The Folly of Donald Trump

Many conservative Christians support Donald Trump because they are sick of ‘political correctness.’ They feel that liberal elites in government, the media, and even many churches increasingly use their power to police speech according to a progressive ideology. They believe that progressives, certain of their own moral purity, more often than not simply impose their own cultural values on others whose differences they disdain, silencing people who disagree with them but lack the power to say so.

The Donald invites conservatives to invert the logic of political correctness–to celebrate and imitate him as he violates its norms as provocatively as possible. Here is how conservative evangelical ethicist Wayne Grudem recently put it in a recent post defending Donald Trump as a ‘morally good choice.’ Trump’s core supporters

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. They’re sick and tired of being condescended to by the snobbish moralism of the liberal elites who dominate the power centers in our nation. That is why they cheer when Trump repeatedly violates the canons of politically correct speech. They have found in him someone who gives them hope, and they are supporting him by the thousands.

In this blog post, I write in hopes of persuading some conservative Christians of good will to reject Trump along with his approach to political correctness. For Trump doesn’t just defy political correctness: he also defies every legitimate and common sense standard of speech. This cure is far worse than the disease. Conservative Christians: it is not enough to be against political correctness; you must also be for the norms of speech that the Bible consistently upholds.

I don’t necessarily mean that Trump should be held to the high ideal of speech to which Christians hold fellow Christians. Growing up in an evangelical church, I was taught to do as Paul commanded:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Eph. 4:25-6, 29, 31)

No one, I think, would defend Trump by this standard. Even James Dobson, who has tried more than most to persuade himself that Trump might in some sense be a Christian, says that, “If anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn’t have a clue about how believers think, talk and act.” Certainly the second half of this sentence is true: Trump doesn’t have a clue about putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully to his neighbors, about refraining from sin in his anger, about letting unwholesome talk come out of his mouth, about building up and benefiting his listeners.

Conservative evangelicals know this. The real issue for them, I suspect, should be whether the Bible has anything to teach about the standards of speech for political leaders outside the church–not the highest but the lowest possible bar. One place to seek an answer to this question is the book of Proverbs, which articulates that ‘old-fashioned common sense’–refined by wisdom–that Grudem celebrates in Trump’s followers. Proverbs crystalizes the fruit of experience as a guide to everyday domains of human life: family, marriage, friendship, and yes, politics.

Much of what Proverbs says concerns rulers, rooted in the fact that good leadership must flow from wisdom.

By [wisdom] kings reign
    and rulers issue decrees that are just;
by [wisdom] princes govern,
    and nobles—all who rule on earth. (Prov. 8:15-16)

According to Proverbs, the wise ruler speaks in a particular way–if not with ‘political’ correctness, then with the correctness of wisdom. Many individual proverbs explicate this way of speaking in detail:

Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool— how much worse lying lips to a ruler! (Prov. 17:7)

Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value the one who speaks what is right. (Prov. 16:13)

The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth does not betray justice. (Prov. 16:10)

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. (Prov. 25:12)

We know that Trump ‘speaks his mind,’ that he ‘says what people are afraid to say.’ But does anyone believe he speaks wisely?

In fact, it is hard to imagine a clearer example than Trump of the kind of man the Bible calls a fool:

Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. (Prov. 10:18)

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. (Prov. 12:15)

Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult. (Prov. 12:16)

The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly. (Prov. 12:23)

The Bible consistently and in no uncertain terms warns us that the fool’s words lead inevitably–if all too slowly–to disaster. 

‘The mouth of a fool invites ruin.’ (Proverbs 10:14)

‘The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives.’ (Prov. 18:7)

The book of James, the ‘Proverbs of the New Testament,’ makes a similar point far more vividly:

…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6).

The tongue is a fire for rulers above all, however, for what a ruler says can set a whole nation on fire.

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a helpless people. (28:15)

The issue here is not simply ‘character,’ if this implies that the folly of a ruler is primarily a matter of the example he sets; it is not simply ‘morality,’ if this implies that folly is ultimately a private matter between a ruler and God. Rather, a ruler’s folly concerns everyone, for his political power magnifies his capacity to bring ruin and disaster on a whole nation.

To put it mildly, I do not believe that Hillary Clinton augurs disaster in the same way. But even if you doubt this, trying to avert one disaster by trusting a fool is a devil’s bargain; and Donald Trump is definitely a fool. I defy any Christian Trump supporter to show otherwise.

Conservative Christians, you have put your confidence in Christ, the ‘Wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24), ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). How then can you cheer and imitate the words of this foolish man? I know many of you will never vote for Hillary Clinton, but I beg you not to invite disaster upon yourselves and your nation by voting for Donald Trump.

