Will Honest Critique Be Allowed?

I’m trying to like Donald Trump. I really am. Why does he insist on making it so difficult?

I’m not the least bit upset that he spoke with the elected leader of Taiwan. We never should have treated that nation the way we have. So, good for him on that count. Taiwan is not Iran or Cuba.

talking-to-taiwan

I’m pleased with a number of his nominations for his administration. If they are allowed to do what they believe, we will be in much better shape than we have been for the last horrendous eight years.

not-brain-surgery

But I’m still bothered.

I’m bothered that he acts like a bully toward companies that are simply trying to make the best choices given the tax atmosphere on businesses in this nation. Carrier Corp. decided to keep some of its production in Indiana after Trump and Pence talked with the company. Good for those who kept their jobs. Bad for the whole concept of free-market choices as crony capitalism triumphs once again.

Whenever you give a break to one company only, you have picked winners and made other similar companies the losers. That’s government getting in the way and doing what it should not be doing.

And when conservatives who are naturally concerned with such a violation of principle speak up, they are ridiculed for holding to principle. Don’t they know Trump is the savior? Why be so picky?

The conservative critique of what Trump did with Carrier is principled, and not the same as the Democrats’ critique:

incentives

Trump’s thin skin continues to percolate. When a union leader at Carrier dared to criticize Trump for exaggerating the number of jobs saved, that led to a typical Trump tweeting flurry that demeaned the man personally.

As David French so aptly put it, “There is no dignity, no decency, in Trump’s actions.” Even worse are some of his most ardent followers. French continues,

If you’ve been following politics in 2016, you know that if you publicly cross Trump, then Trump fanatics will immediately pile on, trying to threaten and intimidate critics into silence.

And that’s exactly what happened here: Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said.

One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you. He wasn’t sure how these people found his number. “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

The president-elect’s words have power, and when he turns that power on ordinary Americans who dare to criticize him, he’s not only abusing his office, he’s creating a target for an avalanche of scorn, vitriol, and intimidation.

But this is of course a pattern with Trump. If someone irritates him, he’ll punch back no matter their status and no matter the consequences. That’s not leadership. It’s bullying. The president-elect needs to grow up and take criticism like a man.

It’s becoming risky to ever criticize Trump. My deep concern remains what it has been all along, that this is becoming practically a cult following that will never allow an honest critique. I hope I’m proven wrong.

donald-trump-4Jonah Goldberg recently commented on this phenomenon, and I think his words deserve a hearing:

My real problem is with all the people who seem to think that any skepticism of Trump’s actions on my part can only be explained by anti-Trump bias or bitterness.

These people seem to think that the most positive, most pro-Trump spin on any new event is not only always correct but obviously so, and any skepticism about the genius of his actions is a sign of illegitimate bias. And that’s crazy.

I’ve praised Trump and I’ve criticized Trump since he was elected. Yes, I’m skeptical, but all politicians deserve skepticism, and Donald Trump more than most. And yet every day I hear from people saying that’s not good enough. “Get on board the Trump Train!” people are still shouting at me.

One must bend every position and principle to his. One must acknowledge that he is smarter than everyone. He has a plan. He’s playing chess to everyone else’s checkers. And if you don’t see that, you’re irrationally biased against him.

It’s pretty obvious to me that the irrational bias here runs the other way. If I say Trump is sometimes right and sometimes wrong and you say “Shut up! He’s a genius in everything!” an objective observer would probably think you’re the biased one.

My goal today is not to denigrate the president-elect, but if you see it that way, I want to caution you: you might be tending toward the irrationality Goldberg mentions.

I’m going to give Trump room to improve. I’m going to hope he develops some maturity when others criticize his actions and decisions. I’m still praying for the best, but I will point out when what he does is less than that.

Why is that wrong?

Losing the Culture

Eight years of Ronald Reagan didn’t do it. Massive congressional election victories in 2010 and 2014 didn’t do it. Despite conservative successes at the polls at various times, we see the nation continue to slip away from its Christian and constitutional moorings. Why is that?

