In any given election cycle, veracity is one of the earliest casualties.
Candidates, driven by the all-consuming pursuit of power that accompanies holding elected office, twist their own words, past and present, in a tortuous effort to appease whatever constituency is immediately before them.
They say things like “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.”
That’s called lying.
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But many voters, eager to rationalize support for their candidate, convince themselves the lies are not lies at all, blissfully ignoring them or characterizing them as little more than political attacks by the opposition.
It’s a predictable exercise that usually enables us to vote for someone whose character we would find, in other circumstances, highly questionable.
But this exercise has reached depressing lows in this presidential election cycle, particularly when it comes to certain Christian leaders and Donald Trump.
We expect politicians to cover for almost any behavior from a party leader to protect their party’s chances of winning a presidential election. But seeing Christian leaders attempt to make a moral case for supporting Trump is like watching ’90s feminist leaders sell their souls defending Bill Clinton’s behavior toward women.
This week, social media was actively circulating an opinion piece by a prominent Christian theologian, Wayne Grudem, who articulately made the case — as many of his evangelical colleagues have done — that Trump is a good though “flawed” candidate, who should have the support of conservative Christians.
Grudem justifies this support by arguing that a vote for Trump “is a morally good choice,” at least when compared with the alternative.
Frequently citing the Bible, Grudem implores readers to consider their responsibility to “seek the welfare” of the nation by opposing “pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism” that is embodied by the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Indeed, Clinton represents all those things and worse, and despite her party’s flag-waving, patriotic convention, she has made no moves to triangulate in the footsteps of her politically slippery husband.
The real problem with such a critique is that it might also describe Trump at any given time during his public life, except perhaps for the last year when he was actively seeking the Republican nomination for president.
A widely viewed video montage devastatingly captured Trump contradicting himself on everything from abortion (he was “very pro-choice” only a number of years ago) to universal, government-funded health care (he was for it before he was against it), to the competence of his opponent (he called Clinton “very talented” and even praised her work as secretary of state).
While it’s true that politicians have the right to change their minds and even their party — think former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Phil Gramm — especially as they become better informed on a subject or a set of principles, Trump has proved time and again that his behavior is based on one principle alone: personal gain.
Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior correspondent with The Week, put it this way: “One of Trump’s few proven and consistent traits is making whatever outlandish promises he has to make to close the sale, and then leaving his creditors and business partners in the lurch later.”
Put “voters” in place of “creditors and business partners” and that’s a probable outcome even for the most plausible pro-Trump argument being made by Grudem and other supporters — that Trump will likely appoint conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Many Trump skeptics have ceased to make the case against his candidacy; it seems there is little need. With each passing week, Trump’s comments and behavior affirm he is unfit for the office.
Still, it’s unfair to condemn those who acknowledge how terrible Trump is and could be for the country, but intend to vote for him because the prospect of a Hillary presidency is even more appalling.
But the continued attempts by some Christian leaders to impose their own self-deception on others — declaring Trump to be a good, albeit flawed candidate — all in the name of morality, has become one of the most disheartening political exercises in recent memory.
As The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wryly tweeted this week: “The Trump-supporting religious conservatives are right that he’s God’s instrument, but they don’t get that he’s the Babylonians.”