Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Like Classroom Talk

I’ve already stated, in no uncertain terms, that Trump’s crass conversation about women — what he refers to as his “locker-room talk” — was depraved and inexcusable. But I have to confess that I’m a little bit incredulous to the people I’ve been seeing on Twitter who make as if comments like those are actually not locker-room talk; as if they’re in fact abnormal or something. I find that extremely naive.

Just today I was a substitute at the local high school, where right there in the classroom I had to reprimand a group of otherwise decent girls for singing Afroman’s “Colt 45” word-for-word for all to hear. I would say look it up, but you probably shouldn’t. Trump’s remarks are tame by comparison.

There’s Twitter world, and then there’s the real world.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Another Trump Post

First, I have a comment on the politics of what happened Friday. On the one hand, a video surfaced that showed Trump making crass remarks about women. On the other hand, something came out about Hillary saying that politicians need to have both a private and a public opinion. And both of these things came out on the same day, just two days prior to the second presidential debate. This is all part of the political game that’s being played.

Personally, I think Trump’s apology was a political apology more than anything. I suppose it might have been sincere to a degree, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Trump continued to talk and behave this way in private settings.

It does puzzle me that many people act as if these remarks somehow add something new to what we know about Trump. But it’s not really surprising that Trump made unguarded comments like these in a private setting eleven years ago, when the prospect of running for president likely wasn’t even on his radar. Frankly, I’m a little bit surprised there aren’t more videos out there like this one (although thirty days is a long time). My point is that we already knew Trump was crass. We already knew he said offensive things about women. We already knew he was sexually promiscuous, if not now then in the past. And those things are just as morally reprehensible as they’ve always been.

As is often the case, however, some of the mud that’s been slung does need to be cleared away. A lot of people are describing this latest disgrace in terms of “abuse” or “assault” on Trump’s part — some are even referring to him as a predator — but that’s not a very honest assessment. Trump’s comments were obviously derogatory, but speaking crassly about women to your guy friends in private is not the same thing as abusing or assaulting them.

Furthermore, Trump’s remarks make it pretty clear that he was speaking about women who let him make such advances. In our cultural crusade to denounce anything and everything that might possibly be perceived as misogyny, we sometimes forget that women are themselves more than capable of being perfectly wicked. And I don’t doubt for a second that Trump has been involved with those sorts of women — married ones even — who gladly allowed him to do whatever he wanted, just like he described. My only point in saying this is that those kinds of situations ought not be called abuse or assault. That’s just consensual depravity.

It is depravity nonetheless. Which is why my vote in this election, more so than in any other, truly does feel like a choice between the lesser of two evils. At the same time, the release of this video doesn’t magically make an illogical inference logical. As I observe the reactions of never-Trumpers, the reasoning appears to be the same as it’s always been: if Trump is sexually immoral, then that means he wouldn’t do anything good for the country as president. And I’m running out of ways to express how manifestly illogical that is.

But for other never-Trumpers, I think this is simply a matter of being principially unwilling to vote for someone who has bad character, even if that person would do wonderful things on all the issues that Christians care about. Doug Wilson exemplifies this perspective in a post he wrote a couple weeks ago (scroll down to the last several paragraphs). With people like Wilson (assuming I’m reading him correctly), I don’t have to waste my breath trying to establish that Trump is likely to aid the pro-life cause, because Wilson still wouldn’t vote for Trump even if it were virtually certain that he would do wonderful things for the unborn. That’s a breathtaking admission, but I appreciate the fact that Wilson is honest about it (again, assuming I’m reading him correctly).

I do want to try and avoid saying the same things that I’ve said many times before, so let me offer a thought that I don’t think I’ve fielded yet. When it comes to this thing called voting, I think it stands to reason that a person’s vote means whatever he says it means. For example, when I voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, it was my prerogative as a voter to determine that my vote was not an endorsement of his Mormonism. And by the same token, when I vote for Donald Trump, it’s my prerogative as a voter to determine that my vote is by no means an endorsement of his personal immorality. And get this: since I say that my vote is not an endorsement of his immorality, that means (like, by definition) that it isn’t. So all of the never-Trumpers who keep saying “You vote for him, therefore you endorse his character” really need to put a sock in it. You don’t determine what other people’s votes mean.

