Dear friends (and please believe me when I say that I do see you as my friends), I am not one of your flock, but I am somebody who respects you and believes that your voice is important to our public discourse. I admire your faith and your passion. It is part of the richness that makes our Republic grand.
But let’s talk about Donald Trump. Yes, you are correct, I didn’t vote for him, and I don’t think he is a very good president. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Like most people who follow the news, I know that many of you did vote for him and do support him — more than just about any other quantifiable demographic in the United States. A lot of people are confused by this, given the fact that he is not the sort of person who would normally appeal to a religious audience.
But I think I understand why you support him — or, at least, why you could not support his opponent. The culture wars of the last 20 or so years have been brutal, and you have taken a lot of hits for your beliefs — beliefs that, not too long ago, were right in the center of the American mainstream and have now become less popular and less accepted. And I will acknowledge that a lot of the abuse you have received has been unfair and, quite frankly, inconsistent with the values of pluralism that many on the left hold. It is understandable that you think that liberals want to destroy you.
And (this will surprise you coming from someone like me), you are not entirely wrong about this. There are some on the left who do want to wipe your belief system off the face of the earth. Not everybody on the left, and I need to make this very clear. There are a lot of liberals (and I count myself here) who really do believe in pluralism and diversity and who will go to great lengths to protect your rights to enact your beliefs — even when it means that you criticize us and try to stamp our beliefs out of existence. Democracy is a messy game, but, like many who reside to the left of center, I believe that it is the best game in town.
But back to my point: there are a lot of people on the left who would love to rid the country of the beliefs that you stand for. There are people who want to destroy you, at least metaphorically. But what I want to suggest to you is that your nearly unqualified support of Donald Trump is not going to stop them. In the end, it will be the weapon that they use to finish you off.
That sounds drastic and threatening. I do think it is drastic, but, please believe that I am not trying to threaten you. I am, though, trying to point out a threat that you are going to face, and I urge you to hear me out before dismissing me as an uninformed leftist or a purveyor of fake news. I especially want to emphasize two points, both of them eminently supportable, that have some real consequences for all of our futures.
The first fact is that the long-term demographics in the country are more favorable for my side then they are for yours. Two groups in particular — Hispanic voters and voters under the age of 30 — now trend Democratic by a 2–1, and in some places a 3–1 ratio. And these are the fastest-growing demographic categories in the country. This may or may not swing the 2020 election, or even the 2024 election, but they will start to swing elections at some point, and the Trump administration — with its border wall, its environmental agenda, and its views on sexual and gender minorities — has probably alienated both groups on behalf of Republicans for at least a generation.
The more immediate issue, though, is that we ain’t seen nothing yet. There are a whole lot of really nasty revelations about Donald Trump that have yet to surface. Right now, he is, arguably, the most powerful human being in the world. He has a huge platform, a powerful political party whose interests are temporarily aligned with his, and the resources of the entire United States government at his fingertips. He has the ability to keep a lot of things from coming out and to cast a lot of doubt on the things that do come out.
And even with all of this, we get a steady stream of information about his personal peccadilloes and his political misdeeds. You know what I am talking about: the porn stars he has slept with, the women he is accused of assaulting, the information his campaign received from Russia, the requests he made of Ukraine, etc. etc. etc.
You have to ask yourself this: if he cannot keep these sorts of things from coming out with all of the resources he commands now, what will happen when he no longer has the platform or the power? We have a lot of historical precedent to go on here. Everything eventually comes out. The people who are beholden to him now will one day be free to talk. Classified files will be declassified. Political allies will no longer be allied to him. It will all come out eventually. History works that way.
And think of what that means. When Donald Trump is no longer the president, a story is going to emerge, and I am reasonably certain it is not going to be a pretty one. We will find out about all the porn stars, all the sexual assaults, all the abortions he has paid for, all the conversations he had with foreign leaders, and all of the ways he profited from the presidency. Every scrap of information will come out. And, I suspect, if you really search your hearts, you will realize that, when it all comes out, Trump is not going to look pretty bad — no matter how one defines the term. And he will look especially bad from the viewpoint of practicing Christians. And, fair or not, those who supported him most visibly will pay the heaviest price for their association.
And this is something that you really need to pay attention to. Your support is perhaps the one thing that historians will spend the most time trying to understand. Why did a group of religious and patriotic Americans throw their unconditional support behind a man who so often flouted the values of both religion and patriotism? Why did people of good faith support a man who openly bragged about sexually assaulting women, paid strippers and porn stars to keep quiet about their relationships with him, relentlessly bullied and demeaned anybody who questioned him, and made a mockery of our Constitution in the pursuit of personal power?
I can already see these questions forming, and, once they are established as questions, most of the information that comes out will be read as answers. And there is great risk for you here. By supporting Trump, and never questioning even the worst of his excesses, you will have sacrificed your moral authority and will be unable to influence our public discourse at a time when your influence will be needed the most.. These criticisms may not be fair, but they will be made nonetheless — and it is more than very possible that, when the steady drumbeat of new revelations starts to slow, Trump will be as indefensible as Joseph McCarthy or George Wallace. And this, I fear, will lead to a diminishing of your voices at a time when we will most need your wisdom and your perspective in our civic discourse.
Some day, you will want to argue for decency in politics, or for the moral imperative to elect moral leaders. But as soon as you do, you will be met with cries of, “don’t lecture us about morality; you supported Donald Trump when he paid off porn stars and talked openly about grabbing you-know-what.” You may very well want to make a case for things like states rights, judicial restraint, the rights of a minority party, the Constitutional separation of powers, or the inappropriateness of ruling by executive order. And the proverbial shoe will one day be on the other foot. Democracy is like that. Everybody’s ox eventually ends up getting gored.
But a great many people who might otherwise be persuadable when this happens simply aren’t going to listen. Your support of Donald Trump — which will be tied, not only to what we know about him now, but to every salacious detail that comes out about him in the years following his presidency — will render you much less able to defend these positions in the public sphere. Trump will become an albatross around your neck that your future opponents will be able to point to as they question the legitimacy of anything that you have to say. I strongly suspect that the things that Trump has brought you — the Supreme Court seats, part of a border wall, and a few executive orders that will be reversed the day after he leaves office — will not be worth the long-term costs that your support will incur.
In literary circles (I am by training an English teacher), we often talk about a thing called the Faustian bargain. This traces back to the various versions of the Faust legend (Marlowe, Goethe, Wilde, Mann, and even the musical “Damn Yankees”) in which a man sells his soul to the devil in exchange for great power. In nearly every version of the story (except for Goethe, but only if you read Part II, and who ever does?), the man gets all of the promised power, but, in the end, has to face a reckoning. The power is never worth it, and Satan, like Trump, never stands with those who sacrifice everything to serve him.
But we don’t have to go to medieval necromancer legends to find this. We can go instead to the New Testament, when Christ is tempted three times by Satan in the wilderness. In one of these (the second or the third, depending on whose version we are reading), Satan offers Jesus great political power — all of the kingdoms of the world. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8–9)
What the New Testament wants us to know is that this is not a good deal. All of the political power in the world is not worth your soul. It is an offer that we are always supposed to reject.