Following Trump’s election, my Facebook feed has been an interesting mix of posts despairing, gleeful, and ambiguous. Even among my own sub-group of conservative Christians the responses have varied widely. So in this post I want to explore the question, what should our approach to Trump be now that he has been elected?
Peace and Reconciliation?
One common theme that I have seen among a number of people I respect is the theme of reconciliation. From this perspective, Trump won the election fair and square, and now that it is over, conservatives of all stripes should put their differences aside, reunite, and move on. Or if we aren’t going to actively reconcile, we should at least lay down our anti-Trump arms and allow events to play out, seeing if good results can come about despite our reservations.
There are elements of this response that I find appropriate and even admirable:
- It is always good to maintain hope that results will not be as bad as we may expect. As a Christian I believe in God’s sovereignty (and his mercy) and my limited ability to foresee how events may come together. It’s possible a Trump presidency will not be a disaster, and I would be extremely happy if that were the case.
- It is also good to continue working towards important goals in policy, regardless of who is president. Trump is the head of just one branch of the federal government. The bulk of policymaking happens in the legislative branch in both federal and state governments, and we should continue to work for progress in those areas.
- To the extent that politics devolved into personal attacks and hatred, reconciliation is good and necessary.
However, I also think the peace and reconciliation crowd is eliding a very important point about this election cycle, which is that winning does not justify previous wrongs. Trump has taken some actions that are encouraging, such as a fairly conciliatory acceptance speech, long and apparently productive discussions with Obama and other former rivals, suggesting he would not try to have Hillary “locked up,” etc. But that does not change the fact that Trump acted monstrously during the campaign, and winning has not erased these sins. If anything, it has emboldened those among his supporters who are hateful to continue their hatred (consider this meeting of white nationalists who clearly feel that a Trump win was also a win for their racist views).
The only way to fully move on from the sins of the campaign is to admit wrongdoing, to apologize to the multitudes he has wronged, and to actively take steps that go against what he previously said. That is, Trump must repent.
Holding Trump To Account
Regardless of his policy goals or what actually follows now, Trump built his campaign on a platform of hatred, lies, and division. And as Jesus says on the Sermon on the Mount, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” That is, we must assume that the main thrust of what Trump says is coming from deeply held beliefs, and that his governance will be driven by the same divisive sentiments that fueled his campaign. I’m not focused on his policy stances—which everyone has always known were a moving target—but rather the overriding messages of us vs. them politics, stoking fear and division, isolation and solipsism, disdain for the truth, etc. These destructive stances must be disavowed and reversed.
Furthermore, even if America—in all its skin tones—flourishes under his presidency, the campaign itself will have negative consequences that will not be easily undone. The division that Trump sowed will come to harvest, if not now, then in the future. You cannot rile up racism and division and then simply put it aside as if it is no longer there. It must be addressed directly or it will fester and eventually result in conflict. These things cannot just be forgotten, as we are already beginning to see with the backlash from the right about Trump’s reversals on some of his more outlandish proposals during the campaign. Even if Trump were to govern as if his many divisive statements had never happened, there would be a future leader who would exploit the same divisions and follow through on them in policy, now that we know there is a large base of people who will support such positions.
Because of these factors, I think the most important thing that people of character across the political spectrum must do is continue to hold Trump to account for what he has already done, until he firmly and clearly renounces his prior ways.
A Time for Prophets
An analogy from the Bible is helpful. King David, in perhaps his darkest sin, committed adultery with Bathsheba and then went to great lengths to cover it up, including the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. At this moment you could say David had “won,” in that his sinful actions had allowed him to reach the goal he was aiming for – marriage with Bathsheba.
But “winning” did not justify his sin in the slightest, which is why the prophet Nathan then shows up on the scene, denounces David’s sin, delivers God’s word of judgment upon David, and calls David to repent. In a sign of his future trajectory, David does repent and after bearing the consequences of his wrongdoing, he continues into a virtuous life that is lauded throughout the rest of the Bible.
We are in a similar moment now. Trump has won, but his sin still lingers in the background and will not just disappear. It will remain a problem until it is addressed. And so we who recognize the problem must play the role of prophet, calling out sin where it remains unconfessed, and challenging Trump to repent. Until then, we cannot just move on.
Allowing Trump to get away with all of the things he has already said and done sets a terrible example for future politicians. Our leaders must be held to account for their actions, particularly when they have national or even international ramifications. This is not a time for peacemakers. It is a time for prophets.