Along the same lines, a lot of never-Trump evangelicals are stressing out about Christians “losing their witness” by voting for Trump. But this falsely assumes that a vote amounts to condoning everything a candidate has ever said or done. Votes have never meant that. Why have they suddenly started meaning that now?

I recently made a comment on Twitter in regards to so-called “principled” voting, and a friend of mine said it was compelling and deserved to be elaborated on. So that’s what I’d like to do now.

In my experience, some of the people who care the most about “principled” voting also speak of their vote as a protest. They say that a principled vote — for a third party or whoever — is a way of letting the government know that we’re not going to be bullied into voting for the lesser of two evils. And the idea, I assume, is that a large number of principled votes will perhaps in some measure motivate politicians to straighten up and be less evil. But that rationale is itself pragmatic to a degree, and not purely principled. If you’re truly committed to a pure-principle standard of voting, then you ought to vote that way regardless of whether anyone ever sees or takes note of who you voted for.

Moreover, it seems to me that regardless of what names end up on the ballot, there would virtually always be someone else out there who better aligns with your personal principles. So here’s my question to anyone who’s planning to vote third-party out of a stated commitment to vote their principles: Is there really no one else in the entire world whom you think would be a better candidate than the third-party guy you’re voting for? And if there is someone else out there who aligns more with your views, then wouldn’t a pure-principle standard require you to write that person in?

The rest of this post will be a running commentary on some of the things I’ve seen on Twitter over the past couple days. First is this comment from David French:
Honestly, pro-Trump evangelicals, in future elections don’t try to argue that character matters. Just don’t.
Character matters just as much as it always has. But for French, character doesn’t even matter enough for him to do what he can to help the candidate with the least atrocious character get into office. For anyone who’s thinking realistically, this is a binary election. You have two choices. Barring an act of God, the winner of this election is going to be either Trump or Hillary. This being the case, you can’t talk about Trump’s character without comparing it to Hillary’s.

It seems to me that, for some reason, we’ve practically limited the concept of character to matters of truth-telling, personal manners, and sexual conduct. But am I being crazy to suggest that if someone promotes and celebrates the systematic destruction of millions of babies, then that kind of amounts to a character problem, and a rather severe one at that? Why does it feel like abortion has become so taken for granted in our society that individuals who promote such atrocities can still be viewed, even by Christians, as having decent character?

What is more, not only does Hillary’s abortion-consecration amount to a severe character problem, but it’s also the kind of problem that will have a direct and massive impact on the nation as a whole — far more so in my judgment than would Trump’s character problems. So as admittedly repulsive as Trump’s character is, I still feel obligated to vote for him. Because it’s a vote against Hillary, whose character I find to be not only more atrocious, but also far more dangerous to the nation.
@LoveLifeLitGod (Karen Swallow Prior)
A winning election for abortion either way. With one candidate you get supply. With the other, demand.
Never-Trumpers are fond of punchy one-liners that have the appearance of wisdom, but are actually quite simplistic and unhelpful. It’s true that sexual immorality and the abortion industry are interrelated on a macro level. But again, Hillary’s radically pro-abortion values would directly impact the direction in which she takes the country on that issue, and I simply can’t see how Trump’s personal immorality, repulsive as it is, could have the same impact. The vast majority of pro-choice voters are backing Hillary for a reason, and it’s because her election would be a palpable victory for abortion as opposed to a conceptual, ethereal, or theoretical one.
@drmoore (Russell Moore)
The damage done to the gospel this year, by so-called evangelicals, will take longer to recover from than the ‘80s TV evangelist scandals.
Moore has been unimpressive to me lately, but even for him this was a surprising statement. Does he really think the gospel is so weak as to be seriously damaged, or damaged at all really, by this stupid election? Talk about dramatic.

