Tuesday, November 15, 2016

True Confessions of a Trump Voter

When my brother and I started this blog, we both sensed that was a great need for there to be a return to civility in our society because we seem to increasingly feel the wrongheaded need to surround ourselves only with people that only think like we do.  I read an article Mark posted about the need to dialogue following the election because many Hillary voters do not know ant Trump voters, and vice- versa.  For this I blame the left.  In a misguided attempt to achieve an illusory goal, they have determined that some speech is just too harsh to be endured and must not be allowed.  Mind you this is not what they say that is offensive to others.  Instead it is only speech they find offensive to themselves.  In such an environment, frank exchange is not possible. This is the toxic environment we find ourselves in.  For us whose beliefs are out of sync with these self-appointed arbiters of what is fair and right, we find it increasingly hard to be heard.  Our views are dismissed without analysis of their merit with shorthand cliches such as racist, bigot and homophobe. As a result, these accusations have lost meaning to us.  One of my inaugural blogs was about this. Democrats have used the same language about every Republican presidential candidate I can remember from the Reagan era on. They all are found to be dangerous and divisive. Therefore I was amused when I saw Bill Maher kind of acknowledge this by saying, in effect, we know we have used this same language before, but with Trump we really mean it.  Too late chum - you have cried wolf once too many times.

When we began this blog in May, it was with the intention that we would go through the campaign representing our opposing viewpoints in a civil fashion.  Well something happened to change that. Ben Carson was my guy and when he lost the nomination I had to scramble to find a positive rationale for my vote.  I was able to explain why I was opposed to Hillary easily enough, and I sincerely feel like we dodged a bullet that she is not president-elect.  However I could not muster any real enthusiasm for Trump.

As if by mutual agreement, we stopped the blog in August.  However just before the election we both were led to write for the first time in months.  When I wrote my entry, I was resigned in my heart that Trump was going to lose.  Everyone in the press and the polls told me that.  The "blue wall" had to breached and Trump such a seemingly narrow path to victory that it seemed highly unlikely he could shoot that rapids.  As the evening unfolded, because we do not have cable TV, I watched the poll numbers constantly update live on my computer.  This is the way I prefer to follow election results anyway - I well remember the missteps made by decision desks in past elections.  I am deprived of the insights provided by exit polls this way, but I saw that they were wrong in 2004, so I am skeptical of anything but the real numbers anyway.

What I saw unfolding was amazing.  Trump, defying all expectations, was shooting the rapids.  Using percentages of votes for each candidate, and simple math to determine the number of outstanding votes, I was calling states far before the press was.  At around nine o'clock I saw that a clear and increasingly likely path to victory existed.  By eleven o'clock I saw that what Hillary had to overcome was in the "too hard box", and started watching network coverage on the web.  I found that Trump was in even better shape than I thought as they had called Iowa and Wisconsin before I did.  I stayed up until the bitter end anyway.  When Hillary sent her campaign manager out to dismiss her supporters, I had a flashback to the election of 2000 when Al Gore did the same thing.  I thought that we were in for a repeat of that experience with additional acrimony added by the most bitter campaign in my memory.

When Trump finally came out to declare victory after 3am, I thought it was great but meant nothing until Hillary conceded the election, something she clearly had no intention of doing.  I was stunned when Trump said he had talked to "Secretary Clinton" (not crooked Hillary!) and she had conceded.  At that moment I had a curious reaction.  I had hated Hillary Clinton for her ambition and sense of entitlement, but at that moment I saw her as a human being.   I felt real compassion for her as she saw a dream she had for decades come to an end.  I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray for her right then.  Since I have learned to heed such prompting, I complied and I prayed earnestly that she might experience peace and get through the hurt I knew she was feeling.  In short, first time I was able to see past the wicked witch, the shrill harridan, and see instead who she was through God's eyes.  It was humbling.  Big deal you may say - your guy won so it was easy to be gracious in victory.  That is in part true, but then I was prepared to lose and you weren't.

Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist, as I once was.  The theology you will read in my next post is her theology, because I learned to be an Arminian in the UMC.  I parted ways with the Methodists however in the 1990's.  As a mainline denomination, they were moving in a direction I could not follow.  The problem, I believe lies in the corrupting of the conceptual frame in which we interpret Scripture (exegesis) .  It has 4 parts arranged in a hierarchy originally expressed by the 16th century theologian Richard Hooker:
       1) Scripture, where Scripture is plain. This means where the Bible clearly says something, it should be adhered to.
       2-3) Where Scripture is not plain, we are to use reason and experience.  For example, the Bible says nothing about the internet, but the same principles it does address should apply.  I have no right to scam someone on the internet because the internet is not mentioned in Scripture.
      4) Finally if something is completely unclear, I should remember that I am not the first to read the Bible and seek the counsel of 2000 years of Christians who have pondered the same passages.  This is tradition.

Methodists use the same 4 points in their exegesis only arrange them in what is called the "Wesley Quadrilateral".  This is usually depicted as a square with each side representing one of the parts.  The problem with this is obvious: instead of being the first in hierarchy, Scripture is now on equal footing with the other three parts.  This corruption has led to reason and experience trumping Scripture, and explains why Hillary and I can disagree so profoundly on so many things.

One thing that caused me a profound change in my philosophy of duty of faith and politics this cycle was how flawed I viewed Trump to be.  My reasons for voting for Trump seemed pretty earthly and pragmatic.  I was voting for him as the only candidate remotely reflecting my views.  As I felt Hillary had to be stopped, I could not vote 3rd party because they definitely did not reflect my views.  If Trump was not sincere, he had least had a platform I could believe in and hold him to.

I had been as disgusted by Trump's antics at the Republican debates as the next man.  I thought he was rude, childish and overbearing.  When he won the nomination, I was disappointed.  His only redeeming quality was that he was a counter-puncher - and I was sick of watching Republicans go down like lambs silently to the slaughter, never hitting back at their opponents.  Let me clue you on the left in about something - we look at you as masters of the politics of destruction.  Let the bleating sheep in Animal Farm, you use slogans and simple mantras with great effect to build a very little reasoned but clearly understood message.  I at least knew that Trump, unlike Romney and McCain, would not just sit there and take it.  So, if nothing else, the election would be fun to watch.

Then a remarkable thing happened.  When my candidate Ben Carson, who is no fool, endorsed Trump, I took notice.  I suspected there may be more than met the eye and narrative, so I started watching his campaign events on Facebook broadcast live.  The most remarkable came on October 26th in Charlotte, NC, when Trump spoke to a group of African American leaders.  He said to them essentially this: you have had many promises made to you by the Democratic Party, but you have seen very little.  I work in the private sector, so I expect results.  I have the desire and the ability to help you, so give me a chance.  This was the tipping point where I went from an anti-Hillary voter to a pro-Trump one.

I still thought Trump would lose though.  As I worked through how I should behave after yet another disappointment, a friend graciously gave me a book called Onward by Russell Moore.  Moore is a Southern Baptist and ran afoul of Trump winning himself one of those infamous tweets (Russell Moore - terrible person!) because he refused to play from the playbook established by Jerry Falwell. Moore argues that the Church (capital C means all of Jesus' body), as 19th century evangelist Charles Finney observed, needs to take "right ground" in politics.  The old playbook argued that this means we needed to ensure the election of candidates that reflected our views.  Moore argued that instead of being so concerned about the kingdom of man, we needed to worry about the Kingdom of God.  This meant that getting Trump elected was not our focus, doing the mission we have been given of spreading the Gospel and redeeming the culture was far more important.  The kingdom of politics is here today gone tomorrow, while the kingdom of God lasts forever.  The beauty of this was that as we improve the soil of the culture, it would produce a harvest of more righteous candidates.

