Saturday, July 30, 2016

Patsies for Trump

I'm going to comment on an op-ed by Wayne Grudem:

I like Grudem. He's a good man who's done a lot of good. 

There are roughly two different ways to defend voting for Trump in the general election. One is simply about the odds. Hillary is probably worse than Trump. As Dennis Prager put it, behind Door #1 is a man-eating lion. Behind Door 2 there might be a beautiful princess or a man-eating lion. Given those alternatives, it's rational to opt for Door #2. 

Mind you, I think that's simplistic, but it's a reasonable position. 

But then you have people who indulge in willful self-delusion to justify voting for Trump. I think Grudem's problem is that he's guileless, and so he projects his guilelessness onto Trump. Some people are too good to understand evil people. Their virtue blinds them to evil people. They can't relate to evil people. They can't see past the mask. They can't work themselves into that devious mindset. Ironically, Grudem is too ingenuous to recognize what a conman Trump is. That's too alien to Grudem's own character. Unfortunately, that makes him a easy mark for imposters like Trump. 

I agree with most of Grudem's principles. Problem is, Trump is a mismatch for the principles. 

Some of my Christian friends tell me they can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump because, when faced with a choice between “the lesser of two evils,” the morally right thing is to choose neither one. They recommend voting for a third-party or write-in candidate.

I agree with Grudem that lesser-evil principle is a valid principle. Many Christians misunderstand the lesser-evil principle.

However, the lesser-evil principle assumes a clear-cut difference between two alternatives. Moreover, it can't be a bottomless pit. 

He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. 

What Grudem fails to appreciate is that Trump doesn't use words to convey truth. Rather, he uses words to promote his self-interest. What Trump says in any given situation is dictated by the situation. He says whatever is necessary to help himself in that situation. For Trump, words exist for expediency, not factuality. That's one reason he's so contradictory. His statements aren't meant to be true in general. They have no value outside their tactical utility in the immediate context. From Trump, it's about success. You say whatever you need to say at the moment to get you to the next lap in the race. 

On the other hand, I think some of the accusations hurled against him are unjustified. His many years of business conduct show that he is not racist or anti-(legal) immigrant or anti-Semitic or misogynistic – I think these are unjust magnifications by a hostile press exaggerating some careless statements he has made. 

As I've said before, I doubt he's a racist–although he's undoubtedly an elitist. But that misses the point. Trump will pander to racist or xenophobic sentiment to succeed. The fact that he isn't really a racist or xenophobe, but cynically talks like one to gin up support, doesn't make him any better than a genuine racist or xenophobe. It makes him just as bad in a different way.

I think he is deeply patriotic and sincerely wants the best for the country. 

He's deeply megalomaniacal and sincerely wants the best for Trump. 

He has been an unusually successful problem solver in business. 

His ability as a businessman is contested.

He has raised remarkable children. 

Like Ivanka Trump's speech at the convention, where she recycled the feminist myth of the wage gap, lobbied for mandatory paid family leave and govt-subsidized childcare? 

Many who have known him personally speak highly of his kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. 

Many who have known him personally say he's a conman. 

But the main reason I call him “a good candidate with flaws” is that I think most of the policies he supports are those that will do the most good for the nation.

Problem is, Trump is a pathological liar. I have no idea what policies he really supports, other than self-serving policies. 

If this election is close (which seems likely), then if someone votes for a write-in candidate instead of voting for Trump, this action will directly help Hillary Clinton, because she will need one less vote to win. Therefore the question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?

That's a valid question.

Some may feel it is easier just to stay away from this messy Trump-Clinton election, and perhaps not even vote. But the teachings of Scripture do not allow us to escape moral responsibility by saying that we decided to do nothing. The prophet Obadiah rebuked the people of the Edom for standing by and doing nothing to help when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem: “On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that . . . foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.” (Obadiah 1:11).

I agree with Grudem in principle. 

I am writing this article because I doubt that many “I can’t vote for Trump” Christians have understood what an entirely different nation would result from Hillary Clinton as president, or have analyzed in detail how different a Trump presidency would be.

I'm sure that's true in many instances. By the same token, many Trump supporters haven't done any serious research into their candidate. They don't keep track of his chronic flip-flops. 

That is why this election is not just about Hillary Clinton. It is about defeating the far left liberal agenda that any Democratic nominee would champion.

I agree that this is not just about two candidates. Rather, it's about two parties. And two social movements. How much will the conservative brand be tainted by guilty association with Trump inky paws? Likewise, we already see the morally seductive and corruptive power of Trump as many erstwhile conservatives assimilate to Trump. 

