Over at The Dispatch, David French penned a Sunday piece called “Evangelicals Have Abandoned the Character Test. The Competence Test is Next.” Unsurprisingly, it centered on Donald Trump and his relationship with the white evangelical community. I could go into a lot of detail about French’s argument, but I’ll cut to the chase and say he’s absolutely right.
It isn’t news that the evangelical right, which for years had said, “Character counts,” gave character the heave-ho when it became inconvenient at helping them elect Republicans. This was not an isolated occurrence in 2016, it has been an ongoing decision since then as the president lies and gets away with things that no other president would dare do, all with the overwhelming and unwavering support of evangelicals who now argue that “We didn’t elect a national pastor.” (Full disclosure: I was raised as a Southern Baptist and am still a member of a Southern Baptist church.)
French concentrates heavily on Trump’s incompetence in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic in making his case. I’ve covered some aspects of the president’s poor handling of the crisis as well, but new information on the lackluster early federal reaction is still coming out. But really, did you have to wait until the pandemic to see that Trump was incompetent?
Donald Trump has had precious few successes and most of those have relied upon executive power. His sole major legislative accomplishment, tax reform, was passed without a single Democratic vote. Since then, the president has relied on circumventing Congress rather than working with it. So much for his vaunted reputation as a dealmaker.
In fact, if we look at tactics and strategies rather than policy positions, Donald Trump closely resembles Barack Obama, a president reviled by the same white evangelicals that love Trump. Both presidents were intentionally divisive and sought to use divide and conquer strategies to fire up their partisan bases rather than building broad coalitions. Both proved utterly incapable of forging bipartisan agreements for the good of the country. Neither respected the constitutional limits on presidential powers and pushed the boundaries of executive actions. Both presided over large expansions of government and federal spending. Both men’s egos wrote checks that their abilities could not cash.
The difference is that white evangelicals support one and not the other. Some would say that the difference is the color of Obama’s skin, but I don’t believe that. I think the answer is simply that Trump tells evangelicals what they want to hear on a few key issues and, in exchange, they reward him with loyalty on everything else.
When you speak to evangelical voters, two factors trump all else when it comes to Donald Trump. The first is abortion and the second is the Supreme Court. The Bible says that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), but for evangelical voters, spouting pro-life platitudes and appointing conservatives to the bench covers even more. Trump’s evangelical base will support him on whatever he does because “at least he’s pro-life.”
For Trump’s evangelical fans, saying pro-life things covers the failed North Korean nuclear talks, the fact that Obamacare is still unrepealed and unreformed, that Planned Parenthood is still funded, the trade war that has done so much to hurt American manufacturing and farmworkers, and a foreign policy that is even weaker than Obama’s. It also extends to cover abuses of power and criminal acts such as obstructing federal investigations. It will cover the death toll of the Coronavirus and Trump’s misinformation on the pandemic.
The one area where I can find disagreement with French is that white evangelicals are not about to abandon the competence test. They have already done so enthusiastically.
Everyone except the True Believers (in Trump, not God) knows that Donald Trump is incompetent. Many members of his own Administration have openly said so and the proof is in the pudding of his Administration’s poor performance. Evangelicals know it, but as in the story of the emperor’s new clothes, they are afraid to say it. Instead, they embrace the fiction that Trump is playing blindfolded underwater 6D chess or whatever level we are up to this week.
Believing that Trump is competent requires one to believe that everyone is incompetent or corrupt, giving rise to new conspiracy theories from the Deep State to Q. Everyone from Fauci to the FBI must be corrupt and trying to undermine Trump and launch a coup to destroy America.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Christians could be misled and steered astray. After all, a fundamental Christian doctrine is that men are fallible and prone to sin, selfishness, and bad decisions. In fact, the Bible warns us to guard against leaders who tell us what we want to hear (in Matthew 24:24, 2 Timothy 3:13, and 1 John 2:3-11 to name a few verses).
There are reasons to vote for Donald Trump, just as there are many reasons to vote against him. For people who assume that elections are binary choices, Hillary versus Trump was a choice between two evils. As French posits, however, the bigger problem than the initial Trump vote is that white evangelicals no longer see Donald Trump as an evil. They support him wholeheartedly and excuse his bad behavior rather than holding him accountable.
That brings to mind another Bible verse that I’ll close with. Isaiah 5:20 warns, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.”
Originally published on The Resurgent
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