Courage is a scarce commodity in President Donald Trump’s Washington.
Fear of this reality-TV star set in soon after it became evident that Trump would seize the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Overnight, then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., transformed from a person speculating that Trump could be on Vladimir Putin’s payroll to that suspect’s most steadfast supporter. Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., accused Trump of racism right before endorsing him for president. Talk-radio hosts and U.S. senators who once declared Trump unfit for office similarly buckled under the pressure of a coming Trump presidency.
These profiles in cravenness have only accelerated over time, with Trump’s political allies and media apparatchiks easily turning a blind eye to their troubled leader’s twisted views on presidential power, his record-breaking spending sprees, his massive tariff taxes and the socialist payouts that followed them.
Evangelical leaders have also turned a blind eye to the ugly realities of Trump’s Washington. They darkly warn congregants of an Armageddon-like culture war centered on wedding cakes, bathroom stalls and, of course, federal judges. Their obsession over judicial appointments has led to a blasphemous reduction of Christianity to the mere collection of federal judgeships and has allowed figures such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. to shrug off their idol’s failings. During the Clinton impeachment, Graham attacked Americans who fell prey “to the notion that what a person does in private has little bearing on his public actions or job performance, even if he is the president of the United States.” Falwell’s father went further, telling CBS News in 2000 that personal failings make one unfit for public service. “I personally feel that both President Clinton and Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani should withdraw from political office,” Jerry Falwell Sr. said. “There’s no question that Bill Clinton has lowered the moral bar for political officeholders in America.”
Falwell’s son has further lowered that bar for Trump, despite the New York billionaire bragging about his twisted views on women, sex and business dealings to the likes of Howard Stern and Billy Bush over the past 40 years. Jesus declared that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory; as a twice-divorced man, I know that better than most. Unfortunately for Trump’s evangelical apologists, another belief of Christianity is that forgiveness comes only to those who ask for it. As Christianity Today stated in its editorial last week calling for Trump’s removal: “He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud.”
Trump has told reporters he has never needed to ask God for forgiveness. Yet religious leaders, corrupted by a wisp of temporal power, remain cravenly by his side. Such shamelessness is why Christianity Today’s editorial seemed so courageous.
“President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath,” editor-in-chief Mark Galli wrote. “The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see … None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”
Unlike Republican politicians and most evangelical Christian leaders, however, Democrats have dared to challenge Trump’s constitutional excesses. Most will be rewarded for it in their districts, but those who have shown the most courage are those moderate Democrats from districts Trump carried in 2016. Those members risked their political standing by voting to impeach a president still popular at home.
Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA officer, said last week that her political career could end because of her vote, but she “will stick to that regardless of what it does to me politically, because this is bigger than politics.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana instead followed the lead of carnival barkers in the House GOP who spent the past month loudly parroting Russian propaganda that was long ago discredited by the U.S. intelligence community. Cruz and Kennedy also refused to condemn America’s commander in chief for delaying military support to an ally invaded by Russia because he was demanding dirt on a political opponent.
“Where are the strong? And who are the trusted?” Elvis Costello once asked in song. We have learned all too often during the Trump presidency that there are few courageous leaders within the Republican congressional caucus or behind the pulpits of the evangelical community’s most powerful churches.
But if you look around this Christmas season, you will find a few guardians of the faith inside Christianity Today’s editorial offices and more than a few profiles in courage in Trump districts won by Democrats last year. And isn’t it good to know this holiday season that there are still leaders who do the right thing no matter the cost?