These stories are always a bit dramatic to me. I always assume every president is going to make decisions or enact policies that even people who voted for them don’t agree with. Politics and decision making is a complicated game, and voting for president is often picking which person you believe will screw up less. There’s no perfect saint as president, but arguments about Trump often reveal that many people assume presidential elections contain a good and an evil, and choosing evil makes one morally complicit in actual evil! In reality, the choice between Biden and Trump wasn’t a choice between an angel and a devil.
The good/evil argument isn’t crazy in and of itself, but it’s too broadly applied to be of much use in political discourse, except in cases like abortion, where there is a clear moral position that every Christian should be adhering to. I acknowledge there are pro-choice Christians, but I believe they are confused about what their faith requires of them when it comes to abortion.
Abortion isn’t really my concern here though.
Isaac Bailey, a public policy professor at Davidson College, penned an article in Newsweek titled, “I’m Struggling with My Christianity After Trump.“
Bailey’s contention, in a nutshell, is that the Christian pro-life movement’s support of Trump is causing him to doubt his faith, though he isn’t clear on whether he is rejecting orthodox Christianity, nonorthodox Christianity, or some sort of idiosyncratic version of Christianity.
“I’m struggling to hold fast to my Christianity— because of Donald Trump. Not exactly Trump himself, though, but the undying support of the self-professed Christian pro-life movement that he enjoyed. My faith is in tatters because of that alliance. And I am constantly wondering if I am indirectly complicit because I dedicated my life to the same Jesus the insurrectionists prayed to in the Capitol building after ransacking it and promising to kill those who didn’t do their bidding.“
“Faith in tatters” because of perceived moral failings of those around him. It’s increasingly difficult for me to listen to professing Christians claim Donald Trump has made them question their faith. If you are a Christian, you know that you aren’t called to put your faith in human beings. God is the only one you can trust. If people aren’t following God, that’s not evidence that your faith is in vain. If your trust is solely in people, then you have made the church as people (vs as an institution) an idol.
However, because Bailey’s article is plagued with ambiguity about what he means by Christianity, it’s hard to say for sure exactly what he means. He does pose a question that leads me to believe he is questioning his actual faith. He asks:
“If Christianity can convince so many to follow a man like Trump almost worshipfully—or couldn’t at least help millions discern the unique threat Trump represented—what good is it really?”
Assuming for now that Trump is everything Bailey says he is, this sort of question looks like Bailey is directly doubting Christianity.
He then turns his ire towards Franklin Graham. Graham laid out a partial case for voting for Trump based on some of Trump’s policy successes. Bailey is having none of it though. In fact, he even believes that Trump has left a “body count.” Bailey lays out what he sees as the main failings of the Trump administration:
“Really? Pro-life? Trump oversaw a 200% increase in civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria during his first year in office. He presided over more than 460,000 COVID-19 deaths, far outpacing any other industrialized country. He repeatedly demonized a group of men, women and children seeking refuge in this country from the violence and uncertainty they faced in their own. A man picked up an AR-15-style assault rifle and committed a massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh after becoming convinced Jews were responsible for the despised caravan of vulnerable brown people. He murdered 11 people; how could Christians have supported the man whose conspiracy theory he quoted?
The body count didn’t end there, though. Trump incited an insurrection that resulted in at least five deaths, dozens of injuries and a stain on America’s reputation so severe it will be harder to get other countries to take us seriously when we demand that they honor life and not commit human rights abuses. Aided by “pro-life” Supreme Court justices, Trump was able to fast-track 13 federal executions during the final months of his presidency, the most by any president in more than a century. Even the abortion rate slightly increased in the middle of Trump’s term, a reversal from major declines during Barack Obama‘s two terms in office.”
Directly blaming a president for civilian deaths in the fog of war is a stretch, at best. Blaming Trump for all COVID-19 deaths is demonstrably false. Tying Trump to a mass shooting only loosely connected to him seems unfair.
Interestingly, Bailey includes federal executions in Trump’s “body count,” even though many Christians believe in the death penalty as a matter of principle. I respect Christians who disagree with the death penalty (I am in favor if it, but I also feel uncomfortable at the same time). To tie the death penalty to an objective analysis of the moral failings of the Trump administration displays a lack of understanding for the other side.
For the insurrection, I haven’t written about it because I’m not sure what my opinion is. I don’t currently believe Trump is guilty of inciting a riot, but I do think he was irresponsible in the way he conducted himself during the January 6th rally, and I don’t think he was forceful enough in denouncing the violence once it became obvious what was happening. I believe politicians can be irresponsible, even grossly so, without deserving to be impeached. But again, I’m undecided on this. Bailey seems to go all in though. His visceral dislike of Trump comes through in almost every paragraph.
Bailey also believes that pro-life presidents don’t really stop abortions, citing statistics from the Guttmacher Institute. Even assuming this is somehow true, voting for a politician that takes a clear stand in favor of life is not a wasted vote. Forcing people to confront the arguments and think more deeply about the issue is a good thing, because the more people have to think about the moral status of what’s growing inside of a pregnant woman, the more they feel uncomfortable with abortion. He doesn’t claim the pro-life label though, and even puts pro-life in quotation marks multiple times.
He summarizes his position:
“I’d never call myself pro-life, though. I want abortions to be rare but believe the best way to get there is to support women and distressed families in a comprehensive way that will reduce unintended and high-risk pregnancies. We do not get there by turning over a pregnant woman’s body to the state.
This is my Christianity, the Christian faith that sustained my family through the Jim Crow South, poverty and too many bouts with the criminal justice system.”
The rhetoric about turning a pregnant woman’s body over to the state suggests that Bailey has implicitly accepted how the pro-choice side frames arguments. Not once does he ever seriously engage with the moral status of the fetus, but he does open up about a tragic miscarriage that he and his wife went through. His attitude towards that miscarriage do sound very pro-life.
He concludes his article by again repeating his body count rhetoric and by a comment on his personal faith in the “white church.”
“The body count left in Trump’s wake is immense. Add to the list my faith in the white church.”
Overall, Bailey’s argument is plagued by an ambiguity about what he means by Christianity. But, assuming that he is describing orthodox Christianity, his arguments about his crisis of faith fundamentally misunderstand where our trust should be. Assuming Christians, and “white Christians” especially, have betrayed the core principles of their faith for political power, it doesn’t follow that Christianity is false. All the hypocritical behavior proves is that people don’t always do the right thing, and sometimes good people can become morally confused because of unique historical circumstances.
Bailey’s arguments would be more understandable if he were a new Christian or hadn’t grown up in the church. Many outsiders evaluate Christianity based on how the followers of the religion act. Bailey grew up in church though, so I’m sure he’s read Proverbs 3:5-6. It is disheartening to see him questioning his faith based on such a misplaced trust in human beings.