I have been quietly observing the coverage and opinion sharing surrounding Trump and his salacious past for a while now. As his affairs have come to light, people have become ever more divided in their opinions over him. On one side, you have those who call Trump the worst kind of cad and liar, and on the other are those who insist they can and should overlook his past in favor of the good he may do now.
Both sides have valid points.
I have been reluctant to weigh in with my own opinion because I know that the people who are vehemently opposed to Trump will become apoplectic and will question my character by extension. It is similar to the irrational attacks levied by the hard core pro-Trump side whenever I have been critical of him, but oddly enough it is the antis who have been the most unpleasant since the election.
That is, I had been unwilling to weigh in… until today.
Earlier I saw this post and my immediate reaction was surprise that the NY Times should be concerned with character. They do, after all, have a history of blatant bias, fabrication, and political spin. It is ironic, given their history, that they should have published an opinion on precisely this topic. If they were subject to their own standards, I would be compelled to assign them to the dust bin of the corrupt and unreadable. I suppose, then, that it is good to separate the publication itself from the succession of questionable posts and journalists that have been published within its periodicals.
The post itself talks about Trump’s past and the support he gets from conservatives today despite what could politely be called a colorful history. It calls into question, specifically, the character of Mike Pence, but also that of the whole of conservatism and the right.
As to the character of Pence, I can only say that you need not agree with him in all things to acknowledge he is a man of honor. I believe that he feels he can do some good in his position as VP, and that he could influence Trump’s life in a positive direction.
I believe we can all agree that Trump could use all the positive influence he can get. Of course his past indiscretions are inexcusable. They may be understandable in a sense, but I wouldn’t attempt to justify them. Therein lies the source of the divide over support for Trump. He has been, at least, honest about his vices. That alone sets him apart from most politicians, many of whom behave exactly like Trump privately and then publicly play at being virtuous.
It doesn’t help the discussion at all when one considers that the integrity of the presidency was utterly destroyed under Clinton, and that this was defended and approved by the very media outlets that have engaged in perpetual pearl-clutching since Trump’s nomination. Hypocrisy is alive and well and its most ardent champion is mainstream media.
Which brings me back to the Divide, and the most common refrain associated with said divide, “Consistency!” “Character!” “Conviction!”
I found this quote from the Times post particularly telling:
“Conservatives have twisted themselves into knots trying to excuse Trump’s vulgarities as acceptable and somehow set them apart from the supposed productivity of the man himself, somehow cleaving the sin from the sinner.”
Concerning the questions of character and convictions, and the contention within conservatism and particularly among Christians, is this not precisely what we ought to do?? Not make excuses, but to separate the sin from the sinner? Can we not acknowledge that things done may be unequivocally wrong while also acknowledging that people may be redeemed?
Before you counter with, “Yes, but..,” let me reminded you that not one of us can redeem ourselves by our own power alone. If you have ever sought forgiveness or absolution then you cannot claim any more innate goodness or virtue than the President can. The act alone is proof that we are not good for goodness sake, whatever childhood songs may say.
This brings me to what I perceive to be the insidious arrogance of “better than.”
It is possible for a conservative Christian to support Trump’s presidency and abhor his dalliances. Jesus did not tell us to seek our salvation in politics, nor did he say that we should hawk our “fruits” in the public square by proudly proclaiming the superiority of our vote. When the elites of his day tried to trap him in an inconsistency, he merely said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” What our duty as a voter is, then, depends on a very personal conviction that is God’s alone to judge, as He alone is the one to place such convictions on us.
It is disturbing to me to see such prideful and contentious interactions among otherwise delightful people. Yes, we should definitely be concerned with character, but first and foremost and always the character that concerns us most should be our own. If we cannot hold a mirror to our own pride and foibles, and seek always to remain humbled by what we find there, then we have no business becoming the arbiters of virtue in other people’s lives.
We may not like what it says about us that our Representatives are such fallible and fallen individuals, but let us not delude ourselves with the fantasy that we each and all have not at some point been just as given to vice as they are. They are the reflection we turn away from. They are the beams we avoid in our search for specks.
I can already predict the rebuttals to this opinion and I may in time address them, but I believe we can gain an understanding of what are simplistically called “inconsistencies” by remembering the many instances wherein God uses secular leaders to perform wise and good acts, and how sometimes a part can redeem the whole. These things did not come about by posturing, however; they were the result of real conviction, real faith, and constant prayer. I can’t help thinking our time would be better spent in the pursuit of self improvement and spiritual communion rather than in endless arguments over who is the “better” person based on whether or not they support the President as a politician or as a person.
To that end, I would leave you with a passage from The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:
“We are deceived by looking on the outside of things. We suppose ourselves to be roughly not much worse than Y, whom all acknowledge for a decent sort of person, and certainly (though we should not claim it out loud) better than the abominable X. Even on the superficial level we are probably deceived about this. Don’t be too sure that your friends think you as good as Y. The very fact that you selected him for the comparison is suspicious: he is probably head and shoulders above you and your circle. But let us suppose that Y and yourself both appear “not bad”. How far Y’s appearance is deceptive, is between Y and God. His may not be deceptive: you know that yours is.
In an instant of time -while your friend hesitates for a word- what things pass through your mind? We have never told the whole truth. We may confess ugly facts -the meanest cowardice or the shabbiest and most prosaic impurity- but the tone is false. The very act of confessing -an infinitesimally hypocritical glance- a dash of humour- all this contrives to disassociate the facts from your very self. No one could guess how familiar, and in a sense, congenial to your soul these things were, how much of a piece with all the rest: down there, in the dreaming inner warmth, they struck no such discordant note, were not nearly so odd and detachable from the rest of you, as they seem when they are turned into words. We imply, and often believe, that habitual vices are exceptional single acts, and make the opposite mistake about our virtues…”