Updated: Jun 30
I would like to start this blog with a quote from the great Czechoslovakian patriot Vaclav Hovel that I think all Utahns can relate to
“Politics is an area of human endeavor that places great stress on moral sensitivity, on the ability to reflect critically on oneself, to genuine responsibility, on taste and tact, on the capacity to empathize with others, on a sense of moderation, on humility. It is a job for modest people, for people who cannot be deceived.” Since the 2016 election, I have been troubled by the following question: How can people who were raised with the same values as I believe that Donald Trump is the answer to anything? Many have asked this question; my good friend Representative Brian King published an excellent guest column on the subject a few years ago.
I don’t hate the President; I don’t hate anyone. Donald Trump is who he has always been and always will be. There is no mystery there. Given all we know about the character of the man, I have struggled to understand how he has gained the support of so many good people. Forget for a moment the Mueller report, the impeachment hearings, and the alleged liberal media bias; you simply must read his unfiltered Twitter feed or watch the video of one of his rallies to understand he is unfit for the office. His supporters fall into two camps. The first actually believes he is a man of stellar character, that he has never told a lie, and that every negative thing reported about him is the result of a liberal media conspiracy. I am sufficiently optimistic about the character of our people that I believe few Utahns are blind enough to fall into this category, although you only need scan the opinion pages of local newspapers to know that some do. I believe most of his supporters are aware of his character flaws but feel he’s the right man for the job anyway. The first group is on the other side of the looking glass, can’t do much with them. It’s the second group that had me worried and puzzled.
Interestingly, I finally found an answer to the puzzle in an unexpected place. In an Ezra Klein column published on Vox.com last November, he uses quotes from speeches by Attorney General William Barr and evangelical Christian leaders to explain the thinking of Trump supporters. It can be summarized as follows: The liberal Democrats are winning the culture wars, and the reason they are winning is that conservatives are too nice. The liberal Dems are evil and willing to do or say anything to destroy our Judeo-Christian culture and replace it with “Godless Secularism”. It’s time we had a real fighter on our side. In the words of Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr:
‘Conservatives & Christians need to stop electing “nice guys”. They might make great Christian leaders, but the US needs street fighters like @realDonaldTrump at every level of government b/c the liberal fascists Dems are playing for keeps & many Repub leaders are a bunch of wimps!’ (Falwell needs to consult his dictionary; ‘liberal’ and ‘fascist’ are antonyms.) I have heard conservative Latter-day Saints cite the killing of Laban in the Book of Mormon as proof that ‘the ends justify the means’ is part of Church doctrine.
As Klein says, “I suspect many readers will, at this point, be vibrating with counterarguments. Many of those counterarguments probably begin with the words ‘Merrick Garland.’” But I agree he is on to something.
There is no doubt that Americans, especially the younger generation, are turning away from religion, a trend that disappoints me as much as the evangelicals. My faith is very important to me, and I can’t imagine the emptiness of living without it. But as Klein points out:
‘The irony of all this is that Christian conservatives are likely hastening the future they most fear. In our conversation, Jones told me about a 2006 survey of 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, that asked 16- to 29-year-olds for their top three associations with present-day Christianity. Being “antigay” was first, with 91 percent, followed by “judgmental,” with 87 percent, and “hypocritical,” with 85 percent. Christianity, the Barna Group concluded, has “a branding problem.”
Klein continues, ‘It seems unlikely that that branding problem will be fixed by a tighter alliance with Trump, who polls at 31 percent among millennials and 29 percent among Generation Z. If young people are abandoning Christianity because it seems intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical — well, intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical is the core of Trump’s personal brand.’
People of this state should know better than to swallow this argument, especially my fellow Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith received the following answer to prayer concerning his enemies: “Verily, verily I say unto you, wo be unto him that lieth to deceive because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive, for such are not exempt from the justice of God.” (D&C 10:28). And to paraphrase another scripture: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained…., only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile – “(D&C 121: 41-42, my italics). Given these teachings and other doctrine about moral character, I think there is plenty of evidence for a claim I have been making since Trump made that trip down the golden escalator in the summer of 2015: If you attempted to create a cartoon character that represented the exact opposite of the values we cherish in this state, you would have a hard time beating @realDonaldTrump. I am especially pained and confused when our elected Republican representatives (except for Senator Romney) refuse to speak out against Trump or even, in the case of Chris Stewart, enthusiastically defend his character. What in heaven’s name is wrong with them?
What can you do to help our fellow Utahns understand the truth and remove the scales from their eyes? Here’s what I’m going to do. I will be on the doorsteps of my neighbors this election season, and my most important message will be: Hello, I’m a Utah Democrat, and I’m not evil! (I may use a little different language, but you get the idea.) I urge you to find a candidate of your choice and join them in proclaiming this message. We have missionary work to do.
Finally, back to Vaclav Hovel. I believe when historians look back at the current pandemic and ask the question, "Which of Donald Trump's character failings contributed the most to his failures during this generational event?", the answer will be his total lack of empathy. If you are incapable of mourning with those that mourn, you have no business leading a nation through a time of crisis.