Perhaps Moore only means to say that the church’s witness will be damaged. I still say that’s dramatic. But if the church’s witness (at least its witness at the politico-national level, where Moore resides) is damaged at all, it won’t be due to the fact that many Christians chose to (begrudgingly) vote for Trump. Rather, it’ll be because of the Christian leaders who have admittedly been far more gung-ho for Trump than they ought to be. I readily grant that people like Jerry Falwell Jr. and James Dobson have gone off the deep end in trying to paint Trump as a baby Christian. That really needs to stop.
If you have a daughter and plan on voting for Trump then you should listen to that audio with them and explain to them why you are able to
That would be the easiest conversation ever. The opposing candidate wants America to keep killing millions of babies.
It is now time for Donald Trump to step aside and let Mike Pence be the Republican nominee. It would be a delight to support Pence.
A lot of people seem to be calling for this, but I don’t see it happening. I like Pence a lot, and would obviously vote for him gladly. But I do wonder what effect that would have on electability. Would Pence be able to beat Hillary? If that isn’t likely, then Trump should stay put.

One concluding thought: As I consider the policies of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and as I read the party platform that they represent, it seems obvious to me that they are most likely, considering the opposition, to take our country in the right direction. So I have no problem giving them my vote, because I want to see that happen.

But let the record show that I think it’s certainly possible Trump would be a disaster as president. And just for fun, let’s imagine that’s what happens. Let’s imagine that he wins the presidency, keeps none of his promises, and basically takes the nation down the same path that Hillary would have. Even if that were to happen, I’d still feel that I had good cause to vote for him, based on the knowledge that I had at the time.

And down the road, if an unbeliever ever says to me, “I don’t want your Christianity if you voted for Trump,” then I’ll just know that I’m talking to a supremely unreasonable person.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Trump Talk with Jared Wilson

Twitter is an odd thing to me. It seems as if all the people who care the most about expressing their opinions on controversial issues decided to pick the social media platform that is least suited to that end. Sometimes we’ll see people stringing together ten tweets in order to make a single point, which is odd. Why not just let us type more than 140 characters? For all of the hate that Facebook gets, it’s vastly superior to Twitter in this regard.

Nevertheless, the other night, I gave in to one of those irksome retweets that occasionally find their way into my feed through some friends of mine. It was this tweet from Jared Wilson:
The moral contortions evangelicals are doing to demonize HRC while defending Trump are breathtaking. The butt fumble of political discourse
There’s nothing particularly unique about this tweet. It’s pretty much par for the never-Trump course. It’s just that sometimes all of the anti-Trump rhetoric reaches a breaking point, where I can’t seem to resist the urge to fire back. And that’s what this tweet happened to be for me. I’ve already said that Twitter isn’t built for thoughtful dialogue, and the debate that ensued between myself and Wilson proved no exception. So I’m writing this post in order to say everything that I wanted to say during that exchange.

