Monday, October 10, 2016

Christian and Pro-Life Leaders: DUMP TRUMP! (UPDATED)

Paul Combs,
[ADDED NOV. 9, 2016: Obviously, my crystal ball is working as well as it usually does come election time. I deserve to have the lede carved on my headstone to shame me even after death. Nevertheless, I’m still convinced Pres. Trump will eventually jilt the pro-life movement, and that the leaders of the “official” movement — especially Fr. Frank Pavone — did us no favors by hitching us onto the Trump train.]

I am no longer concerned about the prospect of Donald Trump as President of the United States. It was never a strong likelihood, despite his sense-defying victory in the Republican primaries. In fact, over the last year, The Donald has done just about everything in his power to ensure Hillary Clinton’s election save drop-kick a beagle puppy from the 58th floor of the Manhattan Trump Tower. The revelation of his “grab them by the p***y” remark simply put the final nail in the coffin. What does concern me is the failure of some visible Christian leaders, especially in the pro-life camp, to admit their error in supporting Trump.

Assessing the Damage

As of this writing [4:00pm CDT, Oct. 8], the most recent political post on the Priests for Life site is an action alert item: “Help Us Tell Tim Kaine to Stop Insulting Catholicism!” The latest news from Susan B. Anthony List is Oct. 5’s “Pence Goes on Offense to Expose Clinton-Kaine Abortion Extremism”. Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition thinks that “A ten-year-old tape of a private conversation with a talk show host ranks low on [people of faith’s] hierarchy of concerns.” And Gary Bauer of the Campaign for Working Families stated, “The ten-year-old tape of a private conversation in which Donald Trump uses grossly inappropriate language does not change the reality of the choice facing this country.”

In a sense, Bauer does hit the right nail: in reality, Trump is no worse a candidate than he was a week ago. The only difference is, Republican leaders are finally waking up to the full shambling horror, albeit too late to do anything meaningful about it. And neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein presents a better choice on religious and pro-life issues. Johnson has called religious freedom a “black hole”, while Stein has called it a code for “patriarchal domination”. If you eliminate fringe candidacies, such as the American Solidarity Party’s Michael Maturen and (sadly) the independent Joe Schriner, that leaves Christian and pro-life leaders with a Hobson’s choice: either Trump or nobody.

The choice should have been nobody.

The smart Republicans started to abandon ship even before Trump’s nomination was a done deal. Republican strategist Doug Heye called the decision to nominate Trump “a stain on the GOP’s soul,” nor is he the first. Back in August, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked Republicans, “If you tell us such a man should be president, why should the nation ever believe anything else you say?” Just a few days earlier, Kathleen Parker of noted, “For many Republicans, the question is: ‘Who’d want to be a member of a party that would have Donald Trump as its leader?’” As for those who are only now trying to distance themselves from this dumpster fire, the cliché “a day late and a dollar short” doesn’t begin to describe their failure of foresight.

Why the Warnings Were Ignored

The truth is, they were warned. Back in March, several prominent Catholic conservatives, led by Robert P. George and George Weigel, published “An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics” in the National Review warning that Trump was “manifestly unfit to be president of the United States,” and that his record and campaign “promise only the further degradation of our politics and our culture.” Six months prior to that, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in the New York Times:

Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump [heh-heh] the conservation of moral principles and a just society.

However, over the last thirty-six years, what few victories Christians and the pro-life movement have been able to obtain in the public square have been through the efforts of conservative politicians, whose presence among the Democrats has been decreasing steadily. The disappearance of conservative Democrats, fueled by the leftward shift of Generation X and the millennials, has, in turn, forced orthodox and conservative Christians into a closer alliance with the GOP, particularly as protection of the traditional family and religious freedom have become more stridently contested issues. And there’s simply no denying that, with a Democrat-controlled Congress and Hillary in the White House to nominate the next few SCOTUS justices, the next 2 – 4 years will be disastrous for Christian political rights and the success of the pro-life movement. Small wonder, then, that Christian and pro-life leaders cling on to Trump’s sinking ship with the tenacity due a better cause.

