Misplaced Value Commitments in Politics
If you dig beneath the surface of everything you say or do, you will discover one or more value commitments, in the ordinary sense of some things that you judge to be important.
Therefore, to make some sense of the turmoil in contemporary American politics, one must seek to uncover the foundational value commitments of politicians and their followers.
In their revealing book Peril, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa report on three events surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency that reveal value commitments on Trump’s part that I believe are antithetical to the Christian faith; misplaced value commitments that are sadly becoming the norm in American politics.
Mike Balsamo, an Associated Press Justice reporter, was told by Bill Barr, then the Attorney General, that “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome of the [November 2020 presidential] election.” Trump asked Barr “why” he said this. Barr replied, “Because it is true.” To which, Trump replied, “You didn’t have to say that. You could have just said no comment” (Peril,169-170).
As a professing Christian, I am deeply committed to the value of “truth.” My three-word summary of the enterprise of Christian liberal arts education, to which I devoted forty years of my life, is “conversations seeking truth.” This commitment comports with the biblical exhortation to “follow the truth,” not just in theory, but by means of the “truth of your life” (III John:3).
In that light, I find Donald Trump’s indisputable penchant for lying throughout the course of his presidency to be antithetical to my understanding of the Christian faith. But it isn’t just the well-documented “blatant lying” in his choice of words that I find problematic; it is the attitude expressed by his words “no comment,” which he suggests should be Bill Barr’s alternative to telling the truth.
As bad as blatant lying is, what is just as insidious, if not more so, is when a politician or political advocate who knows fully well the “truth” about a given political issue, answers “no comment” to a question that is seeking to uncover that truth. It is this insidious indirect strategy for living in “untruth” that is becoming increasingly prominent in current political discourse in America.
PROMOTING THE WELL-BEING OF OTHERS
As a professing Christian, I am deeply committed to promoting the well-being of others.(although I often don’t do that as well as I should). Contrary to the hyper-individualism that is so prevalent in American culture, the biblical record is replete with exhortations for human beings to care for one another. Consider, for example the teaching recorded in Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This commitment to fostering the well-being of others stands in stark contrast to a popular conception of “power” in the following second snippet from Peril.
Vice President Mike Pence told President Trump that “He did not have the authority to do anything [on January 6, 2020] other than to count the electoral votes.” To which Trump responded: “But what if these people [those who gathered outside the White House on the evening of January 5] say you do [have the power to do more than simply count the votes]? … wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power? … You are weak. You lack courage” (Peril, 228-229).
This snippet reveals that Trump defines power in terms of “control.” You can control the results of the presidential election Mike. Isn’t that cool?
There is not the slightest hint in these words to Pence, or, as far as I can tell, in anything else that Donald Trump said or did during his presidency, that he had an obligation to use to power of his office primarily to promote the well-being of others, in stark contrast to controlling others. All the evidence suggests that Trump’s primary commitment was to promote himself and his interests. Such a self-centered value commitment is antithetical to my understanding of the Christian faith.
TRANSPARENTLY EMBRACING MY HUMANITY IN PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
That wordy title will take some unpacking. I will do so in light of a third snippet from Woodward and Costa.
General Milley apologized publicly for his June 2020 walk with President Trump from Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church that enabled Trump to brandish a Bible, which, supposedly, showed that Trump embraced the teachings of the Bible. The reason General Milley gave for his apology was that “My presence in that moment and that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics” Later Trump asked Milley, “Why did you apologize? … That’s a sign of weakness.” To which, Milley responded, “Where I was born [in the Boston-area] and how I was raised is when you make a mistake, you admit it” (Peril,106-107).
What Donald Trump fails to understand is the nature of being a “human being” as ordained by God. Being finite and fallible, and, therefore, open to the possibility of making mistakes, is inherent in the human condition, and to deny this is to deny your humanity. So, to admit to a mistake is not a sign of weakness. Only a strong person is willing to admit to his/her failures.
Furthermore, there are numerous biblical calls for human beings to live in positive personal relationships with one another. Being transparent with one another, which includes admitting to mistakes, is one ingredient of such positive personal relationships.
BUT AREN’T THERE OTHER CHRISTRIAN VALUES?
Yes! I have focused on three Christian values that I believe Donald Trump has consistently violated. In the conversation on the presidency of Donald Trump that I recently hosted (reported on this website – click onto the “Previous” icon), Trump supporters acknowledged that he did not measure up to these Christian values. But they were willing to overlook such failures because of the accomplishments of Trump in fostering other Christian values. For example, Trumpfostered the Cristian value of “life” when he appointed Supreme Court justices who will work for eliminating the easy access to abortion made possible by Roe vs. Wade.
My response to this particular prioritization of Christian values, on which I elaborate in my forthcoming book Let’s Talk, is that a good “end” does not justify an evil “means.” If one believes that easy access to abortion in “evil,” then one must consider the biblical teaching about how Christians are called to overcome evil. An evil “end” is not to be overcome by evil “means (Donald Trump’s violation of the Christian values, I have enumerated). Rather, as Romans 12: 21 teaches, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Therefore, as impossible as it may seem, except thought the eyes of faith, Christians who seek to eliminate easy access to abortion, must seek ways to accomplish that “end” by “means” that comport with the Christian values I have enumerated (In my forthcoming book, I propose that a “conversational model” for doing politics is such a “means”).
To come full circle back to where I began, I urge all who profess commitment to the Christian faith to dig down deep into their understanding of Christian values as a basis for deciding on their positions on thorny political issues.
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