Distinguishing Duke and Trump From Other Politicians
Written by: Joe Morris Doss
Author’s Note: The church should be non-partisan in elective politics. This includes organizations like At the Threshold that are not official but purport to speak to issues theologically and on behalf of concerns of the church. It is extremely rare for the church to find itself having to speak out against a serious candidate for office, much less a nominee of one of the two major parties of the United States, much less a nominee for President. But there are examples in history – too important to ignore – in which it is clear that the obligation of the church demands, or should have demanded, that it take a stand against certain leaders and forms of leadership. Without identifying reasons in the abstract, At the Threshold has been offering a series of statements about the candidacy of Donald Trump that should reveal why we think just such an exceptional case has arisen. Please be aware that these statements are not written due to political opinion, but are based on careful employment of well-honed moral theology.
Recently I asserted on behalf of At the Threshold that the voter who supports Donald Trump on certain selected matters, and thus chooses to support his election, is supporting all of what will happen if he becomes President. The point was that Trump has promised to take actions and positions as President so toxic that voters should balk at supporting some of his positions unless willing to take responsibility for all. An analogy was drawn to the White Supremacy position of David Duke.
Someone I dearly respect asked: “What is the precise distinguishing factor(s) between applying this ‘if support some, then support all’ principle to Trump and Duke but not to all candidates?”
The difference is that there are some candidates who take certain defining positions that are “out of bounds” of what is tolerable and become personifications of actions and ideas that must be rejected unconditionally by the electorate. Their leadership is to be categorically rejected. David Duke has been recognized as one such politician; Donald Trump should be another.
David Duke could not be supported on ordinary matters, like tax reform, because standing by him on anything would have conferred on him more power and standing to use in his fight for white supremacy, hyper-nationalism, and thuggish authoritarianism. In the story that was previously used, for the State Treasurer to support him on an issue such as tax reform would have been taken to mean that the official was supportive, or at least open to, his stand on race.
Normally it is appropriate to support candidates without agreeing with them across the board. To support Bernie Sanders on equalizing pay for women does not mean one must oppose the international trade agreements he criticizes. Nor is it clear that a majority agrees with him on either issue; they are matters currently being debated and not yet settled. But to support Trump on his stated plan for tax reform, and thus to vote for him on that basis, is as well a vote to endanger the world, to exclude people of certain religious beliefs and affiliations, to denigrate and discriminate against women, to elect someone who will say and do anything without regard to truth or even to personal belief in what he himself is saying, etc., etc., etc. He cannot be supported in one or more parts deemed desirable without bringing about proposals that must be avoided. It is an either/or vote. That indeed is unusual, but in this case it is very real.
The distinction we are talking about has to do with how absolutely positions taken by a candidate must be avoided. In something like nuclear proliferation it is damningly close to absolute. Throughout my adulthood, the greatest fear has always been that some crazy person, some greedy maniac, or some terrorist group might get their hands on nuclear power and use it against a city or region. If the nuclear power is available, “the market” will find it. Do we no longer fear that rogue leaders and/or nation states will gain the use of nuclear bombs and use them?
A policy like excluding Muslims may not be absolute — eventually the policy could be corrected — except in how real flesh and blood human beings and families will suffer the consequences in the meantime, and especially except for the great violence done to our values, traditions, and identity as a nation. Then, there are the issues that were once in conflict, but finally have become settled. Often a minority of citizens may continue to hold to a position after the controversy over right and wrong has been clarified and decided, and even when it would be unacceptable to go back on that settled resolution. For example, we have decided that slavery is wrong and being the United States of America is good. Yet, 38 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump in South Carolina acknowledged that they wish the South had won the Civil War; another 38 percent say they aren’t sure which side they wish had won, while just 24 percent say they are glad the Union won. Thirty-five percent of Cruz supporters said they thought the U.S. would be better under the Confederacy.
There must be a line drawn between disagreement and political “debate” over a controversial issue, such as when the south largely refused to allow most black citizens to vote, and when that issue has been settled, as after the civil rights movement and voting act. To revive the previous controversy is unacceptable and must be avoided. Trump’s candidacy has raised several of these kinds of issues.
Then, there are issues on which we have been moving rapidly toward political resolution, but on which Trump would reverse course. We could decide that women are just less worthy as workers and deserve less pay, but women are about done with that kind of suppression. We can rely on fear for our basic motivations, but that is doomed to become exhausting, oppressive, and counter-productive. The United States can try to become a modern empire on a model like the old Roman Empire – but that is fantasy and immoral. We could try to maintain a white majority in the US, but that will prove a simple denial of reality. We could raise established and fundamental issues of civil rights again, but that is just asking for pervasive pain. Racism in many of its manifestations is definitely at stake in this election, but we must move forward instead of backwards. Keeping Muslims out of the US and many of Trump’s other promises comes pretty close to the sort of ridiculously negative standard exemplified in slavery. But there are other proposals that are even closer to an absolute “NO”: like a proposal to proliferate nuclear weapons!
Another valued friend that I deeply respect opined that change is needed and that it is Trump who would bring it about. I can appreciate the way most of us are sick and tired of all politicians seeming to play the same game in which “the fix” is on and “we the people” are not in on it; I share the yearning for some genuine political reform. But going where Trump would take us is only to jump from the frying pan into the fire.