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.

If You Choose to Support Trump in Part, You Are Choosing to Support “The Full Catastrophe”
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

David Duke was running hard for the Senate. The Louisiana media was following his every move, reporting all the juicy controversies that popped up on a daily basis, and making him the center of attention for the electorate. At one point Duke offered a proposal that many, even activists who opposed him with great passion, found relatively plausible. It had nothing to do with white supremacy or racism; it actually seemed downright innocuous to most observers. The buzz was that it might even be considered valid and certain politicians on the opposite side were beginning to consider how being able to support something Duke proposed might be good politics. One of the people working to elect Duke’s opponent was Kenneth Duncan, Treasurer of the State of Louisiana and President of the National Association of State Treasurers. At a certain juncture, Duncan found him self cornered by reporters who were asking if he was going to give the proposal his imprimatur.

“Have you read what Duke has to say about it? Will you be able to go along with it?” Duncan replied without hesitation: “I don’t have to read anything he writes. I only need to see whose name is there. I am not going to support the political standing and power of a David Duke by supporting him on anything. He is too toxic to touch.”

That made a lot of sense to me. It was not until Duke was sufficiently isolated by colleagues who would not play ball with him that he finally disappeared into the background.

Then suddenly late this spring, he was on every national news channel announcing his support for Donald Trump. Trump’s response was utterly revealing. Trump refused to distance himself from Duke until the coded signals of racism had been duly received and recorded. It is legitimate to speculate that Trump’s posturing about Duke helped move him along the path to presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.

These now are days when a lot of jockeying is taking place among Republicans, seeking positions that might allow them to have their cake and eat it too. Many are pointing to certain aspects of the Trump candidacy that they can support while acknowledging with long faces that the decision as a whole is problematic. One approach of “Vichy Republicans” – the ones who choose to go along with the take over and occupation of their political party – is to try to distinguish between those issues and areas of governance on which they may be able to support him and the things about which they want to disassociate.

Let’s be clear, if a voter or a politician supports Trump on any one of his ideas, assertions, accusations, proposals, and promises, — his program — that person is supporting all of what will happen if he becomes President.

If it troubles one that Muslims will be blocked from coming to the land first founded on the desire for freedom of religion,

if one would rather not see a wall against Mexicans,

if it causes concern that women will have a leader who is so an obviously a misogynist,

if it distresses voters to realize that the word of a President Trump would not be trustworthy or even to be taken seriously and that when he speaks he will be casually ruthless,

if it is problematic for a President to be lazy and ignorant about “the what” and “the how-to” of government,

if it is uncomfortable to put your life and those of your children and families in Trump’s hands after being warned about his plans for nuclear proliferation and the inevitable use of nuclear arms – by a range of countries,

Then, please be aware that you will be responsible for all of this – and so much more – that the candidate has openly exposed.

The person who chooses to support Trump because she or he can support him in part? That person becomes responsible for the whole!

Will Roman Catholic bishops and clergy call the faithful to vote for Trump — the way abortion has trumped all other issues since Roe v. Wade? 

150721183714-donald-trump-large-169“Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion…ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation.”
-Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan

“…real Catholics” should determine whether candidates are in tune with church teaching on abortion and “vote accordingly.”
-Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput

When John Kerry, a faithful Roman Catholic and former altar boy, ran for President of the United States of America he was barred from accepting Communion by Bishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis. Bishops around the country, as in Boston, New Orleans, and Portland deemed it inappropriate for candidates who support abortion and gay rights to partake in the central ritual of their church to receive communion. In many dioceses and in parish churches throughout the United States clergy declared it a sin to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate and called for votes for George W. Bush (a Protestant).

In short order, President Bush declared a policy of pre-emptive war, something that the church hierarchy had, time and again, declared immoral. It was not long before the President led the United States into a war that failed to meet the long-standing Christian standard of a “just war.” The national Council of Catholic Bishops had also clearly expressed its firm opposition to torture, capital punishment, and the devastating results of the widening gap between rich and poor. In George W. Bush church leaders discovered that they had helped elect a President who violated each of these, and many other, Catholic standards for moral governance. But they did get a President who opposed abortion.

