May 21, 2016


The Problem of Character: Why Conservatives Must Reject Donald Trump (Ashleen Menchaca-Bagnulo, May 19th, 2016, Public Discourse)

For students of Christianity and politics to close our eyes to the tyrannical nature of Trump would be an abandonment of Christ's mandate to "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Paul of Tarsus may have converted after God struck him down on the road to Damascus, but no Christian in her right mind would have desired to place him in high office over her when he was in thrall to his lowest passions.

Many highly intelligent people of considerable personal character are contemplating a vote for Trump. This is not because of who he is, but because of who he is not.

I understand that such people, including many whom I know and admire, have not come to this conclusion out of admiration for Trump but out of a feeling of necessity. They see Trump's vicious character, but they either view him as the lesser of two evils, or as Ross Douthat so wisely observes, they see in him a useful strong man for the secular age.

But this is a projection of their own moral universe onto the psychology of Trump. They want him to play fair in a way that he never will. In exchange for their vote, they think this man will listen to them. Why would a man who is used to ridiculing, exploiting, and dominating the vulnerable feel that he owes us anything when he comes into power--even if he used us to get that power? If we take the unity of the virtues seriously, why would we believe that he would keep his promises to us when he abandoned two wives and four children and when he has left his own family members in the breach in their times of direst need?

Perhaps, some might argue, it is not that we should have faith in him. Rather, we should trust our own ability to harness him for our own purposes. We should have faith that we can use him to smash institutions and wipe out the corruption that dominates our ossified political structure. Yet this position too ignores the reality of Trump's character. Why would a man of such expansive appetites submit to the kinds of constitutional checks and balances held dear by conservative thinkers? Remember, this is a man who uses intimidation and coercion to quash politicians and journalists who disagree with him.

What helped me to distinguish between the Republicans and the Democrats when I was younger is that the Republicans showed the kind of aspiration found in Cicero, the hope that political freedom and moral virtue might coexist and mutually enrich each other in a republic. There was a time when I thought the Republican Party attempted to articulate itself in terms of traditional ideas of virtue, character, and statesmanship.

Reasonable people will always disagree on the best way to solve policy questions. The question whether to support Trump, however, is more than a dispute about the best use of our resources or the best way to regard our natural rights. His nomination is simply a bridge too far. With the appearance of Trump as our nominee, we have become what the smartest among "value voters" have always feared. We are a faction of a coalition party; our votes are expected, but our voices are not heard. In what way can our commitments to the defense of human freedom and human dignity be taken to be the party's any longer?

The face that is emerging for the GOP is the ugly face we have always been accused of having--misogynistic, racist, and gratuitously authoritarian. If we assent to this, how can we still consider ourselves the flag bearers of the attempt to harmonize traditional accounts of virtue and the political life? We must let the party know that their acceptance of Donald Trump is unacceptable. If he receives the nomination, I fear it will be taken as evidence that the GOP's words about virtue were always just means to power. And if he is elected president, people making that critique might be right.

Posted by at May 21, 2016 6:37 AM