President Trump, showing his particular gift for Churchillian eloquence, recently declared that if elected, Joe Biden would be “against the Bible” and “hurt God.” The mainstream media and Biden campaign (but I repeat myself) pounced. Biden’s puppeteers immediately typed up a response and sent out a statement expressing the presumptive Democrat nominee’s outrage: “Like so many people, my faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life: it’s provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it’s kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy.”
Far be it for me to question any man’s faith. But as one who claims to support even late-term abortion (which even most of those in the pro-abortion camp find morally repugnant) and touts his 100% rating from NARAL, it is difficult to square Biden’s new-found leftist, secular leanings with his professed Roman Catholicism.
Still, we all know that Donald Trump is no St. Augustine himself. And this is indeed true when it comes to the President’s personal adventures in infidelity and multiple-marriage. But also, as with so much of Trump the man, versus Trump the administrator, his policies lean much more pro-religious than Joe Biden’s. One can question his motives as purely political as opposed to a true expression of Trump’s inner values…whatever they may be. But the nature of the political process is balancing one’s own convictions with those of the people who elected him or her to office. Bill Clinton, whatever his core beliefs in the power of government were, read the verdict of the electoral backlash to “Hillarycare” in the 1994 midterm that handed the GOP control of the House for the first time in four decades, and by his 1996 State of the Union Speech was proudly declaring that “the era of Big Government is over!” That’s how it works. Call it triangulation if you like, to use the Dick Morris term. I call it responsive governance. And in the case of Donald Trump, he owes much to the religious of this country who, despite their reservations over the candidate who in 2016 seemed more like a carnival barker than truly spiritual man, pulled the lever for him and got him over the finish line to the Oval Office.
The reason they voted for him was simple enough: they felt anything had to be better where looking out for people of faith was concerned than the Democrats who’d held the reins of power for eight years.
Still, not all Christians have been so forgiving of the President’s personal peccadillos. Christianity Today editor Mark Galli back in December prompted a flurry of often-heated discussions by offering that true Christians who support the morally challenged Manhattan business mogul and showman are selling their souls. Speaking out in favor of impeachment, he wrote:
“Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?”
There is some fallacious reasoning on display here. Men whom we might consider “immoral” by our modern standards have often performed incredible acts of goodness to advance the human condition. Students of the remarkable events in North America from 1775 to 1797 must constantly grapple with the notion that three of our most revered and important Founding Fathers, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, engaged in the heinous practice of slavery. Yet this does not compel us to abandon the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence or toss out the Constitution. Slavery was a far more wicked crime against God and humanity than a mean-spirited tweet. And for his many readers who no doubt believe it to be mass infanticide, for Mr. Galli to place abortion on the same moral plane as insulting Rosie O’Donnell or being on one’s third marriage is prima facie ludicrous.
There is an old expression that “no man is a hero to his valet.” And this goes for heads of state as much as any revered position. The White House is not a chapel. Over the years it has been occupied by slave-holders, drinkers, philanderers, gamblers, racists, boors, even sexual predators. But it has only been with the advent of unfettered information overwhelming the ramparts of a once-protective press — one that hid FDR’s paralysis for years and ignored his keeping a mistress, or protected the secret of JFK’s serial infidelities — that the seedier underside of the mere mortals who temporarily reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have become gruel for public consumption. To look to the Oval Office for spiritual fulfilment is a fool’s errand. Such quests for inspiration from a politician reached embarrassing levels of bizarre, almost cult-like adulation with Barack Obama.
Certainly character should matter, to a point. Otherwise the reminders by Mussolini’s supporters that the trains always ran on time should have sufficed. But in President Trump’s case, in this time in our history, when Christianity is under siege all over the world, the faithful must weigh results over ostracizing the morally deficient man. Why? Because the president whom Mr. Galli wished to remove from office has been the best friend Christians and Jews, religious and non-religious alike, have had in the White House in my lifetime.
And therein lies the answer that baffles those primarily on the Left for whom Christianity and fervent belief in God is either a perplexing unknown or something to be caricatured and attacked as primitive and anti-science (that one of the most respected planetary observatories is run by the Vatican seems to escape the critics). The key to understanding why Christians and religious Jews support Trump can be found in why they were in his camp in 2016.
On June 3, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democrat Party’s nomination for President of the United States and bombastically declared, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” However the metaphorical tides behaved elsewhere, by January 20, 2017 many of the nearly nine-in-10 Americans who believe in God felt like they’d been blasted by a tsunami after eight years of President Obama’s hostility toward religion.
To say that President Trump is an unknown when it comes to his personal relationship with God, if any, is an understatement. Yet eight in 10 self-identified white, born-again or evangelical Christians voted for Trump in 2016, while just 16 percent voted for Hillary Clinton.
But why? To understand why religious voters set aside their reservations and pulled the lever for Trump, and why they most likely will again in 2020, all one need do is review the record of the previous administration vis-à-vis religious institutions as well as what the current Democratic Party represents.