Here’s the first part of our exchange:
@jaredcwilson Trump’s flaws don’t even begin to compare with Hillary’s evil. This choice is not the least bit difficult.
@JoelGriffis You’re right. And it begins with soberly realizing that Trump’s “flaws” are equally evil.
@jaredcwilson Please write a blog post explaining how Trump’s flaws are just as evil as promoting and celebrating infanticide. Please.
So my request was for Wilson to explain how Trump is just as bad as Hillary. And I was looking for some detailed and thoughtful ethical comparisons. So Wilson linked me to a post he wrote back in June. In that post, he repeatedly asserts, in variously smug ways, that Trump is just as bad as Hillary and that evangelicals who vote for him are morally compromised. So of course, I was still left with my original question: How is Trump just as bad as Hillary?
@jaredcwilson That’s just a frustrated rant. You make the same assertion in half a dozen different ways. It doesn’t answer my question. 
@JoelGriffis If you are familiar with Trump’s career and lifestyle and cannot call it evil, I’m sure I can’t help you.
I’m perfectly willing to say that Trump is evil. That’s the whole point of voting for the lesser of two evils. But the reason I tend to refer to Trump’s problems as “flaws,” and Hillary’s problems as “evil,” is because I think there’s a vast difference between the two as it relates to their potential roles as president, and I want that to be reflected in the language that I use. Wilson, on the other hand, likes to simplistically refer to both Hillary and Trump as “evil,” without any distinction of language, because that plays better into his insistence that Trump and Hillary are equally evil. But that’s the whole debate.
@jaredcwilson You can’t seriously place “race-baiting” alongside abortion-celebrating. Wake up man. 
@JoelGriffis His serial adultery, pornography, *and* ambiguous abortion views are very much on par. I am awake. You’re a relativist
To give some context to these remarks, let me quote something Wilson said in his June post:
“You want me to avoid the race-baiting, womanizing, greedy and boorish dullard by voting for the abortion-consecrating, national security-compromising, rapist-supporting liar? Or vice-a versa? No.”
It truly does surprise me that when Wilson wrote this sentence it didn’t hit him like a ton of bricks just how vastly more egregious Hillary’s flaws are than Trump’s. And that’s even assuming the ones he listed for Trump are accurate, though I don’t think all of them are. I’m afraid the whole race-baiting thing is something I just can’t take seriously. Boorish means he’s bad-mannered, which Wilson apparently thinks is morally comparable to abortion-consecrating. And to call Trump a dullard – a stupid person – is absurd. You don’t become a billionaire by being stupid. Lacking personal morals and manners is not the same thing as lacking intelligence. Trump is far more intelligent than the majority of his critics.

Note also that Wilson called me a relativist, which I found odd. A relativist is someone who thinks that moral laws are subjective; that what’s immoral for one person may not be immoral for someone else. But where did I even vaguely communicate such an idea? Trump’s womanizing is just as morally reprehensible as anyone else’s womanizing. But if you’re accusing me of thinking that there are in fact degrees of sin, and that some sins are more relevant to the task of presidency than others, then I’m happily guilty as charged. Only that’s not relativism.
@jaredcwilson But they’re not on par at all. How can that be obvious to you? 
@JoelGriffis Unsurprised it’s not obvious to you. He’s GOP, ergo his evil gets a pass. Porn/adultery directly related to abortion culture
Wilson truly went out on a limb insinuating that I’m a blind follower of the GOP. I couldn’t care less about the GOP as such. But I do pay enough attention to notice that the GOP consistently produces the most conservative electable candidate, so that’s the candidate I vote for. But if Hades freezes over one day, and the democrats produce that candidate, then I’ll gladly abandon the GOP.

Wilson does make a decent point about the inter-relatedness of sexual immorality and abortion culture. I’ll readily agree that those two issues, generally conceived, are related on a macro level. Although I’m not sure we can say definitively which problem facilitates the other. Does sexual immorality facilitate abortion culture, or does abortion culture facilitate sexual immorality? Be that as it may, it seems obvious to me that Trump’s personal promiscuity, while morally reprehensible, is not a direct contributor to the institutional slaughter of millions of unborn babies. But Hillary’s personal “abortion-consecrating” values, on the other hand, would be a direct contributor if she became president.
@jaredcwilson Don’t give a rip about the GOP. I’m after the candidate who will do better things for our country, and its unborned citizens. [edit: unborn, lol]
@JoelGriffis If you’re convinced that’s Trump, like I said, I can’t help you. Too many wrong paradigms leading to that relativistic choice
The “paradigms” leading me to conclude that Trump would aid the pro-life cause are the same “paradigms” leading me to conclude that Hillary would hinder it. Is Wilson even sure that Hillary is pro-abortion? If so, how does he know that? Is it not based on what Hillary says and does? What else does he have to go on?

