I want to throw out a few observations and tentative thoughts on the looming spectacle of a Hillary vs. Trump showdown this November. To this point I have not thrown my hat into the #nevertrump ring. Not because I’m remotely excited by the prospect of a Trump presidency, but for a couple of downstream curiosities that have occurred to me. As I say, these are tentative thoughts, and not hardened, concrete conclusions. I have no deep loyalty to the Republican party. I voted third party for president the first several times I was eligible to cast a vote, and it’s looking likely that I will again. Admittedly, some of that lack of pressure is a result of living in a Red state that always tends to send my electoral votes to whatever candidate the GOP has offered up. My vote for president doesn’t seem very decisive. But I do wonder about those swing states where the presidency really may come down to their leaning Trump or Hillary.
As Thabiti Anyabwile has explained this dilemma, he’s come down on one side: “At this point, assuming Trump and Clinton are my only options, I’d vote for Clinton.” As the title of his post suggests, the question (for him) comes down not to endorsing or supporting Clinton but rather seeing the evil of Trump as more necessary to oppose. And this assessment, I believe, rests on his conclusion that Trump is massively “erratic.” My good friend Douglas Wilson makes much the same point: “I would rather be executed by the bad guy than play Russian roulette with the crazy guy.” For those who have concluded that Trump is crazy, completely unpredictable, and utterly erratic, the conclusion follows. Better a gun in the hand of a predictable enemy than an insane man. Always prefer the devil you know to the devil you don’t.
My questions and tentative thoughts largely swirl around this conclusion. Is Trump a madman? Is he insane? Is there no method to the madness? There is not a great deal of disagreement with Paul Johnson’s analysis that Trump is “vulgar, abusive, nasty, rude, boorish and outrageous.” But there’s enormous debate over whether his next sentence is true in any way, shape, or form: “He [Trump] is also saying what he thinks and, more important, teaching Americans how to think for themselves again.” My first instinct is to say: Wait. What? Teaching Americans how to think for themselves again? Seriously? How is he not playing into the worst excesses of vulgarity and boorishness in our nation? How is he not fanning that flame, which, it would seem does not lend itself to, how shall we put it, thoughtfulness. I don’t see the news clips of Trump rallies and muse on the number of deep thoughts occurring therein. I sort of assume that all of those thoughtful sorts of instincts were ushered to the door and told to leave like the other unwanted immigrants and minorities.
While it is perhaps easy to dismiss the Jerry Falwells and Sarah Palins of the world in their endorsements of Trump. It’s a little harder to completely write off someone like Paul Johnson who is no intellectual or historical slouch. Add to this the near endorsement of Tom Wolfe and the barely repressed excitement of Camille Paglia, and a more colorful, perceptive, and intelligent cadre of folk begin to emerge from the shadows, wondering to some extent if there isn’t something more potentially (dare I say) hopeful afoot.
Victor Hanson is certainly far less sanguine, but the picture he paints is still somewhat intriguing. He describes the Donald Trump phenomenon as the postmodern nemesis, the incarnation of their nihilistic theories: “In other words, Trump is a postmodern creation, for whom traditional and time-tested rules do not apply. He is neither brilliant nor unhinged, neither ecumenical nor just a polarizer, not a wrecker and not a savior of the Republican party, but something else altogether.” On this reading, Trump is a wrecking ball, a sort of personified reductio ad absurdum and ad hominem all rolled into one. And as such, Hanson warns that “Trump is for a brief season our long-haired Samson, and the two pillars of the temple he is yanking down are the Republicans to his right and the Democrats to his left — and it will all land on top of us, the Philistines beneath.” I grant that anyone nodding vigorously in agreement with Hanson and insisting they could never vote for that certainly has a fair point.
And I’ve got nothing but gawking and wincing for the Ben Carsons and Chris Christies and Mike Huckabees running behind the Trumpwagon trying to get a seat in the cool car. It all reeks of political opportunism and (I hope against hope) the ends of their political careers.
While a large part of me still squints puzzled over Paul Johnson’s claim that Trump is teaching America to think again, I don’t mind the opportunity to try to teach America to think again. Perhaps in a somewhat similar way to Anyabwile’s post aiming at encouraging the Church to think, given the circumstances, I’m tentatively willing to lean the other way. Please understand this is hundreds of miles from anything approaching an endorsement or enthusiasm. This is a thought experiment in the name of thoughtfulness and encouraging true intellectual engagement. And yes, admittedly it’s something of a pragmatic question for Christians. If faced with the choice of Hillary or Trump, which should the Christian pray for and if you find yourself in one of those swing states, do you cast a vote against one of them? Certainly a third party vote seems like a reasonable and responsible thing to do. But it also carries with it the convenient possibility of not really wrestling with the issues. It’s easy to see those two faces on your screen (again), and just walk away in utter (and mindless) dejection. Now, to be sure, many have thought it all through carefully and arrived at their refusal to vote for either of these two clowns. And no quibbles there. Hillary has an established track record of evil and chicanery, and Trump has a growing resume of bullying and belligerence.
But — reading through, the admittedly dense rhetoric of sophomoric tirades, one wonders if we are dealing with insanity or whether it is actually a far more deliberate determination to destroy the modern political machine. Could that be a blessing for the American Church? The danger is that if he isn’t the beginning of tyranny, as Andrew Sullivan suggests he may be — what if all the political machinery is actually functioning as a helpful retardant to tyrannical machinations? If Trump pulls it all down, what rises in its wake?
A friend of mine, a thoughtful, intelligent man, an immigrant to the US who has spent the majority of his career in academia believes that the pros in favor of Trump outweigh the cons. He says that liberal fascism and political correctness has its fangs sunk so deeply into the American system, specifically in higher education, that nothing but a Trump apocalypse will break the hold. He believes the deep Christian spirit in America will chasten Trump’s excesses, and hopes that when the dust settles from the Trump wrecking ball, many of the most stifling and suffocating liberal choke chains will lie in pieces on the ground, and we will actually have more freedom, not less. I’m not yet convinced of that, but I am intrigued by some of these more thoughtful interactions with the Trump phenomenon. I’m intrigued by the coalition of #nevertrump which represents many disparate factions. I’m intrigued by the thought that God sometimes answers our prayers through Nebuchadnezzars and Samsons and talking donkeys. That may not be enough to justify casting a vote for Trump, but it’s certainly enough to keep watching and thinking.