but again, it’s shaped by Christian norms. Exalting wealth, deriding lack of wealth, bragging about adultery and eschewing God’s forgiveness — these may be non-hypocritical even occasionally beneficial behaviors, but they are non-Christian acts and we elected Trump either in spite of them or possibly because of them.

I suspect what bothers some religious people about Trump is not Trump so much as us. If he is indeed a sign that we are becoming a post-Christian nation, it presages trouble ahead. The entire history of the west from Rome on is a Christian history. Our ideas of freedom grew out of that history and rest on it and will not long stand if we have in fact abandoned their source.

If we have, it’s not Trump’s fault. (And yes, Hillary would have been an utterly disastrous choice.) All the same, as a reflection of the state of our souls, perhaps Trump’s election is a warning of worse things to come if we don’t relearn the origin and support of our greatest achievements.

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