I am, of course, accustomed to leaving older men stiffer than I found them, but I wasn’t expecting my latest beneficiary to be David French.
I criticized French recently for assembling persuasive analyses of liberal cancers and then wussing out on the obvious remedies. His long response basically conceded my point, so perhaps I had something to do with him rediscovering a spine yesterday.
He’s responding to a ponderous essay in The Atlantic written by Michael Gerson, a neocon and former speechwriter for George W. Bush who can’t understand why evangelical Christians are sticking by Trump despite, you know, his awful, terrible, gruesome language and the fact that – cover your ears! – he might have had sex with a few women besides his wife.
French is certainly sounding feistier than in previous outings! You’re welcome, I guess. And yet, I can’t help but notice that, once again, he lets himself down in the final paragraph. (This happens often enough that the phenomenon should have a name. Let’s call it Frenching, since it involves haughty bluster followed by rapid surrender.)
Gerson has written a powerful essay, but it understates the justification for Evangelical support for Trump and exaggerates rank-and-file Evangelical perfidy. Evangelicals aren’t worse than other American political tribes. Instead, we’re proving that in politics we’re just like everyone else. In other words, the true sin of white American Evangelicalism isn’t that we’re exceptionally bad, it’s that we’re not exceptional at all.
As so often, I find myself once again explaining someone else’s religion to them. (Perhaps not surprising given how few evangelicals actually read the Bible, but that’s for another day.) French appears to be blaming evangelicals for voting at all, forgetting that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and so rendering unto God isn’t the same thing as rendering unto Caesar. As a Christian you don’t and can’t vote in elections solely based on the spiritual wholesomeness of the candidate, because you’re voting for someone to do an earthly job, not a sacred one.
Evangelicals aren’t voting for someone to bring about Heaven on Earth. Actually, they ought to want the opposite. As a professor friend put it to me last night, the whole problem of American politics is everyone “always wanting to bring about the heavenly Jerusalem on Earth.” If you hold out for a man who embodies all the virtues you profess to admire, you will be waiting a long time – and you might not get what you were hoping for by the end of it. After all, qualities that make for good spiritual leaders don’t necessarily make for good Presidents.
Trump would make a lousy bishop, probably, but there’s no reason he can’t be a fine President for Christians – and, as Gerson admits, that is precisely what he has been, offering evangelical leaders unprecedented access to the White House and speaking out more forcefully about threats to Christianity than, well, maybe any of his predecessors.
Trump, whatever his personal moral failings, has been good to evangelicals and to Christians generally. They, in turn, have been good to him, because they realize that they don’t have to expect perfection from their President and seeking to bring about paradise on Earth is dangerous, and the province of communists, zealots and lunatics.
French, who has risked more and done more for his country, in uniform and out, than Gerson ever has, is closer to the truth. But he and Gerson both have a faulty understanding of the relation of politics to faith, thanks to a theological flaw of evangelicalism. This produces in both men the excesses they complain of in evangelical leaders. If you think virtue-signaling is a worthwhile exercise in politics, or even essential to it, then of course you will overstate the virtues of the candidate you support and demonize your opponent – because you worry it might be immoral to support a candidate for purely prudential reasons.
Puritans can’t handle that whole “lesser of two evils” thing, so they either pretend their guy is a saint or reject the whole process out of hand. That’s the kind of impossible purity test that the progressive Left is best known for, but which obtains throughout establishment Republicanism too, and which is responsible for their loathing of Trump.
If they were Catholics or had read any Aristotle, they’d realize the cardinal virtues don’t stop at justice, and that above justice lies the virtue of prudence. That doesn’t mean being a wuss or a sell-out. It means achieving the most justice possible under the current circumstances, which might be less than you’d like, but at least it’s something. Hence, Daddy.
It must also be nice to have someone powerful and effective in public life who doesn’t use Christianity as a punchline, and the effect of Trump’s deference to godliness should not be understated. In fact, Trump’s ferocious support of Christianity is one of the few things he never comes close to wavering on and he’s a far better defender of the faith than more ostentatiously godly men like Dubya.
Christians do not expect Caesar to be God – just as well, in Trump’s case. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to make our earthly lives better, just that we are realistic – and humble, ideally – about how close we can get to goodness this side of death.
French and Gerson are upset that Daddy is insufficiently Godlike. But the evangelicals who voted for him know the difference between Trump and God. Utopians who want absolute ideological and spiritual perfection in the here and now have a name: social justice warriors. And they take their political cues from Robespierre, who was the original revolutionary champion of perfect virtue on Earth. Utopianism is the great temptation – and the critical failing – of every would-be reformer.
A lot of people are vulnerable to this temptation. Even Jordan Peterson, who should know better, sometimes unsettles me by talking about getting closer to the Kingdom of God on Earth. This isn’t a Christian, conservative or even libertarian position: It’s what communists try to do. Utopia is for the next world, not ours – another thing that only people of faith, with the apparent exception of David French and Michael Gerson, seem to understand.
There’s also a degree of arrogance at play. Good people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. Few outside Trump’s fanatical base claim that the only prudential choice at the last election was the Donald. But picking him was a reasonable conclusion and it is possible that intelligent, educated people prudentially weighed the choices and concluded that it was the best option.
That no one educated, smart or pious could possibly be morally justified in voting for Trump is a view shared by the Left and establishment Republicans. It is stupid, mostly because we can’t know the wisdom of our choices this side of the grave. That’s why it’s best in politics to avoid the extremism that comes from virtue-signaling, whether you’re on the Left or the Right, and focus on what you can realistically achieve. There will always be trade-offs, and decent people can arrive at wildly different assessments of the best course of action when presented with the same data.
The evangelicals Gerson despairs of know all this, and they also realize that his characterization of Trump is wholly false. He recites debunked and preposterous charges straight from the Verified Twitter playbook. Gerson believes anything liberals tells him about mean old Trump, including all the usual vague and unsubstantiated allegations of misogyny and racism.
Trump-voting evangelicals simply don’t perceive Trump the same way Gerson does, because they don’t get their opinions about the President from CNN. Thus, the gap between their moral aspirations and Daddy is much, much narrower than his. Trump fans know how many of the allegations against him are unfair, or simply made up. And so does David French, who might have said so. And even if they did have the same view of Trump, they might in good faith have picked him anyway.
So now you understand the horror and confusion of establishment Republicans who can’t get their heads around the fact that Trump is getting full-throated support from pious churchgoers. The Bush crowd and National Review – surprise! – don’t know enough theology.
Milo Yiannopoulos is an award-winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author, and host of THE MILO SHOW.
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Milo Yiannopoulos is an award-winning investigative reporter and the New York Times-bestselling author of DANGEROUS.