There are a variety of arguments against Donald Trump, but one that has gained currency, promoted in particular by conservative pundit David French, is that it is immoral to vote for our incumbent president. French argues that Donald Trump presents a character test, and that Evangelicals, in particular, are failing it. He further asserts that rather than focusing on specific policies, a Christian to use his vote to “glorify God.” Voting for Trump, a man accused of many personal sins, does not achieve that goal, in his view.
I’ll start by agreeing that Trump is a sinner. According to Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Every single president has suffered from serious personal flaws. Barack Obama belonged to the “Choom Gang” and consorted with unrepentant terrorists. George W. Bush was once quite a serious drinker. Bill Clinton is a flagrant and shameless womanizer. George H. W. Bush was also unfaithful to his wife. We could go on and on, back to George Washington. The candidates from minor parties are sinners, too, but we are less aware of this fact because they have not been subject to the same microscopic scrutiny as have the leaders of the two main parties. Rest assured, when you go into the voting booth, you will be voting for a sinner, regardless of whose name you check. The voters will all be sinners, too.
I’ll agree, as well, that I find Trump unappealing on a personal level. He’s a boastful narcissist, has bragged in the past about his womanizing, and launches volleys of juvenile invective at his critics. I wouldn’t necessarily want to invite him over for dinner. We aren’t, however, electing a dinner-companion-in-chief.
Is he a good spiritual model for our children? Certainly not. Trump’s religious advisor, Paula White, is a flaky televangelist who promotes the appalling prosperity Gospel, the belief that God will reward faithful believers with material blessings. The very notion, however, that we should look to the president of a secular nation for spiritual leadership is wrong-headed and smacks of Caesaropapism. We have pastors for that. We live in a country of good-hearted people, as well, and we can find many, and I would argue, more people of virtue to admire outside of the political sphere than within it. Some of them walk among us – long-suffering mothers of handicapped children, selfless teachers who put in countless unpaid hours to make sure every student succeeds, medical workers who risked their lives to care for victims of the corona virus, and so many more.
There’s an atavistic part of us that wants to find a hero, a demi-god, to inspire and lead us against our enemies – an Alexander, a Henry V, a Washington. That is entirely unhealthy in a republic, as Washington himself recognized when he resisted encouragement to make himself a king. We saw hints of this temptation when some Obama supporters composed hymns to their newly-elected president. It’s good to be acutely aware of our leaders’ flaws, lest we fall into this trap. It’s fun for the moment to put out political signs, hang bunting, wave flags, and attend rallies, but when the election’s over, we are left with a flawed human being, a fellow citizen who has agreed to be a public servant for a time.
Public servant: that’s what we need in the highest office of the land: A public servant is distinguished not by his private virtue, but his public morality. Hillary Clinton certainly failed that test. As Secretary of State, she used her office to rake in millions from the Russians by granting them the right to buy a large share (20%) of US uranium. She put national security at risk by routing top secret materials through an unsecured server located in a bathroom in Denver, in blatant disregard of State Department regulations. She lied about the deaths of Americans in Benghazi.
Joe Biden also fails the public servant test. As Vice President, he made millions selling influence to Ukraine and China, while using his brother and his drug-addled son as cutouts. Using Hunter Biden as a bagman perhaps counts as a breach of both public and private morality.
We don’t cast our ballot in order to make a moral statement to our neighbors, or to spread the Gospel by endorsing a virtuous leader. Our president is not our pastor, nor our Bible study leader. In voting, we too act as public servants, carrying out a pragmatic work of service to our neighbors. Our vote has real consequences for the lives of our neighbors, Christian or not. In making our choice, we need to make sure that the policies we promote will do our neighbors more good than harm. In that way, voting is more like working in a soup kitchen or tutoring at the local school than it is preaching to unbelievers.
The question a Christian should be asking as he goes into the voting booth is “Which candidate can best help my neighbors?” I would argue that Donald Trump resoundingly wins that vote for his concrete achievements.
– He has defeated ISIS, eliminated Iranian terrorist leader Qasim Solemani, and made it more difficult for Islamic terrorists to enter the country, and achieved miracles in advancing peace in the Middle East.
— He has built up the American military, extricated our troops from excessive foreign commitments, and worked to isolate China, our greatest current threat.
— Before the pandemic, he restored health to our economy by reducing regulations and reforming the tax code. He reduced black and Hispanic unemployment to historic lows. Blue collar wages rose after years of stagnation. He brought jobs back from overseas, and reduced the illegal immigration that limits job opportunities for the most vulnerable.
— He protected us from the corona virus by cutting off travel from China well before other countries did. When the sclerotic CDC failed to produce a working test for the virus and blocked others from doing so, he turned the job over to the private sector, where innovation and improvisation produced a cascade of tests, technology, and potential treatments.
— He has tried, over the objections of Democrat mayors and governors, to bring law and order to cities torn by riots. His First Step bill to reduce excessive incarceration demonstrates that he can also temper justice with mercy.
Christians are not required to vote for Trump any more than they are required to vote against him. Jesus didn’t belong to a political party, and the Athanasian Creed does not mention foreign or domestic policy. I would argue, however, that Christians should base their vote on the national good – beneficial policies and public probity – rather than matters of personal morality. Policies matter – tweets are soon forgotten.