William J. (Bill) Bennett served as Secretary of Education and Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Reagan and as Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy under President H.W. Bush. After leaving public service, Bennett has been best known for his publication of two collections of stories of moral instruction—The Book of Virtues in 1993 and The Moral Compass in 1995. These books were very well received at a time when many Americans had long perceived a trend of moral decline in American culture, and particularly when the President of the United States at that time, Bill Clinton, had exhibited acute moral deficiencies.
In 1998, Bennett wrote The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals. Speaking for the “loyal opposition” and for what had come to be known as the “Religious Right,” Bennett argued that, though the Clinton presidency had enjoyed popularity during a period of relative peace and prosperity, the real issue to be considered was the president’s facilitation of the nation’s moral decline. The book’s central message was summed up as it cited the words of John Updike: “The fact that we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling that we no longer live nobly.”
“In the end” Bennett wrote, “the president’s apologists are attempting to redefine the standard of acceptable behavior for a president. Instead of upholding a high view of the office and the men who occupy it, they radically lower our expectations.” It is appropriate that Bennett used the word “our,” for his own expectations have been so lowered that he is now an apologist for Donald Trump. As Bennett recently explained to FOX News, those who refuse to support Trump “suffer from a terrible case of moral superiority and put their own vanity and taste above the interest of the country.” It appears that it was never really about the moral integrity of the president at all. It was, as it continues to be, about factional politics and Bennett’s and like-minded others’ reactionary worldview.
Most interesting is the split among evangelical Christians that has emerged from Donald Trump’s candidacy. While perhaps most Christians are rejecting Trump because of his moral vacancy and/or his irrational understanding of the world, others have not. In fact, a great many self-described Christians—some in prominent positions, like Bennett—are actively supporting his candidacy.
Christian author Eric Metaxas, for example, has espoused Trump’s election so that he might appoint the next two or three Supreme Court justices. But surely Metaxas is aware enough to recognize that those appointments would unlikely result in a reversal of Roe-v-Wade or gay marriage (as we can assume he wishes). Even if those reversals did occur in some distant future, that would only allow the states to pass or not pass their own prohibitions, and we know that not all states would prohibit abortion. Women could then travel to the states where it was available or to Canada. Some, of course, would not be able to afford the cost of travel and would either give birth to unwanted children into poverty or seek illegal (and dangerous) abortions, while only a minimal number of healthy babies would be adopted into stable families. A reversal of gay marriage, on the other hand, would be completely futile. Given that more and more people are coming to recognize that homosexuality is not simply “a lifestyle choice,” most all states would soon legalize gay marriage anyway. So that really just leaves us with a preference for Trump’s policy proposals on immigration, international trade, foreign policy, defense, taxes and regulation—policies that, in many instances, run counter to traditional Christian values.
We need not detail the many problems with Trump’s proposed defense policies beyond noting that an isolationist stance, an official sanctioning of torture, and a weakening of NATO will hardly make America safe, much less great. It is also worth noting that if Trump can be so easily manipulated by Billy Bush (as proclaimed by Melania), then we can well imagine what Putin and other world leaders could do (beyond what we have already seen).
Trump’s tax policy is nothing new. It’s essentially the same philosophy as that of George W. Bush, just much more extreme. Though a reduction in corporate taxes could be of some benefit, his personal income tax proposal won’t help the poor or reduce income and wealth disparity. It also won’t help the economy, since it would explode the deficit and national debt to dangerous proportions. And it won’t prevent the next recession, just as it didn’t from 2007 to 2009.
The notion that regulations have shackled the American economy, as Trump claims, is mostly false. His regulatory policies would increase the risk of another financial crisis and, perhaps most importantly, his denial of well-founded science will likely prove detrimental to the wellbeing of future generations of Americans and vulnerable populations around the world.
Trump would repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, not because its problems are irreparable, but because his disdain for President Obama far exceeds his compassion for those who struggle to afford health insurance.
Of course Trump’s first and signature policy proposal—immigration reform—is not just irrational, it, along with his trade and foreign policy proposals, were conceived from a particularly un-Christian, xenophobic worldview. Trump imagines that illegal Mexican immigrants are “pouring across the border” and he intends to stop it with a great wall. The net flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico is actually currently near zero. Illegal immigrants come from many other nations, and a wall would have little effect. He imagines that illegal immigrants are increasing crime and come for government handouts. The reality is that illegal immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than the general population, and come for available jobs, not handouts. We do tend to pay for their use of emergency room services and public schools, but would any true follower of Jesus really deny poor children an education and medical treatment?
Perhaps the two most important Biblical mandates for how Christians are to interact with others in the world are to be compassionate and merciful, and to spread the Gospel. Trump’s immigration and refugee policies reject both. To prohibit Muslim refugees demonstrates a lack of compassion and it precludes the Christian duty to proclaim the Good News to those who haven’t had an opportunity to hear it.
We can dismiss Donald Trump’s sophomoric insults and his boasts about his adultery and assaulting women as “locker-room banter,” or we can see them as indicators of an underlying true character—a character that has been well illustrated over the course of his campaign to be childish, selfish, thin-skinned, vindictive, impatient, shallow, unprincipled, dishonest, iniquitous and racist. Of course it is no accident that white supremacists favor Trump for president, while, despite Clinton’s deficiencies, nearly two hundred prominent Republican current and former office holders, senior government officials, and intellectuals do not. So why do some Christians?