This election cycle almost seems like a “dare” game from when we were kids. It is as if we are continuously being dared to do more and more outrageous things, and when we first refuse we are double dared, and so it goes as if we were in a large scale real life version of “A Christmas Story,” until we face the “dreaded triple dog dare.” Problem is this game does not end with a tongue stuck to a flag pole, the consequences are much, much more drastic.
My #NeverTrump friend David French wrote what has to be the triple-dog-dare of #NeverTrump pieces earlier today. It’s highly provocative title is “Don’t Bend Your Knee to Trump, Evangelicals” The rhetoric of the piece is highly inflammatory, yet there is much that he says with which I am in total agreement. I became acquainted with David in the Romney campaigns where we both worked to help the Mormon penetrate the Evangelical world. While I agree with David entirely that nothing about Trump’s very public personal life even vaguely reflects Evangelical values, I struggle with denouncing him as a candidate on those grounds as we worked so hard in the last two cycles to point out to people that religious affiliation (or by implication the lack thereof) should not be a deciding factor in casting a vote. Yes, Romney, save for his theology, lives a life more like the Evangelical ideal than most Evangelicals, while Trump has lived like the prodigal not yet returned home, we both said countless times, “we are electing a president not a pastor.”
Some years ago a good friend and I watched a mutual acquaintance’s marriage disintegrate. As we discussed what was happening in our acquaintance’s marriage my friend said something quite interesting, “I knew it was over six months ago when they started drawing hard lines and some issues became non-negotiable.” There is deep wisdom there. While I agree with almost every argument #NeverTrump puts forward, to draw a hard line, like adopt the hashtag #NeverTrump, makes schism inevitable. I want to keep the door open for negotiation.
So, in a spirit of negotiation I put forward a suggestion to resolve the very real dilemma David puts forward.
The French piece comes in the context of a meeting set for Tuesday between Trump and a large number of Evangelical leaders. It is these leaders that Dave begs not to “bend the knee” – primarily because Trump’s marital and dating life in no way represents anything that Evangelicals stand for. I would agree that for that reason we can never “bend the knee” to Trump, but unlike the Roman Emperors of old, Trump is not asking us to proclaim him a god, he is only asking for support in an election – they are two different things. It is possible, if largely distasteful, to support Trump and never “bend the knee.”
For one thing, any support should be conditional on Trump emerging from the convention with the nomination, and not restrictive on any action through the convention. In other words, leave those working on an alternative some maneuvering room and if they start to build some steam, yourself some room to join their action. But once the convention is over, it’s over.
But that is just politics, it does not resolve the very fundamental question of values. In this matter, for once the over-zealous regulations of the IRS may work in our favor. Evangelical groups, like say Focus on The Family, are really two groups. There is the ministry group which is tax exempt and cannot engage in direct political action and there is the “action” group which can engage directly in political action but does so a the expense of the charitable giving deduction for its donors. This division of labor is convenient in this circumstance, as the political group can give support under the conditions previously discussed while the ministry group does everything in its power to proclaim and uphold the family values that all Christians hold so dear and Trump’s life has so miserably failed to illustrate. This is, admittedly, a bit of a schizophrenic compromise, yet I think it acknowledges both the political realities and the religious mandates that are currently at such cross currents.
Philosophically this compromise is a hard one to swallow because most Evangelical activists see this regulatory, artificial division of labor as one of the chief tools used to reduce and silence the religious voice in the public square – and so it is. But we have to be honest and admit that the religious voice has pretty well been voted out of the public square this cycle – taking our ball and going home is not going to get us back in the game next cycle, it is just going to make people less likely to want to play with us.
They say the best deals are deals where no one is happy. I don’t see anyone being happy with what I have proposed here.