After 33 years, since age 18, of consistently and unhesitatingly voting Republican, locally and nationally, this year will be the exception, if Donald Trump is the nominee.
The first presidential candidate for whom I voted was Ronald Reagan, who then and now embodied my own political theology, as a lifelong United Methodist of evangelical bent. It includes a Christian/natural law anthropology affirming the dignity of all persons from womb to grave, limited government rooted in lawful liberty, reverence for America’s founding documents, vigorous enactment of the state’s national security duties, and a providential confidence in our republic’s future.
Reagan did not fancy himself as a new historical revelation. He tied his beliefs to the Founders and to the continuity of his predecessors, including FDR, a Democrat whom he revered and on whom he modeled his own political style. Reagan could be polemical but also was expert in the unifying priestcraft of American civil religion.
Although he mimics the Reagan-era slogan of “let’s make America great again,” Trump offers and does not seem to aspire to any of Reagan’s political or personal virtues. His selection as the Republican nominee would implicitly renounce Reagan’s legacy. Even more troubling, it would break with 160 years of history for the GOP, which emerged from the northern Protestant, anti-slavery revivalism of the 1850s.
Evangelical political activism is imagined as a recent phenomenon, starting with Reagan. But the GOP has always been, however latently, the bearer of a sanguine Protestant ethos and morality. When a Nelson Rockefeller New York operative attended the 1968 Republican Convention in Miami Beach, he reported it felt like a Protestant church bazaar.
In contrast, a Trumpian GOP would at least rhetorically be post-Christian and Nietzschian — garish, full of personal boasts, claims of faux manliness, and sometimes open contempt for the reputedly weak.
The lofty democratic prose of American presidential politics that traces to the New England Puritan social contract, embodied in Reagan’s “city on a hill” citation, would be passé. It would be replaced by the chest pounding strong man pomposity that until recently was more typical of Third World authoritarian regimes.
America’s republic, rooted in the Anglo-British historical suspicion of despots and centralized power, traditionally glories in impartial laws, not the muscle of individual rulers. George Washington’s conscientious denial of a crown and permanent authority is the exemplar for American governance. But obedience to and supreme confidence in a willful personality seems to characterize Trumpism, in ways not seen often in America except with rare demagogues like Huey Long.
Trump professes to be a great patriot, but he does not affirm American Exceptionalism’s confidence in republican democracy, with human rights and legal equality for all, as the form of government superior to all others. It’s nearly impossible to imagine any American president publicly admiring or excusing the foreign despots whom Trump has implicitly embraced or excused. Nixon in his Machiavellian moods may have privately admired some dictators with whom he collaborated. But he revealed his core conviction when he rebutted Khrushchev’s braggadocio that future Americans would live under communism by telling the Soviet braggart his children would live in freedom. Would Trump have that confidence? Or would he have admired Khrushchev’s shoe-pounding, vulgar truculence?
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SOURCE: The Christian Post
Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a native of Arlington, Virginia. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988, when he wrote a study about denominational funding of pro-Marxist groups for his local congregation. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.