David FrenchDavid French wrote an insightful essay the other day that points to the problem. He calls on conservatives—and Christian conservatives, in particular—to recognize what has transpired. He begins by saying, “We’ll often seek every reason and justification for . . . failure short of our own flaws before we face the truth.”

What truth? We have been living with the illusion that there is this vast conservative army out there ready to turn things around and we have focused on politics as the means for doing so.

That army, he says, does not exist in the strength we had hoped it does, and our focus on politics has blinded us to where the real battle lies.

Real conservatives, French believes, have proven to be “a minority within what looks increasingly like a minority party, at least at the national level.”

Yes, Republicans control Congress. Yes, Republican governors and state legislatures outnumber Democrats. If this is so, why has so little changed? Why are we further from our founding principles than ever?

French pinpoints the problem:

In hindsight, the reason for their error isn’t hard to discern. Indeed, it’s a reason that conservatives have been identifying for years. Conservatives have been competent at winning elections, but they’ve been terrible at influencing the culture. Thus, they’re good at holding down the right side of a leftward-shifting political spectrum, but they can’t arrest the broader cultural shift to the left.

Paul WeyrichIn spite of many electoral successes, the nation keeps marching Left. He then quotes an essay by Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, written back in 1999, which warned of the problem. Weyrich noted,

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the United States is becoming an ideological state. The ideology of Political Correctness, which openly calls for the destruction of our traditional culture, has so gripped the body politic, has so gripped our institutions, that it is even affecting the Church. It has completely taken over the academic community. It is now pervasive in the entertainment industry, and it threatens to control literally every aspect of our lives.

French then goes on to explain why he thinks this has happened. There is a real difference between conservatives and progressives. Conservatives vote for champions to go to Washington to straighten out the mess and then they return to their lives without infusing all their daily interactions with what they say they believe.

Progressives, on the other hand, “take their core values into every sphere of existence.” They don’t compartmentalize their lives; they want what they believe to affect everything.

That’s how you get local bar associations celebrating Earth Day, or third-grade classes doing a whole semester’s worth of art projects on climate change, or corporate HR departments running extended, celebratory profiles of transgender employees. It’s the agenda, always and everywhere.

We trust in politics to set things right. We are placing our trust in the wrong place. It’s the culture that drives a society, while politicians, eager to get re-elected, follow along in its wake.

I’ve often called on Christians to realize that their faith is not to be relegated to church activities. We are to take it into all spheres of life. When we shy away from doing so, it’s no wonder the culture becomes ever more depraved.

French concludes,

Until we’re willing to make at least the same commitment to our ideals that progressives make to theirs, we may still offer words of defiance, but our actions will show our true intent. Right now, the movement is busy dying. It’s time to get busy living.

I couldn’t agree more.

Trump Meets the Evangelicals

Yesterday, 900-plus evangelicals met with Donald Trump to ask questions and try to figure out if they can support his candidacy. I know only some of the names of individuals who were present. The audience was mixed, I’m sure, in its attitude toward the presumptive Republican nominee.

Meeting with Trump

I don’t wish to unfairly criticize those who attended; in most circumstances, I too would want to have the opportunity to hear a candidate and get a better feel for him/her. Neither am I disdainful of any attempt to try to influence a candidate toward policies that I would favor as a Christian.

In most circumstances.

But this is not a typical circumstance, and the candidate is not typical either. I have followed Trump very carefully through the entire primary process, watching his manner and listening to his words. Based on what I already know about him from personal observation and a significant amount of reading with respect to his past, his business dealings, and his overall character, I would not have attended this meeting if invited.

Let me be clear: I was not invited.

There were Christian leaders there for whom I have great respect. Others present were ones for whom I have lost some respect due to their eagerness to jump on the Trump train and for their rather critical attitude toward those of us who are never going to join this misbegotten candidacy.

I have spilled thousands of words in this blog explaining my objections to Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. Let me summarize why I cannot support him.

