Did you ever meet a person who made you more uneasy the better you got to know him?
I began spring and summer of 2015 liking a lot of what Donald Trump was saying, and mostly trusting that he meant it. I had enjoyed watching The Apprentice several years ago, and then last summer and fall I was in attendance as press at two events where he spoke: A rally in front of the U.S. Capitol against the Iran deal, and at the Values Voter Summit, also in Washington, D.C. At both these events I found Trump’s voice to be compelling and his apparent strength and easy confidence reassuring. Since application of immigration laws equally and as written is my top issue (liberty and justice for all requires equality under law), naturally there were only two candidates in the primary who could possibly receive my support, and Trump was one.
Then a year of primary campaigning happened, and this is when the concern of many Americans, myself included, began to grow.
As the Cleveland Convention kicks off tomorrow, I have a sense that huge portions of the party base have more concerns about Trump than ever, and that – far from diminishing – these concerns are growing and hardening. Is our presumptive Republican presidential nominee authentic? Is he trustworthy? Who is he, anyway?
It is clear after a year of campaigning that Donald Trump’s policy positions generally don’t reflect constitutional conservatism. In some cases (e.g. enforce immigration law – though it is unclear whether Trump will actually do this) they mostly do. In many others (e.g. protectionism, graduated tax, cronyism, big government, guns, abortion, Planned Parenthood, etc.) they mostly do not. But the policy positions he proposes now are inconsequential if the above questions are ignored.
During his speech introducing Mike Pence on Saturday, Trump among other things thanked “the evangelicals” for their support, acknowledging that he could not have done it without them. Trump’s evangelical support by now is somewhat tenuous and I believe he knows it, so I hear a tinge of wishful thinking and perhaps desperation in this statement.
Also in his speech, Trump touched on the issue of free speech and the protection of religious liberty. Of course, both are God-given rights that may not be taken away by government, because they do not come from government in the first place. Unfortunately, Trump missed a great opportunity to demonstrate he understands this (if he in fact does), stating instead that if he should be elected, “We’re gonna let evangelicals talk.”
Let us talk? No, no, no; that is not the way things work in the United States. The Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” We as Americans can talk. It is not up to a President to “let” us. It is a President’s job, rather, to exercise only those powers given him or her by the Constitution. Among those powers are not the the ability to place limits on speech.
Some might think it unfair to come down too hard on Trump for this misspeak … after all, he at least mentioned evangelicals in a favorable light, right? Trump is saying he loves “the evangelicals” (note the use of the definite article), so it’s all good, right?
The thing is, we have seen a pattern in Trump by now. He loves people when he needs them and they serve his interests; he turns on them, often in ad hominem schoolyard bully fashion, when they stand in his way. Think Megyn Kelly, Ben Carson, and others. Concerning Ted Cruz we’ve seen Trump flip twice now: In the early part of the campaign Trump was quite approving of Cruz. When Cruz began to get traction against Trump as the field narrowed, the latter turned on Cruz – not with substance or on the issues, but with vicious ad hominem attacks and what seemed like a billion repetitions of the epithet “Lyin’ Ted.” And now that it serves Trump’s interests once again, Ted to him is “a really good guy.” (I’m a bit confused – is Trump now admitting he was lying about Ted Cruz “lyin’,” or is Trump now telling us that he thinks that someone about whom he said, “I have never, ever met a person that lies more than” him is simultaneously a “really good guy?”)
To the point: When he says that he loves the evangelicals and that he is going to take really good care of them, does Trump perhaps really mean to say that evangelicals will be OK as long as they align with his interests, otherwise – look out?
PEELING OFF EVANGELICAL SUPPORT
Prominent Christian evangelical leaders several weeks ago had a personal audience with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for the express purpose of allowing them to take a measure of the man. This meeting predictably bore fruit for the candidate in the form of statements expressing varying degrees of approval, including a statement (since then walked back) by James Dobson that he had reliable report that Trump had become a Christian.
Dobson’s (and others’) coveted comments to that effect – the real reason for the meeting – were hastily noted and immediately disseminated far and wide.
