Oh, Trump defenders. Thank you for providing us with such wonderful instances of the worst sort of sophistry. I really wanted to write about something lovely, like soil microbes or pagan sex rituals, but I find myself irresistibly drawn back to this train wreck.
The excuses are all so sad, I shouldn’t have to point out how sad they are. It almost feels like cheating. But, here we go.
“We’re not electing a saint.”
Look, if your only two categories are “saint” and “non-saint” – and if everyone who isn’t a saint can just be lumped together in one group (kids who cheat on tests, moms who hit wine-thirty an hour early, hired assassins, convicted pedophiles) – then your moral framework is just plain laughable. Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas are rolling their eyes in paradise. No, we’re not electing a saint. But the traditional conservative understanding is that with great power comes great responsibility, that moral character is not just an attribute of some fragmented segment of the personality, but of the integrated person. We may not judge the hidden condition of a person’s soul, but we may indeed judge the objective moral quality of his words and deeds, and on this basis determine the extent to which he is trustworthy.
“But that was eleven years ago.”
Are you saying he isn’t the same person? Are you denying the enduring unity of the person over time? Or maybe you’re implying he’s changed. In which case, he ought to demonstrate it, as any great sinners of the past famously demonstrated it: through penance, solitary reflection, radical humility. And radical humility would involve not putting oneself forth as the best possible candidate for control of a powerful nation. A little sackcloth and ashes could go a long way here.
“But abortion! Supreme court justices!”
First of all, do you realize how ridiculously easy it is to lure you folks in? All anyone has to do is say a few vaguely anti-abortion-sounding phrases, and you’re ready to lick the soles of his boots. Anyone could run for president this way. I
‘m pretty sure, all things considered, several have. But since every successful political career leaves behind it a trail of broken promises, you should be less gullible by now. You should be more severe in putting a candidate to the test, before accepting the whole vast package of shit that comes with a Trump regime, on the feeble promise of maybe some supreme court justices – the promise of a serial liar and cheater. Or, if you actually like the shitty stuff that that he’s promised – to commit war crimes, to refuse help to refugees – I’m afraid this is not an acceptable Catholic position. Add to this the fact that alliance with Trump reveals that you don’t care about Muslim life, or immigrant life, or poor life, or disabled life, or women’s lives: it undoes all the good work many of us have achieved, in convincing secular feminists and activists to take a fresh look at the abortion question. Even if all you care about is virtue-signalling, this is a crappy way to go about it. The public face of the prolife movement is not, unfortunately, any of the grassroots activists, missionaries, or teachers out there actually helping women and children, and advancing a consistent life ethic. It should be. But as long as you stay in bed with Trump, he’s going to eclipse all the good that’s happening, on a micro level.
“But it’s just ordinary locker room talk. Have you never hung out with men before?”
No, it really isn’t. And yes, I have. I’ve hung out with men who were cowboys, philosophers, truck drivers, bartenders, drug dealers, fantasy geeks, farmers, writers, and porn addicts. I’m actually pretty vulgar myself, because I think good wholesome vulgarity is a gift from God. What Trump said was not “ordinary locker room talk.” It wasn’t just crude guys being crude guys; it wasn’t the sort of mistake we’ve all made in our youth, and can now be happy there was no one around to record us. What he described – the family-values nominee, darling of Priests for Life, the new Constantine, what have you – was sexual assault. I’ve heard guys talk like that on occasion, yes. And those guys were assholes, reprobates, sometimes spoiled coked-up frat boys whom I wouldn’t trust to look after a puppy, or hyped up macho men drunk on their lust for violence. I’m sorry if you think this is ordinary male behavior. If you’re a guy and you think like this, get help. If you’re a woman and you surround yourself with men who say such things, get away from them. This is actually incredibly insulting thing to think about guys.“But Bill Clinton…”
Oh yes. And I opposed him, and criticized him, at the time. Anyone else who did so must, in order to be morally consistent, do likewise with Trump. If you don’t, it just sends a message that you never really cared about sexual abuse of women, but were just appropriating morality in order to make your opposing team look bad.
“But King David…”
That was 3,000 years ago. The culture was violently militaristic, with all the sexism and violence that this implies. Rape of conquered women was common. Gruesome punishments were normative. I seriously doubt that many of you would feel comfortable in such a society. And yet even in that day, David was severely punished for his act, and sincerely repented, and did serious penance. Oh, and I still wouldn’t vote for him (though he’d be great in a novel).
This is true of others who have had tempestuous and magnanimous characters inclining them either to great love or to great violence: the saints often appear as the wildest of reprobates, turned inside out, turning all their lust of rage into fervor for God.
And even those who were not saints, the flawed heroes, what I love about them is their insatiable appetite for greatness, their questing spirit. with great error. Trump has none of this about him – none of the Aristotelian “magnanimous man” with the great soul attuned towards the highest of goals. Such persons go forth and pursue excellence, sometimes to a dangerous degree – whether in science, arts, or athletics. This is, of course, a purely humanistic motivation, and it can be destructive, but there is still something about it that takes our breath away. Our Byronic heroes and fatal heroines are tempestuous, but often harder on themselves than on any other. These are the ones who labor late into the night pursuing impossible goals, who test themselves constantly, who allow for no frailty in themselves. They commit hubris, in the old stories. When they sin greatly, they repent greatly.
We do not wish to imitate them, and as Christians we know there is a higher calling – we even know that really, beneath the swashbuckle, there is often fear, or an inability to be at peace.
But Trump doesn’t even begin to fall into this category. He’s not a hubristic hero of a classical tragedy; he’s a reality TV star – oh, and a sexual abuser. And maybe even a child rapist. Here’s a link to that story.
At this point, she’s probably going to win, anyway, so isn’t this is a perfect time for a good solid third-party vote? Or, maybe: ditch the whole idea of parties, refuse to encourage the demagogues, and focus on making a difference by implementing social reform wherever possible. As for Donald Trump, pray for his conversion. But you don’t provoke someone’s conversion by handing them power, and making excuses for all their crimes.
And please don’t bring up Constantine or Charlemagne. Even if they were around, I wouldn’t vote for them either.