The Republican Party was once a significant (though imperfect) defender of morality in American politics, representing the important argument that character mattered in the public square. But with the election of Donald Trump, the GOP has lost all moral authority. As is well known by now, Trump has bragged about sexually assaulting women; he has glorified adultery; he has mocked immigrants, veterans, women, and many others; he has called for the murder of innocent civilians; and the list goes on in horrifying fashion. The party that once impeached President Clinton for his sexual escapades, and made a point of emphasizing the importance of character in the Oval Office, has just chosen an exemplar of sin to lead itself and the nation.
The fact that Donald Trump is sinful is not the core problem, though. As many conservatives have pointed out, we are all flawed and we should not expect perfection in our leaders. True enough, being a sinner is not an impediment to leading a country in a responsible manner. However, being an unrepentant sinner is a serious problem. Trump has clearly stated that he does not think he needs to ask for forgiveness for anything, nor does he need to make any apologies for his wrongs.
This lack of repentance is stunning, and it is this trait more than any other that signals the demise of morality in the Republican Party, and especially of Christian Republicanism. For Christians, and for many other people of faith, repentance is the first and necessary step to receive forgiveness and to begin the work of redemption. There is no development of morality and character, in private or public life, without first acknowledging one’s own sin. So by supporting Trump as a party, Republicans undermined their own arguments for where character begin, and as a result, they can no longer serve as America’s public conscience, regardless of the state of other political parties. For without the seed of morality that is planted in repentance, there can be no morality whatsoever. Without repentance, every man is a law unto himself, and this is the ultimate pride, the sin that allows for so many greater and more heinous sins.
That is why a new conservative party must rise up. The old conservatism has cut itself off from its roots in one violent act of election, and now there is both the need and the space for new growth. Conservatism at its best has drawn from the sacred to define what is good in both private and public life. While conservatives may arise from many sources, historically they have agreed on certain core tenets, including this (not exhaustive) list:
- The existence of a natural and transcendent moral order, certain absolute moral laws that exist outside of our cultural frameworks (often coming from religious beliefs)
- The notion that humanity is naturally predisposed to sin
- The importance of humility in responding to the vast complexity of human experience and conditions
- The idea that all freedoms also come with duties or limitations
- The fundamental importance of private property for the preservation of liberty
Many subsidiary truths grow out of these (and other) fundamental conservative positions, particularly points 2 and 3. We will begin exploring these points and the different results they lead to in coming days. But the important thing is that today’s Republican Party, by choosing and supporting Trump, has contravened many of these foundational beliefs, and thus can no longer represent conservatism in America.
As a person of faith, my first identity is “Christian.” After this I am many things, including a husband, father, son, American, Georgian, and conservative. My Christian identity will always precede everything else, but unfortunately, for most of my adult life, being a Christian has made it difficult to support either dominant political party. Republicans always held an edge on representing Christian voters because of the issue of life, but I have never thought of myself as a Republican due to several of the party’s common beliefs and practices that do not sync with Christian ethics (on immigration, care of creation, racial issues, and poverty, to name a few). For this reason, it was not until just a few years ago that I realized many of my core beliefs were in fact deeply conservative. This should have been a sign to me as well that the Republican Party needed a change.
These days Republicanism no longer even makes a pretense at being the party of morality, and while I do not desire or condone a political party that is completely unified with the Christian faith, there needs to be a party that represents the core values of people of faith and other social conservatives. Morality does in fact matter, and I for one am not ok with a nation that has thrown ethics out the window in order to emphasize pragmatism, much less the anger and resentment fueling the Trump campaign. Such an approach is not conservative, and it is certainly not Christian.
I hope you will follow along with me as I dive into several core principles of conservatism and their implications. This will take time, so I would ask for your patience as I will not be able to address all ideas at once, even though they are sometimes deeply entwined. But with time we should arrive at something more comprehensive. If we are lucky, maybe we even attain the beginnings of a new party that, while imperfect, can better represent those of us who still think our leaders need character.