First, his personal character is abhorrent: self-centered, vindictive toward those who criticize him, petty, insulting, willing to lower himself into whatever gutter is nearby to destroy others. His divorces and his overall arrogance toward women is another factor; the remarks he makes about women (take Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz, for example) are always focused on their looks. For him, that’s the measure of a woman’s worth.

6 or 7

He continues to think Planned Parenthood isn’t all that bad; he attacks the judge in the Trump University lawsuit (a clearly fraudulent university) because of his Mexican heritage; he cavalierly retweets comments from racist supporters; he expects American troops to follow his orders even if they involve the killing of women and children of the enemy; and he is a conspiracy nut, culminating in the bizarre idea that Ted Cruz’s father is somehow implicated in the JFK assassination.

His supporters within the Republican party are constantly having to say they don’t agree with his tirades; some are saying they just won’t comment on him anymore until after the election, since they are so embarrassed by him.

Campaign of Crazy

He is truly a loose cannon; one never knows what to expect next. Well, that’s not exactly true—it’s clear he’s going to continue to be a national embarrassment.

One Type

Those are my bedrock reasons for rejecting his candidacy, but those form the cornerstone for why his campaign is now such a wreck. He has no ground game ready to go; his fundraising has been nonexistent and the campaign is running on fumes financially; a lot of the money he has spent has gone to his own salary and other Trump organizations; he thinks he can just hold rallies and win the presidency; he is slated to lose big, and he will drag the party down with him, possibly losing both houses of Congress in the process.

To fix this, he fires his campaign manager. Now everything’s going to be fine, he promises. But who is really driving the campaign? There’s little an underling can do to redirect The Donald.

You're Fired

He has become so poisonous to the party that a new threat to his nomination is bubbling: an attempt to deny him the necessary votes at the convention. His actions have pretty much destroyed Republican party unity:

GOP Unity

So add to moral degenerate the appellation of incompetent.

And I haven’t even addressed the problem of his knowledge of issues, a deficit that led him to avoid a direct debate confrontation with Cruz one-on-one. He would have been massacred intellectually.

David French wrote an excellent piece a couple of days ago as this meeting with evangelicals loomed. It is an appeal we need to hear and heed:

American Evangelical Christianity does not exist for the purpose of placing one or two decent judges on the Supreme Court. It — along with its Catholic and Orthodox counterparts — represents the body of Christ on this earth. It is a flawed vessel, to be sure, but its moral witness is still of incalculable worth.

He concluded the article with this warning:

Evangelical leaders: If you back Trump, for the rest of your days, you will be forced to live with having had a hand in fracturing our nation on the basis of race, discarding the sanctity of marriage, and scorning honesty itself — all for the chance, the remote chance, that Trump will make one or two decent Supreme Court picks. You will be selling your integrity for the most meager of returns. . . .

Christians have had to take tougher stands in darker times before. They do so in other nations today. This decision, by contrast, should be easy. Trump is not worth your consideration or even one moment of your time. Let others bend the knee.

But . . . but . . . that means a Hillary presidency! Let’s be honest, it’s probably going to be a Hillary presidency anyway. Republicans have chosen the absolute worst nominee available; a number of others who were on the stages with Trump would have been locks to put away the worst Democrat candidate in that party’s history. Choosing Trump has now made that unlikely.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: don’t blame those who cannot, in conscience, support Donald Trump. The blame for this upcoming fiasco lies in the laps of those who became lapdogs for Trump.

Christians, to maintain their witness to the world of integrity, honesty, and moral character, should walk away from Trump. If they don’t, they will forever be linked to his sordid legacy.

David French: A Principled Man

David FrenchDavid French is an outstanding man. Not only is he a constitutional lawyer who has stood firm in defense of religious liberty, but he’s an Iraqi Freedom veteran who won the Bronze Star, is a bestselling author, has a fine Christian testimony, and has a wonderful family that includes an adopted African American daughter.

