Monday, October 17, 2016

The first divorced president

During the political season, I sometimes read it said that Ronald Reagan was the "first divorced president". The purpose of that observation depends on the pundit's agenda. Sometimes it's cited to show the hypocrisy of the religious right. We rail against divorce, but made a convenient exception for Reagan. This is sometimes set in contrast to reputedly faithful husbands like Carter or Obama. (Of course, that backfires if we include FDR, JFK, LBJ, and Bill Clinton.)

More recently, I've seen it used in support of Trump. In fact, there's a Newsmax article that claims Trump and Reagan have 15 things in common, including divorce. Indeed, the Newsmax article says "Reagan divorced Jane Wyman". 

A few quick observations:

i) It's true that Trump and Reagan have some things in common. For instance, both men have a full head of hair at an age when many men are bald or balding. If that doesn't make Trump Reagan's true heir, I don't know what would.

ii) I haven't studied Reagan's life in-depth–it doesn't interest me–but from what I've read, he didn't divorce Jane Wyman. The passive voice–"first divorced president" is ambiguous. Who divorced whom? From what I've read, it wasn't Reagan who walked out on the marriage, but Wyman. He didn't want a divorce. She divorced him. One reason, or so I've read, is that at the time she was a bigger star than he was. She may have felt he was a drag factor on her career. 

iii) I'd add that the question is a red herring. Reagan isn't the standard of comparison. Conservatism is an ideology, not a person. 

And in any event, the comparisons don't work in Trump's favor. From what I can tell, he was devoted to one wife at a time–unlike Trump. Although Reagan wasn't a great thinker, he tried to work out a consistent conservative philosophy. And, within the limitations of the democratic process, he tried to implement his political philosophy. 

iv) It's not hypocritical to choose a candidate whose private life is at variance with conservative values. I'm not the candidate. I'm not responsible for how he chooses to live his life. It's his life, not mine. I don't make those decisions for him. 

v) I'd add that from a Protestant perspective, divorce isn't inherently wrong. It depends on the circumstances. 

vi) There are, of course, Trump apologists who are joined at the hip with Trump. Because they lack the critical detachment to disassociate persons from policies, they become tarnished. 

1 comment:

  1. Another difference is that Reagan seemed to have a more credible profession of faith. I'm not saying he was clearly saved or that his profession was actually credible (from the human perspective). Though, I once heard Dr. D. James Kennedy say that when he and a few other ministers interviewed Reagan before he became POTUS, that Reagan gave good answers.

    There are variations of the story on the web as to what actually transpired. Here are just two.

    "...[Dr. D. James Kennedy] has met with candidates for the office for over 30 years now, and asked them all the one question he said he found as the best..."If you were to die today and Jesus would ask you why He should let you into His heaven, what would you say?" When he asked this of President Reagan, the President bent over and put his head between his knees, and then sat up and said, "I don't deserve heaven...but," and then quoted John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believed in Him would not perish but have everlasting life." He also pointed out that John Kerry recently said, in answer to a question about his faith by someone else, that his favorite scripture was, John 16:3. We're sure he missed quoted. If you read it you'll see what I mean!"

    "James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources, was among six religious leaders to meet with Reagan while he was governor of California. During the meeting, D. James Kennedy asked Reagan two pointed questions about his faith.

    The first question was, "If you died today, do you have the assurance you would go to heaven?" Reagan answered, "Yes."

    "Kennedy then asked him, 'If you should stand before God today and He asked you, 'Why should I let you in my heaven?' what would you say?'" Draper recounted in a statement to Baptist Press. "At that point, Gov. Reagan stroked his chin and had that faraway look. After a moment he said, 'Well, I guess it would be because I pray to His Son Jesus Christ every day.'

    "He won my heart that day because that was obviously not a question he had thought about or had planned to answer, and his response was very honest and open," Draper said. "He was one of the most gracious men I have ever met, and always gave you the sense of honesty and integrity that inspires confidence." "

    That's in contrast to Trump's response to the question whether he'd ever asked God for forgiveness. Trump said that he doesn't think in those terms!