Trump doesn't even meet conservatives halfway. Rather, he stays put and waits for them to crawl over to his side on their hands and knees. And, unfortunately, that's exactly what's been happening. Now, if Trump can succeed without having to make any substantive concessions to conservative ideology, then there's no incentive for any GOP candidate to run on conservative principles. 

Is withholding a vote from Donald Trump important enough to pay this high a price in loss of freedom?…“But my conscience won’t let me vote for Donald Trump,” some have told me. But I wonder if their consciences have considered the gravity of these destructive consequences that would come from a Clinton presidency. A vote for Trump would at least be doing something to prevent these things.

Which presumes that Trump's campaign promises are credible. But that's the very issue in dispute. Indeed, you could arrange Trump's campaign promises in parallel columns, where he routinely promises one thing, then retracts that and promises the opposite. So even if you wanted to believe him, what promises are you supposed to believe? You can't believe them all, since they cancel each other out.

Trump has released a list of 11 judges to show the kind of nominee he would appoint to the Supreme Court. A lawyer familiar with many of these names has told me that they constitute a “dream list” of outstanding judges who would uphold the original meaning of the Constitution and would not create new laws from the bench. Trump has said he would rely primarily on advice from the Federalist Society, the organization that promotes the “original meaning” view so strongly exemplified by Justice Scalia before his death…In short, a Trump-appointed Supreme Court, together with dozens of lower court judges appointed by him, would probably result in significant advances in many of the policy areas important to Christians.

It's revealing how some people find that list reassuring. My reaction is just the opposite: if Trump was a credible conservative, he wouldn't need to float that list. He could be trusted to nominate judges with a conservative reputation without circulating a list of names. The fact that he's doing so draws attention to his lack of credibility in the first place. 

It's like a liar who testifies as a character-witness on his own behalf. Would you ask a liar if he can be trusted? His answer won't be trustworthy. 

“But Trump has changed his mind in the past,” a politically-minded friend said to me. “How do you know that he will do what he has promised? Maybe he’ll betray you and appoint a liberal Supreme Court justice.”

That's not how I'd frame the issue. It's not that Trump changes his mind. Rather, he had no commitment to what he said in the first place. For Trump, it's like a video game: the objective is to get to the next level. Positioning yourself to cross the next bridge. Once you cross a bridge, it no longer matters what you said. It served its purpose. Outlived its usefulness to you. Past statements are inoperative. It's all about moving forward. 

My reply is that we can never know the future conduct of any human being with 100% certainty, but in making an ethical decision like this one, we should base the decision on the most likely results.

I agree with Grudem in principle. 

In the history of American politics, candidates who have been elected president have occasionally changed their minds on one or another issue while in office, but no president has ever gone back on most of what he has promised to do, especially on issues that are crucially important in the election. In this election, it is reasonable to think that the most likely result is that both Trump and Clinton will do what they have promised to do. That is the basis on which we should decide how to vote.

Notice that Grudem's entire case hinges on this claim. The "most likely result" is that Trump will do what he promised to do simply because "no president has ever gone back on most of what he promised to do". That's Grudem's only argument for crediting Trump's campaign promises. But what kind of argument is that?

i) How does what other presidents do have any bearing on Trump? He's a different person. How do their actions create any precedent for his actions? There's no causal linkage between their modus operandi and his. These are entirely separate. 

ii) Throughout the campaign, we've seen Trump reneging on campaign promises. He breaks campaign promises every week. Makes them, breaks them, repeats them, retracts them. 

iii) What was said and not said that the convention is a good example of Trump's true priorities. That, alone, should douse any hopes that Trump cares about conservative values. For instance:

And notice how Trump has changed his mind. He continues to move in a more conservative direction, as evidenced by his list of judges and his choice for vice president.

This is one of the sad things about cheerleaders like Grudem. They become patsies for Trump. They want to believe in him. They imagine he's entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

Moreover, the claim is demonstrably false. There's no consistent rightward development in Trump's positions over the course of the campaign. 

But even if the claim were true, a candidate who only moves in a conservative direction when he's running for office is a reason to be highly skeptical rather than credulous about his commitment to conservative ideology.  

His choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate is an especially significant indication that he will govern as a conservative.

Pence blinked the moment he faced a real challenge:

Trump has pledged to cut taxes significantly, while Clinton wants to raise them. Trump is advocating a 15% tax rate for corporations rather than the current 35%. 

An example of how Grudem doesn't keep up with Trump's zigzag promises:

Trump has repeatedly promised that he will finally secure our borders, an urgent need to protect the nation from ever more terrorists and drug smugglers.