This has been a long-standing pattern, not only in presidential elections, but also for all offices. Abortion has been an issue that trumps all others, at least for many leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, there are several other issues regarding sexual morality and equality for women where there is sharp and important disagreement between Roman Catholics (usually together with right wing fundamentalists) and other Christians. But abortion is the one where compromise seems implacable.

It is difficult to imagine any bishop or priest calling for a vote against a candidate who refuses to favor ways for a more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth. How unlikely is it that Roman Catholics will be told to vote against those who favor the death penalty? Pope Francis recently said that the position taken by Donald Trump on immigration was “un-Christian.” But the words were barely out of his mouth before he was challenged to compare that opinion with the agreement he and the candidate share regarding abortion.

In the coming election, will bishops and priests admonish the faithful against voting for Trump because of the range and radical nature of the many issues on which the church disagrees with him?

What if Trump, or another candidate who wants to build the same walls to hold out immigrants while forbidding Muslims to enter the country, is the only anti-abortion choice? That may well be the case. The appointment of the next President to the Supreme Court is likely either to overturn Roe v. Wade or to establish it more securely as the law of the land. What is the Roman Catholic to do who believes that abortion is evil but also believes in the other moral positions taken by the church? What will the Pope himself feel about having to choose between the central importance of abortion over against so many other instances in which Christian morality will be violated? If he expresses himself one way or the other – if he defines the priorities between issues of social morality; if he expresses some nuance that defines abortion as some kind of lesser sin than killing a baby – it will be a most interesting moment in American politics.

Here is one of the major problems up to now: the doctrinal conclusion that human life begins at the very moment of conception led to the often declared charge that abortion is murder, or even infant genocide. Murder and genocide are absolute terms: absolute in terms of evil, absolute in terms of definition, and absolute in terms of inflexibility. They give no room for alternatives, compromise, or choice. Even if the majority of the body politic disagrees with such a conclusion, even if most people cannot imagine that their view is murderous, differences of opinion cannot be permitted; prevention must become the law. It should be obvious that this whole line of reasoning goes over the top; its basic premises take it to a position that is too extreme and exaggerated to be plausible. This goes a long way toward explaining why the single issue of abortion has trumped all others for those who sincerely accept the doctrine at face value.

Recently Donald Trump stumbled and had to reverse himself when he was confronted with the logic that leads to the accusation of murder. Put on the spot he could not think his way out of it: if abortion is murder it has to be criminalized and the one causing it – the woman – has to be punished. Simultaneously, the interviewer himself exposed more of the contradictory conclusions that are inherent in the church’s belief and political action. When Trump questioned Chris Matthews about his personal loyalty to the church’s position, it was reduced to a “moral” teaching. What that exposed is a false gulf between personal morality and communal morality, between religious and legal morality. Even so, in separating the church’s teaching on abortion from law it laid bare the problem with the church’s attempt to impose its doctrine as a matter of law, largely through siding with anti-abortion candidates. The bishops and clergy who trump all else in an attempt to eliminate the right to choose, legally, are following doctrinal premises to their logical conclusions.

That this conclusion is based on premises that fail the tests of logic and plausibility is exposed in that the pro-life movement finds it necessary to avoid imposition of criminal sanctions on women who choose to have an abortion. A deeper logic takes over when society is forced to contemplate the criminality of such women; a more believable logic emerges with premises that actually suit the realities. However, to avoid the logic that follows the stated premises properly the “pro-life” movement resorts to another illogical – insulting – conclusion: while women should not be allowed to make such life and death decisions for themselves, when they make the wrong decision and perform what is deemed to be as awful as murder it is only because they can’t help themselves. Women “generously” are reduced to being victims – of their own nature, one must suppose.

Much is getting exposed during the campaign of 2016, a culmination of what has been unfolding over several campaigns during the post Roe v. Wade generation. The “trumping” power of the abortion issue in elective politics has been building to the level of a crisis because it reveals significant flaws within a doctrine of the church that seeks to stand for life.

If Donald Trump becomes the only “pro-life” candidate for President the crisis in doctrine may be at a breaking point. What will happen? How is the church going to respond?