Now, being a Christian is not prerequisite for political support from most evangelical leaders.
And let it be noted: Donald Trump can become a Christian. Jesus’ invitation looks open to everyone: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him.” (Revelation 3:20), and “it is not the well who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12). What was it about Trump, though, that led the widely respected founder of Focus on the Family, Dr. James Dobson, to vouch that Donald Trump has become a Christian?
One might imagine that prior to stating to media his belief that Trump (who has famously said not long ago that he never felt the need to ask forgiveness for anything) is a believer, Dr. Dobson or others would have asked Donald Trump something like the two basic questions:
“If you were to die today, do you know where you would spend eternity?” (hint: a Christian knows), and the follow-up,
“If you, standing at the gate of heaven, were asked by God, ‘Why should I let you in?’, what would you say?” (hint: “I’m a basically good person,” “I go to church and/or take communion,” “I was baptized as a child,” “I try hard” and variants or combinations of these are a pretty sure sign of someone who has either not become a Christian, or who has forgotten something very important that they once understood.)
Even though Christians are not saved by anything they do, Jesus yet said that those who follow him would show certain evidence of such: “by their fruits you will know them,” meaning that you can tell what a person “is,” and in particular whether they are followers of him, by how they act. Ephesians chapter 5 lists a series of traits that should naturally become evident in Christians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Anyone who has watched Donald Trump over the course of the primaries can see that his actions have not been very Christ-like. The mean-spirited name-calling, lying about others, apparent tone-deafness about moral issues including abortion, sexuality, fidelity to one’s spouse, and so forth – not to mention more abstract public issues such as cronyism and totalitarianism versus accountable self-governance.
And certainly, Christians, new and old, are of varying degrees of fidelity. Real Christians are indeed sometimes real stinkers. But there are also marks of conscience. A degree of humility. A basic awareness that there is a right and there is a wrong – not just “out there” among others, but also “in here” in my own life. There is a struggle and discomfort with that reality of my human condition that manifests itself in a constant desire to start fresh, and gratitude that God gives us the opportunity to do so.
So, I ask my rhetorical question once again: Why were evangelical leaders so quick to issue their statements of approval after a personal meeting?
And I answer: Donald Trump is a persuasive salesman, and the Christian leaders, being human, were taken off guard by his charm.
I’ll illustrate with a story.
In September, 2015, I attended the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC. There with my dad, I was wearing several hats that day: as Press (I write Op-Eds and take photos for a couple of papers), as a Ted Cruz volunteer (we won the straw poll), and as an ordinary local Christian engaged with the political process.
My Press hat put me front and center during many of the candidates’ speeches, and I was mere feet away from Donald Trump as he delivered his address to that audience. Focused mainly on taking photos, I also listened and watched as Trump told his story, pulled out the Bible that his mother gave him, showed the page of the inscription “to Donald,” and so forth.
By the end of the day a lot had transpired. John Boehner had earlier announced his resignation as Speaker of the House, an announcement that electrified the gathering and came just in time for Ted Cruz’ speech from the same podium, and other candidates and speakers (including, of course, Trump) had taken the stage as well.
As things were winding down in the evening, I noticed Fox News’ election correspondent Carl Cameron sitting by himself at the back after most of the cameras and media folks had filtered out. I said hello, and we spoke for a little while. Among other things, Cameron asked me, “What surprised you most about today?”
After a moment, I answered, “What surprised me most was that, when Donald Trump held up his Bible and talked about being a Christian, I almost believed him.”
A knowing smile spread across Cameron’s face.
“What?” I said.
He answered, “I have been covering these things for a long time. It’s an act.”
Well, that was Cameron’s opinion at that point in time. I have not spoken with him since and therefore do not know if he would maintain it. Still, he did not speak it bitterly or in any way that indicated personal resentment, but rather as a doctor might make a clinical diagnosis. Furthermore, at that moment it rang true. I think I knew it before he even said it. Maybe the disconnect between what I knew at a subconscious level and what I was seeing and hearing in real time was the very reason I had been surprised at myself for being compelled by Trump’s speech in the first place.