This was the direct opposite of the top-down approach we as Christians had been following for years. The reasoning went like this - if we elect the right people who pass the right laws and nominate the right judges then we can heal our land.  In retrospect, the wrongheadedness of this is obvious. Politics is downstream from culture, not the other way around.  In our reliance on the tools of politics to do the work of the Kingdom of God, we had lost our way and our witness to the world.  We had become reduced to just another advocacy group instead of one girded by eternal principles.  Winning elections became more important than being salt and light.

This is because the Christian Worldview recognizes the truth articulated by Lord Acton that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The Christian J.R.R. Tolkien illustrated this concept beautifully with the concept of the One Ring in Lord of the Rings.  Its owner would have great power but at the cost of losing their soul.  Like Boromir, we thought our hearts were so pure that we could wear the Ring to accomplish good and not be harmed.  Like Boromir, we were mistaken.

For me this was the missing piece to the puzzle. I realized that I was wrongly focused and the despair I felt at the upcoming election was completely misguided.  Regardless of the outcome, God was still on the throne, and my primary allegiance was to Him.  So no matter who won, my mission was unchanged - I was called to share and spread the Gospel.  This awareness gave me new purpose.  I vowed to be God's hands and feet.  This is not a special calling - it is what all Christians are called to be.  So I am back, ready to act as salt and light, as my Lord tells me to.

In the acrimonious fallout following the election, it is therefore my duty to act as a peacemaker and an ambassador of Christ.  Because my vote seems questionable to some, it is my duty to explain it and to also attempt to form a bridge across the chasm that presently divides us.  To this end, I have been getting up early and stay up late engaging in conversations with those who disagree with me to form mutual understanding and respect, if not agreement.  I am, in some ways, specially suited to this because I taught Christian and Comparative Worldview to high school aged homeschool students from our coop for the last four years.  I have therefore spent considerable time and energy getting in touch with what I believe and also researching what you believe. This means that I find my conversations with non-Christians to be fascinating as I weigh what I hear against what I have studied.

It is also my duty to ensure that Trump lives up to, what is still for many of you, his hidden side you are yet to see.  I think that many of you are going to be shocked to find he is not the monster you think he is. It is my responsibility, along with the rest of his Christian supporters, to be sure he does not become one.  I will hold him accountable for his promise I heard at Charlotte.  I think, like Nixon going to China, he can leverage his support to do things that normally would be out of bounds for Republicans.  A case in point was his unprecedented direct appeal to the LGBT community at the Republican convention.  Another piece of evidence is first pledge he made in his acceptance speech was to help the inner cities, not build a wall.  This was remarkable to me since even a cursory glance at the election day map shows that the cities are the bastions of blue.  A typical politician would have thanked his supporters by reiterating what they wanted to hear instead of pivoting to his opponents needs so quickly.

I plan to do my part, but I ask you who don't agree with who I voted for to help me in this healing. Do me the dignity of not pigeon-holing me as some right wing kook.  Listen to what I say instead.  If you think I am wrong, let me know with respect and we can reason together. I would enjoy such a dialogue.  Do not assume everything you have heard about Christian conservatives is true and then filter everything through that lens.  This afternoon, when I made the observation about Trump pledging first to help the inner cities, some chose to be completely tone deaf to what I saw as a hopeful sign.  Instead I was told I was a racist because I thought all African Americans live in the inner city.  Give me a break - I just told you I voted for the greatest pediatric neurosurgeon of all time.  Like Jesus saying that the sick and not the well need a doctor, help in the African American should go to the point of greatest need, not to black businessmen and professionals.  If you want me to prove myself further, I am proud to say I voted for an  African American major party candidate for president long before Barrack Obama was even a blip on the radar screen.  In the 1992 Republican primary, I voted for Allen Keyes because I felt his Christian views reflected my values more than the blue blooded George Bush Sr.  He remains the only political candidate I have ever donated money to.  You see I take Martin Luther King seriously when he said people should be judged, not for the color of their skin, but the content of their character.  I too share that dream.

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