The Corner

Religion

No One Really Likes to Be the Lesser Evil

President Donald Trump attends the National African American History Month Reception at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 21, 2019. (Jim Young/REUTERS)

I agree with every word of Jonah’s post below about Glenn Beck’s truly bizarre endorsement of Donald Trump’s masculinity. But let’s go just a bit deeper. There are theological implications to Trump rationalizations — especially in a movement so thick with Christian conservatives.

The redefinition of good character that we so often see on the Trump right reminds me of the powerful words contained in the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1998 resolution on the moral character of public officials. At the height of the Clinton scandals, the Baptists rightly declared, “Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.”

The interesting question is how does tolerance of wrong sear the conscience? The answer lies deep within human nature. It’s easy to justify a one-time event like a vote as a defensible choice between the lesser of two evils, but few people can stomach being a part of a movement that’s simply “less evil.” People want to be a part of something good. We want to be a part of something that we’re proud of, and we’ll go to great lengths to rationalize that movement even when its leaders turn out to be bad — especially when we see no way to purge those leaders and replace them with better men or women.

Older conservatives can’t forget the extent to which many Democrats not only defended Bill Clinton on the legal merits of the claims against him, but also the extent to which they attempted to change public attitudes about sexual morality. Having a mistress was suddenly no big deal, and parts of the cultural elite purported to long for the greater sophistication of the European public — where wives and mistresses could allegedly even know and respect each other. Younger progressives who’ve grown up in the era of heightened awareness of sexual power dynamics would be stunned at the arguments of their parents.

This same impulse is now at work on the Right. Republicans want to be proud of their president. They want to believe their movement isn’t just better than the Democrats, but that it’s actually good and decent and virtuous. And so they rationalize Trump. They make excuses. Make no mistake, there are many, many decent Republicans doing heroic work across the country and who see Trump clearly, but there are also too many Republicans who are busy trying to transform Trump’s vices into virtues. They’re rejecting the “lesser evil” by redefining it as good, and they’re damaging their credibility and Christian witness in the process.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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