I get that most of us are ready to move on from the 2016 Presidential election but I hope you will grant me one final reflection. If this is nothing else, it’s an opportunity for me to conclude this journey, and refocus for the path ahead.
This election obliterated a lot of my preconceived notions about the world. There were so many things about which I was very wrong (and many more things about which I hope I am wrong). During the primary I took as an article of faith that Trump’s support among Republicans would cap at around %30 and that as soon as the field narrowed a “serious” candidate would emerge victorious. Instead I watched in horror as Trump’s support increased as other candidates dropped out. I was wrong about Trump’s candidacy and, more significantly for me, I was wrong about the character of the Republican party.
Once Trump won the Republican primary I assumed that he would be destroyed in the general election. It wasn’t a question about who would win, but about how much Clinton would win by. As the campaign season ended I began to prepare myself for a Clinton presidency. I expected my top priorities (from a political/advocacy perspective) to be abortion and religious freedom. Like most of the country, I woke up surprised by the results.
Beyond just the results I was surprised by other things as well: I underestimated the amount anger anger directed against the political “establishment.” I underestimated the number of people for whom Trump gave a voice (who Trump referred to as “the forgotten man”). I was surprised by how different my own moral reasoning was compared to the majority of other evangelicals. I rejected the “lesser of two evils” argument where other saw a moral imperative to do whatever they could to stop Clinton. I thought character was a huge factor, for most others it mattered less. I was very concerned about the harm a Trump presidency would do to particularly vulnerable communities (religious and ethnic minorities). I was concerned about what a Trump presidency would do to the witness of the church – or more particularly what Christian support of a Trump presidency would do. For most others, these concerns, while likely present, did not prevent them for casting their ballot for Trump. I have come to the place where I will not judge Trump voters for their decision. I understand it and understand why the arguments were compelling. But I am going to need to reckon with the question of why the moral reasoning that led to my own decision differed from the majority of other voting American Christians. More broadly I am going to need to reckon with why many prominent voices among religious conservatives – like Russell Mooore – were largely ignored.
Moving forward – Constructive belligerence
Since I was opposed to both a Trump and a Clinton presidency I was prepared to wake up Wednesday morning discouraged. As far as I was concerned, the election was lost when Trump won the GOP primary. I had already gone through several cycles of the grieving process by the time the actual election day arrived. I prepared myself for a Clinton win, which I figured was inevitable. I was prepared to be “constructively belligerent” on the issues which I thought would be of grave concern – especially abortion and religious freedom.
Instead I awoke to President-elect Trump, a cause for both relief and concern. I am relieved that Clinton will not be appointing the Supreme Court judge to replace Scalia, or any other judges. She made clear in the debates that she would appoint “outcome based” judges who would further entrench abortion laws and would erode religious freedom. But now I have a different set of concerns.
What will this presidency mean for other vulnerable communities (religious minorities, immigrants, African Americans, etc.)? Already the appointment of Stephen Bannon and the elevation of the godless alt Right movement is cause for concern. How much will fringe racist individuals be empowered to express their hatred.
What will this presidency mean for the relationship between White and African American evangelical Christians? Many African Americans who I listened to in the days following the election feel betrayed and hurt by the scope of evangelical support for Trump. Has the already difficult task of reconciliation gotten harder?
What will this presidency mean for the Republican party? Has it been forever redefined? Has the opposition lost its credibility? Is there still a conscientious conservative movement that can oppose the Democratic party?
What will this presidency mean for the pro-life cause? Will we be able to weather being tied to Trump? Will we be seen as credible and compassionate? There has recently been a big uptick in donations to Planned Parenthood. Will we see a similar uptick in donations to local pregnancy resource centers or religious organizations that assist vulnerable women or will we rest on our political “win?”
What will this presidency mean for religious freedom? If religious minorities are not protected in the next four years, will the precedent set there turn, with force, on Christians when they become a religious minority?
Where is this all going? I have no idea. I have lost faith in my ability to guess what will happen next. But I guess that’s OK. My plan is to obey Romans 13 and give honor to the office of the President, to obey the laws of the land whenever possible, to work constructively for the good of my neighbor, my church, and my nation, and, when necessary, to be a voice of opposition to the powers that be.
It’s time, once again, to embrace my identity as a stranger in a strange land, and to recommit myself to following my one Lord, my one Savior, Jesus Christ, wherever he leads.