Someone else in the Twitter conservation made the oft-repeated point that Trump described himself as pro-choice in 1999, which should make us suspicious. But what kind of sense does it make to assume that someone is probably not pro-life today if he was pro-choice 17 years ago? By the same logic, we can’t be too sure that Hillary supports gay marriage today, because at one time (very recently actually) she didn’t support it.
@JoelGriffis There is zero evidence to point to Trump as pro-life and a lot that points the other way. Racism, misogyny are pro-death too
Let’s review some of the evidence that Wilson says isn’t evidence: Trump picked an unquestionably pro-life vice president in Mike Pence. Trump has repeatedly vowed to appoint conservative, pro-life, Scalia-like justices to the Supreme Court, and has released a list of potential appointees showing that he knows what kind of people to look for. Trump has repeatedly denounced the horrors of Planned Parenthood, and has consistently supported defunding the organization. Trump also created a pro-life coalition within his campaign, headed up by Marjorie Dannenfelser and a number of additional pro-life leaders. In light of all this, it’s no surprise that pro-life organizations keep endorsing Trump. He has even caused fear and trepidation within the pro-choice camp, who seem to be taking him far more seriously on this issue than they’ve taken previous GOP candidates.

So I have to confess that if people like Wilson continue to insist that none of this stuff really counts as evidence that Trump will aid – or will even likely aid – the pro-life cause, then I’m not sure what else to say. The commitment to #NeverTrump seems to have reached a level that’s impossible to reason with.

I hesitate to comment on Wilson’s remark about racism and misogyny, because I find it so completely unfounded. If Trump were a racist, why are there a large number of black people who don’t think that’s true? Why doesn’t Ben Carson think that? David Clarke? Perhaps Don King is a little off the wall, but what about all those other people in that black church? Why don’t any of these individuals think that Trump is a racist? I would submit that it’s probably because Trump is actually not a racist, and that the people who view him as such have an extraordinarily poor understanding of what racism actually is.

And I would say the same as it relates to misogyny. Trump has certainly been nasty to a number of his female critics, but he isn’t any more or less nasty with his female critics than he is with his male critics. There’s no reason to think that he harbors some kind of particular animosity toward women in general.

But here’s the fundamental problem with Wilson’s remark in my mind: It’s one thing to maintain, for bad reasons, that Trump is a racist and a misogynist; but it’s another level of absurd to claim those problems are as equally life-destroying as the pro-death policies that are explicitly written in to the party platform that Hillary proudly represents. I simply can’t take that seriously.

Another stream of the debate went like this:
@JoelGriffis I for one cannot bend biblical morality to fit my preferred political party. 
@jaredcwilson David and Solomon were womanizers who were celebrated in their role as kings. 
@JoelGriffis Oh brother. Now he’s King David. Evangelicals have lost their minds, traded in morality for political soup
With what little bit of a mind I’ve got left, I’d like to respond to this. Wilson made as if I was claiming Trump would be the next king David, as if I was saying Trump is a man after God’s own heart or something, which I obviously wasn’t saying. I was pointing out that if Wilson wants to present himself as a champion of the Bible’s civil leadership standards, then he should probably pay attention to the fact that a number of celebrated kings in the Bible were womanizers to a degree that makes Trump look like a one-woman man.

Wilson’s correct in that the Bible makes no excuses whatsoever for their immorality, but it does celebrate them in their role as kings. So if a womanizer could be a good king (who has total power) in Old Testament Israel, where godliness was far more expected of the leadership; then surely a womanizer could be a good president (who has limited power) in these pagan United States, where godliness has virtually no place in the political realm.

To give a more modern example of the same kind of thing: I suspect that most people would speak positively about the presidency of JFK, even though by all accounts he was a serial adulterer. As morally inexcusable as his adultery was, it didn’t keep him from being an effective president who did good things for the country.

And once again, none of this is said in order to excuse womanizing even a little bit.
@jaredcwilson Why are you shallowly deflecting my point? I didn’t say he was David. I said womanizers can be good kings. It’s in the Bible. 
@JoelGriffis You are the one who calls such things “flaws.” The Bible calls it evil. David was a murderer too, so I guess HRC is exonerated
So if David was also a murderer, then maybe Hillary gets a pass too? That’s a fair reductio, although I’d say an isolated instance of purposefully facilitating the death of a military commander by means of a particular battle formation (evil as that is) hardly compares to authorizing and celebrating nation-wide policies that lead to the destruction of millions of babies. I’ll let the point stand regardless.