“The Extreme of Folly”

In the Christian Post, American Values Network executive director Eric Sapp asks the tough questions Christians and the pro-life movement should have been asking themselves six or seven months ago:

It profits a man nothing to give his soul in exchange for the entire world ... how can we possibly consider doing so in exchange for Trump’s empty promise of Supreme Court nominees?

It can’t be because of abortion. When George W. Bush was President, 2/3 of the Supreme Court were Republican appointees, and Republicans controlled the White House and all of Congress. Yet Roe [v. Wade; italics added] remains. We cannot possibly be so naïve as to believe Donald Trump — who until he decided to run as a Republican supported partial birth abortion without restriction — would do more.

I sure hope it’s not because of “religious freedom” or the fear I’ve heard that if we get a liberal Court, Christianity will decline in America. I absolutely reject the fear that underlies the Supreme Court idolatry taking hold in some of our churches. If the Church needs the Court to save souls and empower a faithful witness — both spoken and lived — then we are truly lost. Christ promised us a cross and the Holy Spirit as our advocate, not tax breaks for our business and a worldly Court to defend our beliefs.

It would be the extreme of folly to place our hope of religious freedom in a man who says he’ll use the government to spy on houses of worship, deny sanctuary to families fleeing ISIS and disqualify judges based on their faith, and who the Christian Post editors said would silence Christian leaders who oppose him like Russell Moore and Max Lucado. What would it say about us to accept this deal of Trump’s on the condition that we turn a blind eye to his taking religious freedom from others and persecuting some of our most faithful Christian leaders?

Danger and Opportunity

In one sense, it may already be too late: the “Religious Right” is a spent force in American politics. For one thing, as Gen-Xers and millennials have aged into the voting pool, they’ve gradually shifted the American center of political gravity leftward. For another, these same two generations show increasing reluctance to affiliate with either a formal religious body or a political party, reporting themselves more and more as “nones” (not necessarily atheists or agnostics) and as “independents”. The “Religious Right” of the Reagan and Bush eras is part of the “White Christian America” that’s literally dying, aging into political irrelevance with the boomers and the few remaining members of the Greatest Generation.[*]

However, times of impending danger can also be times of great opportunity. If the Republican Party is ever to stand a chance of nominating a winning presidential candidate, it must completely reinvent itself, not simply spray a fresh coat of paint on the same old pile of s**t. In this light, the opportunity is there for Christians, particularly those thinkers Patrick J. Deneen has described as “radical Catholics”, to question and challenge the current Republican orthodoxy in ways that allow the GOP to shift leftward while retaining a distinct difference. (“America already has one liberal party,” Bobby Jindal remarked on this issue; “she doesn’t need another one.”) For the pro-life movement, the association with the GOP has been a marriage of convenience; now they have a chance to help transform the Republicans from “half an anti-abortion party” into a party that recognizes and proactively addresses all life and family issues.

In any event, there’s nothing more to be gained by clinging to the wreckage of the Trump campaign; at this point, only death or divine intervention can prevent Hillary Clinton from being sworn in on January 20. What will happen after that, we don’t really know, as I’ve pointed out before, and is in any case in God’s hands. But every day that Christian and pro-life leaders remain Trump supporters strengthens the feminist narrative that they condone Trump’s behavior, the rape culture, and the oppression of women. It’s past time to accept the debacle for what it is and save as much as possible from it.

It’s past time for Christian and pro-life leaders to dump Trump.

[*] It recently struck me that people will be voting in this election cycle who have little to no conscious memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

UPDATE: Same day, 9:00pm CDT

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life finally released a statement:

The lewd comments, made over a decade ago and for which Mr. Trump has apologized, and which I, like everyone else, find repulsive, do not in the least change my intentions of voting for him, of urging others to do so, and of advising his campaign. The reason is simple: this presidential election is not about a choice between him and someone better; it’s between him and someone far worse.

Responding to Fr. Pavone’s arguments would add on too much to this post. So I will post a follow-up on The Other Blog.