For the past week, French contemplated an independent run for the presidency simply because conservatives have no real choice in this election. Last night he announced that he would not make that run, for various reasons. I honor that decision, even as I would have honored the opposite decision by voting for him with a clear conscience.

What he left us with, though, was a thoughtful and direct statement of where we are as a nation, given that the presumptive nominees are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. First, French explains why he even considered making the run:

I gave it serious thought — as a pretty darn obscure lawyer, writer, and veteran — only because we live in historic times. Never before have both parties failed so spectacularly, producing two dishonest, deceitful candidates who should be disqualified from running for town council, much less leader of the free world.

If Trump supporters don’t like to hear words like that, they should remember that one of the reasons they say they support Trump is because he “tells it like it is.” Well, French is much better at telling it like it is than Donald Trump.

Having provided the overall perspective on why he considered running, he then zeroed in on those two candidates, beginning with Clinton:

Hillary Clinton lies habitually and changes position on virtually every public issue except for her pro-abortion extremism, and she has a suspicious record of making public decisions that favor donors to the Clinton Foundation. Her signal foreign-policy “achievement” was helping launch a war in Libya that not only cost American lives in Benghazi but also helped transform the nation into ISIS’s latest playpen.

To add to all that, she’s in the middle of an active FBI investigation. If I had handled classified information the way we know she handled classified information, my career would already be over, and the single goal of my life would be persuading the prosecutor to reach a lenient plea bargain.

In other words, Hillary Clinton should be disqualified from the presidential ballot for things that would end other people’s careers. But, of course, she’s a Clinton, so there are different rules for her.

French then laid out some truth about the other party’s nominee:

Donald Trump also lies habitually (sometimes minute by minute), and changes position based on his moods. In one breath he claims to support working men and women, and then with the next breath he threatens to destroy our economy through trade wars or by playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States.

He believes an American judge — a man born in Indiana who spent months hiding from drug cartels after they’d put a “hit” on him – can’t rule on a case involving Trump University because the judge’s parents emigrated from Mexico.

His supporters believe it demonstrates “strength” when he mocks the disabled and bullies women. He has attracted an online racist following that viciously attacks his opponents and their families — including my wife and youngest daughter.

Shoot Him

French then offers some hope for the future:

I believe with all my heart that there is an American movement ready to both resist the corruption, decadence, and dishonesty of the American elite and restore the promise of the American Dream. But that movement may not emerge for some time, and it might emerge only after further heartache and pain.

What this nation needs might not come to fruition immediately, but we should continue to work toward the goal of righteousness. And for those who would demean the efforts to provide an alternative to the two presumptive nominees, French adds,

Let me also say that each person involved in the effort to recruit an independent candidate is a patriot. They are standing strong on principle when the GOP leadership — in lockstep — now marches to Trump’s beat. I admired them before this process began, and I admire them more even now.

Then he takes on the Republican establishment—you know, that entity that Trump presumably abhors:

Last week, Reince Priebus said that those involved in the independent effort were “embarrassing themselves.” But what is more embarrassing? Is it doing your best to defend the nation you love from two people who are unworthy of its highest office? Or is it using your God-given gifts and talents to advance the interests of a man who cares only for himself and who rejects the very values you’ve long claimed to uphold?

He then ends with a personal word and a Reaganesque statement about America’s future:

To those who prayed for me and my family, I’m grateful beyond words. To those who defended my wife and kids from vicious attacks — engaging in a fight you didn’t seek — I’m forever in your debt. To those I’ve disappointed, I’m sorry. It is your devotion and integrity that help keep America great, and I believe you will ultimately prevail.

What a system we have that puts forward a Clinton and a Trump as our choices, but relegates principled men and women to the back burner. We only have ourselves to blame; the voters have made two utterly unqualified people the nominees for the major parties.

I’m not sure I have the same hopes French does for the eventual direction the nation will take, but I would like to think he is correct. I appreciate people like David French whose lives are built on the solid rock of faith in Christ and in the principles that flow from that faith. May that number be multiplied. That’s our only real hope.