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Friends, Allies, Means and Ends

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I would presume because of the Dems taking control of the House and the seating of Mitt Romney in the Senate this week, coupled with an expectation that such will result in fireworks that will be embarrassing to and/or destructive of the Trump administration, the few remaining forces of #NeverTrump have been pretty visible of late.  On Wednesday past, I posted a lengthy piece analyzing the president’s character, springboarding off a discussion begun in a Roger Kimball piece.  But in my Wednesday piece, there are a couple of arguments that I left unaddressed.

One was made by Michael Gerson later in the week, and the other is the second part of the Goldberg argument that Kimball was responding to.  I want to start with Gerson’s argument because it is the easiest to deal with.  Here is the heart of it:

By all indications, the reluctant support by white evangelicals for Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton in 2016 has solidified into something like devotion….In this struggle, many evangelicals believe they have found a champion in Donald Trump.  He is the enemy of their enemies….It doesn’t take much biblical research to discover that this isn’t quite how God accomplished things in the original story.

By this logic the United States and the United Kingdom should never have allied with the Soviet Union in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany.  Further “solidified into something like devotion” is just a straw man.  Continued support does not equate to devotion, and a lack of criticism of things that might deserve it is simply trying to preserve and manage a tenuous alliance.  One must pick one’s battles.  In the end this boils down to “the ends does not justify the means.”  I don’t think anyone thinks it does, but there is such a thing as incrementalism.  We’ll return to this in a moment.

Kimball summarized Goldberg this way:

The logic is: Trump’s character is bad. Character is destiny. Ergo Trump’s administration will come a cropper.

On Wednesday, I attempted to lay out that Trump’s character was far less than ideal, but that a) the same could be said for every other occupant of the White House ever, and b) character is a matter of degree, not simply good or bad.  Subsequently and reasonably, one should therefore conclude that the outcome of the Trump administration will be less than ideal.  But is that not something very different from a bad outcome?  Frankly, this is just another variation of “ends do not justify means.”  But doesn’t that really depend on what you consider “the ends?”

I think there are very differing views of just how bad the crisis was that confronted the nation in 2016.  Speaking from an Evangelical viewpoint, the crisis was huge.  Here is the thing that has to be understood.  The forces allied against Evangelicalism and, frankly, conservative religiosity generally, seek not to contain or limit religious practice and faith, although that would be bad enough in and of itself.  They seek to destroy it.  Consider this piece that I ran across in the week past.  The piece notes that 1) the ritual of exorcism is on the rise in the Roman Catholic church, and 2) that a priest recently declared a line of baby clothing designed to be “gender neutral” was satanic.  It wants the reader to draw the seemingly obvious conclusion – that the Roman Catholic church is full of nutcases that are going to go around performing crazy and silly exorcisms on the transgender community – clearly the crazy people must be destroyed.

Arcane though the ritual of exorcism may be, to the Christian mind demonic action is very real and poo-pooing it in this fashion is a direct and threatening assault.  But more importantly, far more vitriolic and less arcane attacks on faith are happening everyday.  The Obama administration with its birth control mandate, and very narrow definition of religious practice, attempting to limit it essentially to the act of worship, and on and on was a direct threat to religious faith and practice.

That said, I do not think “the ends” sought in the presidential election of 2016 was anything approaching ideality. I think a mere stabilization of the lines qualifies as a good outcome.  That brings me back to the WWII analogy.  We allied with a monster to defeat a monster.  The outcome was the Cold War – far from an ideal outcome, but under the circumstances the best that could be achieved.  Now here we are decades later and there is incremental improvement from the established post-war stasis.  It is still far from ideal, but it is better.  A United Germany, a freed Eastern Europe, are certainly moves in the right direction.

In Trump we have allied with a less than ideal ally, but he is also not a monster – and the alliance is stabilizing the lines.  We consider WWII a win, why isn’t this one the same thing?

Addendum post publication: Kimball continues the discussion with Goldberg.  Good reading

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Friends and Allies of Rome