Is Trump a Christian? I hope so, but I see little or no sign of it but a lot of evidence that he is simply telling people what he thinks they want to hear. Meanwhile, I see evidence that he wants this thing so badly that he is willing to personally attack in nasty, dishonest, and childish fashion any who stand in his way. His propensity for lying when it serves his purpose has now been amply demonstrated.
DONALD TRUMP: AUTHENTIC? TRUSTWORTHY?
Does it matter that Trump is not a Christian? Well, that is not exactly my point. The Christian claim is merely illustrative. My larger point is that I think people should be asking who Trump really is and what he really intends to do, not merely reading his position papers on his website, but asking whether these position papers can be taken to the bank, especially given his long and well-established record on the issues that face this nation so urgently.
Trump spent his whole life as a liberal, funding the most horrible people in Washington, the ones who have gotten us in to the current mess, and he has never to my knowledge demonstrated, apart from during the Republican primary when it was politically expedient for him to do so, that he is willing to stand against liberalism.
In summary nobody – not friends nor critics – has ever said that Donald Trump can’t make a sale. He is a huge success in persuasion, very good at making people feel as if he is genuine and real. Many have criticized his flow-of-consciousness, off-the-cuff speeches that are light on substance, but the truth is, they have the effect of creating in people a temporary feeling of trust.
But he has shown that he is not a man of his word. He has shown that his word is flexible and changeable. He has also demonstrated that he tells people what they want to hear, perhaps even signs contracts with them, and later just changes the deal as it suits him.
WHY AM I WRITING THIS? DO I WANT HILLARY TO WIN?
Absolutely not. Hillary belongs in jail. And she is a leftist ideologue and probably more corrupt than LBJ. Let me be clear: Donald Trump had every advantage and more in this primary season. He benefited in the end from rules set in place that ordinarily favor the establishment candidate. He has had tons of free press and publicity. He correctly gauged the level of outrage the American people have concerning the refusal of the federal government, for decades, to enforce immgration law and deport all people who are present in this country illegally. He understood the folly of political correctness and how it places this nation and its values at risk of subversion by enemies of liberty.
Then he fought dirty. Then he stood up for ethanol cronyism. And he moderated his positions on illegal immigrants. And then he advocated limiting free speech. And he told many untruths.
We are in a horrible situation right now. The Republican Party is very close to handing their nomination for president to a man who to many of us at first looked like one of the better choices but in the end is quite probably one of the worst of the field.
I know many conservatives and Christians who have told me that they feel they are going to stay home in November. I have been gauging this sentiment with the passage of time, and I sense it growing and strengthening. Do these people want Hillary to win? Not at all. But they are resigned that Trump is not better.
WHO IS TO BLAME?
Responsible conservatives remained open and attentive throughout the primary season. Then, just as many were starting to note the red flags popping up indicating that Trump is not the best choice, Sarah Palin stepped out and endorsed him. Then Amy Kremer. Then Ben Carson. And others. It was bizarre and disappointing, and those people have lost my trust.
Breitbart jumped on the Trump bandwagon following Drudge getting onboard, not to mention Alex Jones, so many outlets once considered conservative have deeply compromised their brand. These outlets will certainly forge ahead, but they will have a certain Pied Piper effect on those who don’t tune them out. Whether this is enough to help him win will remain to be seen. The problem is, that it may not make a whole lot of difference who wins.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?
I believe it is now clear that Trump is the wrong Republican nominee, and his nomination, if it is formalized, will be a tragedy for this nation. I believe Hillary Clinton will become elected and will therefore probably escape jail time if Trump is the nominee. Furthermore, we know what Hillary will do, destroying immigration equality by giving Amnesty, appointing Supreme Court Justices who cross their fingers behind their back as they swear to uphold the Constitution, and so forth.
I believe that the delegates at the Cleveland convention have an unenviable but momentous responsibility to carefully consider which candidate they will nominate.
If the delegates decide, as I believe they should, not to give the nomination to Donald Trump, I would caution them against choosing any other candidate who has been compromised by support of Amnesty for people who have been willfully and chronically breaking U.S. immigration law, because no pro-Amnesty candidate is going to win in 2016.