It was Wilson who wanted to paint himself as the one who’s being most faithful to the Bible, so I simply offered a biblical consideration. But all he did was run a reductio on it, like I was being silly to talk about biblical kings and such. So I guess all I’ll say is that if Wilson doesn’t think biblical civil leaders are relevant to a debate concerning the Bible’s view of . . . civil leaders, then that’s fine. Let’s talk about some other part of the Bible that Wilson thinks is relevant. (And I’m only being a little bit facetious, because I do think it’s reasonable to question the relevance of Old Testament monarchy to our present-day American experience.)

Let me try to make some concluding remarks now.

I’ve said often that Trump’s promiscuity is easily the most regrettable thing about him for me, and it’s something for which he should be deeply ashamed. But as the old saying goes, I’m voting for a president, not a pastor. And despite how much scorn has been heaped up against that sentiment during this election cycle, it remains a perfectly valid consideration. Your auto-mechanic can do a fine job fixing your car regardless of what his personal morality looks like.

I anticipate that here someone might respond by saying that the president’s job is much different than the auto-mechanic’s. It’s the kind of job where character really matters. I think that’s a fair point, and very true to an extent. But let’s chase that thought further.

What kind of character matters? Would never-Trump evangelicals be willing to vote for a candidate who was not a Christian? I assume that most of them would say yes. But what does a candidate’s unbelief say about his character? Well, he presumably is someone who thinks he has no need for Jesus, so he’s self-righteous and prideful to some degree. That’s a character flaw. But is it the kind of character flaw that matters? If not, then what kind of character flaw does matter?

To bring it right down to the point: Which one of Trump’s character flaws will render him incapable of putting policies into place that are going to be good for the country as a whole? How will sexual immorality, for instance, keep him from being able to defund Planned Parenthood, or reform immigration, or fix the economy, or keep the nation secure? Do that math for everyone, and show your work.

But now let’s see if there are anywhere near as many steps in the math when it comes to Hillary and her flaws. Wilson described Hillary as “national security-compromising.” So how will Hillary’s tendency to compromise national security keep her from being able to maintain national security? You see how the question sounds silly, because it basically answers itself? You see how there’s a direction correlation between Hillary’s flaw and her role as president?

And how will Hillary’s consecration of abortion keep her from being able to fight against abortion? Once again, no math required. The question answers itself, because there’s a direct correlation between Hillary’s flaw and her role as president. Only this time, it really is wildly inappropriate to use the term “flaw,” because we’re talking about the destruction of millions of unborn lives.

A good friend of mine recently told me that he can’t bring himself to vote for Donald Trump, because he would view such a vote as an endorsement of Trump’s character. But if you vote for a non-Christian, is your vote an endorsement of their unbelief? If you voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, was your vote an endorsement of his Mormonism? If you voted for George Bush or John McCain, did that mean you endorsed everything they supported? Did it mean you endorsed everything they ever said or did? If not, then why does voting for Trump have to be seen as an endorsement of his personal character? Why are only certain kinds of flaws, and not others, seen as being practically endorsed by a vote?

Regardless of how these questions get answered, at the end of the day, if my friend simply can’t vote for Trump in good conscience, because he would view his vote as an endorsement of Trump’s character, then I sincerely respect that. I do wish he thought differently, but I’m perfectly willing to respect his conscience in the matter, and I have no intention of demonizing him. And I feel confident that this friend would say the same back to me. That’s the kind of #NeverTrump I can live with.

But speaking for myself, my conscience refuses to let me sit this election out, when I’ve been privileged with a vote that can help put someone in office who will be far more likely to make this country even just a little bit safer for its unborn citizens. My conscience also refuses to let me sit this election out in a different way by voting for a candidate who has about as much chance of winning as my grandma does.