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2 thoughts on “The Folly of Donald Trump

  1. 1. Additional Reasons why Conservative Christians may be voting Trump

    My “hot take”: Having not been able to actually discuss the issue in depth with any Conservative Christians who support Trump, I wonder if there are two other elements at play:

    1) The ideology summed up by the phrase “don’t make the sinking ship more comfortable”; and
    2) The particularly evangelical emphasis on “point of conversion” 180 degree instantaneous redemption.

    These two ideas are interlinked: they are both based on the idea that you don’t compromise; stand on principle; and hold out for an “all or nothing” choice that changes everything. Either to eternal damnation, or to heaven.

    I see this “all or nothing” ideal reflected in what I read about the positions that Conservative Christians supporting Trump are taking.

    First, they are unhappy with the way the country is going. A vote for Trump is in a sense a protest vote against this. If he doesn’t get elected, you have registered your opposition to the direction of the country. You, as a Christian, have “spoken truth to power”, standing on principle and telling them that there is a significant portion of America that will resist (by all means necessary) the current “liberal” direction. Burning down the country if necessary.

    Second, this may explain why they are not moved by the likely consequences if he is elected: Lets say that the “liberals” are right about Donald Trump. In the worst case scenario, America hits “rock bottom”. The liberals did this to themselves. In pushing their agenda, imposing it on others, they backed us into a corner. They have only themselves to blame for what is happening to the country. It is proof that their vision is broken, and needs to be changed. Conservative Christians supporting Trump are therefore not “making the sinking ship more comfortable”. They are forcing the “liberals” to “live with the consequences” of their approach. The pain that it will cause will hopefully drive America towards proper 180 degree instantaneous redemption.

    Third, voting *for* Trump (as opposed to *against* Hillary) becomes justifiable on the basis that the core principles that are most important for a Christian to vote on (e.g. protecting religious liberty for Christians; abortion; gay rights etc.) even if other lesser problems are caused. What counts is not “making the sinking ship more comfortable” but making sure that Christian ideological purity is maintained so that it can be clearly seen, so that people can make their choice whether to adopt it or not. One can believe that Trump would deliver on these promises because he is a “baby christian” and there is hope for him to change. For that 180 degree moment.

    2. Further Biblical Perspectives on Conservative Christians Voting Trump

    I cannot help but feel that the Conservative Christian rationales outlined in your post, and above in this comment, do not fit with Biblical narratives on how we are to deal with “the world”, “power”, and even those we disagree with.

    In the meta-narrative of the Bible we see a movement from Israel as a nation “set apart” to God’s people spread out among all nations. We see Jesus praying (John 17:14-19) that his followers will be not of the world, but in the world; Engaging with it as Jesus did.

    As set out in Isaiah 42:2-3 “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice”; echoed and exemplified in Matthew 12.

    The Christian story is not the story of God taking a principled stand, issuing the world an ultimatum, and then burning it down when it made the wrong choice. Even if (depending on one’s eschatology) that may happen in the end, that is *not* the story we as Christians are told to live or follow *now*. We are told to follow Jesus (it’s in the name).

    And if we are to follow Jesus, we are to (like him) speak the truth to power, *but* engage with the world around us (broken as it is) to make every effort to make it better. To heal the sick, to set the captives free, to love the discriminated against, marginalised and downtrodden.

    We are not to break the bruised reed, but to work with it, and within it to make it better. We are to engage with (as much as possible) and heal broken and corrupt systems. Not to be changed with them, but to be in them, working through them like salt in food or leaven in a loaf.

    That’s what Jesus said to us; that’s what Jesus did. He went to synagogues. He had dinner with power elites. He expressly refused to start a political revolution, or conventionally oppose the Roman Empire. He was salt and light in the system: teaching those in power; healing sinners; associating with the immoral and discriminated against and taking their side.

    No, he didn’t compromise, which led him to the cross: But even him nailed to that tree, dying for our sins, is a symbol of engagement (not abandonment) of a fallen, broken world, and a fallen, broken system.

    We are not called to pick a choice which will potentially break the system / burn it down in the hope that this will lead to 180 degree repentance and conversation. Like you say, we are called to choose wisely.

    And on my reading of the Bible, that choice must be engagement.

    We must pick up our cross and follow him.

  2. Your citation of Proverbs 25:12 struck me as parallel to what Sisela Bok has to say about secrecy and privacy. I I am sorry that, to the best I can determine, Origen did not cite it in any works that have come down to us.

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