Fifty-five percent of those who attend church or synagogue once a week voted for Trump, whereas 62 percent who never attend religious services voted for Clinton. Consider: In 2016, of those who label themselves Democrats, the largest single block of voters are what the Pew Center calls “nones” — those who have no affiliation with any organized religion. They are 28 percent of the party, up from 19 percent just in the last ten years. In the GOP, evangelicals make up 38 percent, up one percent in ten years.
Why is this significant? Because the party in which faith has largely eroded has also become the base camp of the secular-progressive movement. The simple fact is that in the culture wars, this side represents the aggressors.
Religious conservatives understand there will never be a perfect world; only Heaven can be Heaven. The same goes for presidents. But with no faith, indeed no God, the Left is frantically driven to try to make a paradise of this earth. It’s a Dante-esque torture for them, as the carrot on the stick of a terrestrial Utopia can never be tasted.
And so theirs is a never-ending crusade. One in which they proffer a false premise — that original sin can somehow be eradicated not with spiritual redemption, but rather through passing the right laws and initiating correct policies, either by legislative process, or, should that fail, enacting them through activist courts. And no better ally have they had in the White House than Barack Obama.
The administration Trump dethroned represented for the faithful one of the most formidable progressive antagonists in the post-modern age. On the day Trump took the oath of office, people of faith could look back on a previous eight years of edicts, laws, and court rulings that back up this assertion. HHS mandates supported by the administration showed uncompromising dismissal of religious values, compelling Catholic hospitals to engage in family planning practices and provide services that contradicted their core beliefs in the sanctity of human life in-utero.
Pittsburgh’s bishop, David Zubik, likened the mandates to “a slap to the face.” He declared: “The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To hell with you.’” White Catholics also supported Trump over Clinton by 60 percent to 37 percent.
But it wasn’t just Catholics who found themselves on the receiving end of what they perceived as a secular-progressive assault on Divinely inspired moral constructs they consider vital to a cohesive society. The list of the previous administration’s hostile positions toward religion in favor of leftist activism is long. From initial abandonment of The Defense of Marriage Act and overt support of Obergefell (the same-sex marriage ruling), to opposition to the Conscience Protection Act, to secularist edicts aimed at privately held businesses, to the Little Sisters of the Poor battle — the administration presented an overarching dismissal of the Judeo-Christian values that have formed the historical and cultural bedrock of our republic.
When Donald Trump placed his hand on the Bible while standing on the Capitol steps, the faithful did not look up and see one of their own per se; but they did see a President who does not disdain them. Evangelicals, Catholics, and the many other Christian and religious Jewish denominations that felt so put upon by the Left finally found some relief in the form of a President who leans toward the authority of the states to decide the matters of culture and life.
Evangelicals understand that such true federalism could have far-reaching implications re: how the courts view Roe v. Wade and other lightning-rod decisions in the culture wars. They also understand that to achieve their aim of, to paraphrase William Buckley, standing athwart the relentless progressivism and shouting Stop! they must have a like-minded judiciary. They see that as of this writing 203 federal judges are Trump appointees, from Supreme Court Associates Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on down. And they lean toward interpreting the Constitution (which people of faith feel is on their side of the moral divide) rather than engaging in activist legislation to subvert original intent. And with another four years, who knows how much more re-configuring of the federal bench might be in the offing?
As such some 200 evangelicals actually came out against Mr. Galli’s piece. They did so because they remember what the pre-Trump atmosphere was for people of faith, and they have no desire to return to it. After eight years of torrential assaults on values that the faithful hold dear, Trump’s promise of relief was enough to prompt an Election Day coalescing around the man who is now the 45th president of the United States, warts and all.
As a Christian, I accept that all people are flawed. If not, then there’d be no need for a Messiah and redemption. But I also understand that sometimes the best policies have come from deeply flawed men. Conversely, sometimes the most horrific results stem from initiatives enacted with the noblest intent. As Henry Adams once lamented, “It’s always the good men who do the most harm in the world.”
And this is where, though his words were spoken in typically ineloquent Trumpspeak, the President’s concerns over what a Biden presidency might mean for religious liberty are quite profound. Biden was, after all, the Obama Administration’s Vice-President. And if he wishes to cloak himself in the robe of Obama’s aura and appeal, Biden must own the policies of that administration as well…policies that were quite hostile towards religion, except the only religion the Left holds dear: secular-progressivism.
The continuing, if underreported, riots have ripped the mask off of the militant wing of the Democrat Party…a wing that now wields disproportionate power and influence within its smoke-filled back rooms. Such control, should the election go their way in November, will be all the more prevalent with a president in the throes of obvious cognitive decline as is Biden. In their new president the far-left that now dominates the Democratic Party will have a useful conduit through which to force a mind-bogglingly radical and ultimately destructive agenda. One that includes resuming their war on religious institutions and stamping out any vestiges of faith in all public spaces from schools to town squares.
Sometimes there are more important and immediate concerns than moral litmus tests. As far as Donald Trump and the culture wars go, for those who still believe in a higher power than themselves, higher even than the almighty government, this is, perhaps, just such a moment.
Brad Schaeffer is the author of the WW2 Novel Of Another Time And Place (Post Hill/Simon & Schuster, 2018).
A version of this article was previously published in December 2019.
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