Once again, Trump keeps updating his campaign promises:

Trump has pledged to aggressively attack and utterly defeat ISIS.

Trump will not let China and Russia and Iran push us around anymore…

Once more, notice how often supporting Trump disarms critical judgment. Trump has been pandering to Putin for months. BTW, what leverage do we have with China?

Trump has promised to vigorously defend and support Israel…

To the contrary, Trump refused to take sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He staked out a "neutral" position:

Trump has promised to rescind many of the most objectionable executive orders given by President Obama, so he will likely end the compulsory moral degradation forced on us by a liberal agenda, including orders forcing schools to allow boys in girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms, in defiance of the will of the vast majority of Americans.

That's just wishful thinking on Grudem's part. For instance:

Robert A. J. Gagnon
July 21 at 8:47pm ·
Trump throws evangelicals a bone in terms of promising to get rid of the Johnson law hamstringing clergy from speaking about politics (a good thing to get rid of) while promoting forcefully "our LGBT community" label after having a "gay" billionaire speak just a couple of speakers before him who rejected protections of Americans over coercive state impositions of homosexualism and transgenderism in our schools, bathrooms, and jobs.
Trump said: "This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBT community. As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Believe me. And I have to say as a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you." One can only wonder how far this positive defining of "our LGBT community" and the promise of protection against hate will extend to promoting discriminatory "sexual orientation" laws in the workplace against people of faith. He has already intimated support for such laws and has directly expressed opposition to laws prohibiting males by birth from entering female rest rooms.Getting rid of the Johnson law is different from protecting us against infringement of our religious and civil liberties against "LGBT" coercion. Trump expressed in his speech no concern for the latter.
Obviously a Clinton presidency would promote this agenda more rigorously than a Trump presidency. But a Trump presidency would implode Republican values from within, ending perhaps forever our connection with the Grand Old Party that once supported our values on sexual ethics. This is why many of us continue to have reservations about endorsing Trump for President even in the face of the horror of a Clinton presidency. Some of us may yet vote for Trump, though never as a vote "for" Trump in the deeper sense.

Back to Grudem:

These American citizens recognize that Trump has built a business career on listening to experts, solving problems, and getting things done. They realize that Trump didn’t earn $4 billion by being stupid…

We don't know Trump's net worth. He refuses to publish independently verifiable documentation. That, of itself, is very suspect. 

They may not have college degrees but their old-fashioned common sense tells them that America would be a much better place if we no longer had to be afraid to say “Merry Christmas,” or that boys are different from girls, or that Islamic terrorists are Islamic terrorists.

You mean, like the delegates who gave sodomite Peter Thiel a standing ovation at the convention when he talked about the "fake" culture war? What I see are people who judge a candidate entirely on the image he projects. They don't do any research. They operate with bumper sticker slogans. They have no ability to spot a conman. 

“But are you saying that character doesn’t matter?” someone might ask. I believe that character does matter, but I think Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current political mud-slinging, and far better than his opponent’s character.

It's easy to Google long lists of quotes by Trump, where he reveals his character in his own words. 

In addition, if someone makes doubts about character the only factor to consider, that is a fallacy in ethical reasoning that I call “reductionism” – the mistake of reducing every argument to only one factor, when the situation requires that multiple factors be considered. 

I agree with Grudem in principle. But he's taken too few factors into consideration. 


  1. If anyone is interested,

    Mike Licona is participating in a live webinar now at 2PM Central/3PM Eastern (USA)

  2. This is a very difficult election...

    1. I agree, I think I'm going to stop considering the primary candidates and concentrate on which VP hopeful I'll vote for

  3. Thanks, Steve for the thorough analysis and additional links. I also posted a response to Dr. Grudem. He seemed to me to be arguing not simply for the moral permissibility of voting for Trump but, rather, for the moral obligation to vote for him. I also question his use of Scripture--especially his use of Obadiah 11. Toward the end of my post I draw attention to your post since it is so detailed. Thanks again.

  4. I'm far less worried about Trump breaking his campaign promises, than I am about Hillary KEEPING hers.

    1. Perhaps, but I was commenting on Grudem, whose argument is contingent on Trump keeping his campaign promises.

    2. Well, the complete Muslim ban, the deportation of 11 million, the beautiful Mexican financed wall, and the special prosecutor to throw Hillary in prison are already off the table, and it's only a week after the election.

      Can we still feel confident that the SCOTUS nominees will absolutely be conservatives who will throw Roe v Wade in the trash heap? Or was that just campaign rhetoric too?