Why We’re Drawn to Leaders Like Roy Moore and Donald Trump
I’m not sure what the GOP should do about candidate Roy Moore. The charges and countercharges are filing in too quickly. I’m reluctant to write something that might be obsolete within hours. So I’d like to step back behind the claimed sex scandal. To ask a deeper question: What is it about populist candidates like Roy Moore and Donald Trump that now appeals to conservative Christians? Why did we turn our backs on men like Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, and John Kasich? What attracted us but repulses others, even among some conservatives? And how can we make the best choices, going forward?
As you might know, I wrote a whole book on the Seven Deadly Sins. In it, I reminded people that virtue and vice run on a spectrum. Two opposing vices sit at either extreme, while the virtue sits in the middle. For instance:
The Greedy have too strong an attachment to the good things that come from hard work and wise stewardship. The Generous love wealth in due proportion, and have mastered the art of sharing it. The Prodigal, on other hand, treat wealth with jaded disdain and lavishly waste it — certain that more will somehow come to them down the pike.
That gives you the idea of how this kind of analysis works. So let’s see the deadly sin that’s key to politics, especially in our time:
At the opposite pole from deadly Wrath is not holy Patience, but masochistic Servility, which teaches us to let aggressors win and bullies triumph, whatever the cost to the next victim.
Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight
Alas, there isn’t a simple, eternal formula that tells us how to act on every occasion. What’s sinful Wrath in one situation is the bare minimum in another. For instance, getting enraged to the point of violence over somebody flipping you off in traffic? That would be Wrath. But what about if someone threatens violence against your child? Or some other innocent? God gave us the power of anger for just such an occasion.
Likewise, if we don’t get angry when we really ought to, then what we’re practicing isn’t the virtue of Patience. It’s Servility, and just as much a sin. C.S. Lewis scorned what he saw as a breed of “men without chests,” who tamely watch evil triumph. He didn’t consider it cowardice so much as a failure of love. If you don’t defend the innocent like an angry mama bear, it might be because you really … don’t care all that much what happens to them. Or you’re more concerned with keeping a reputation for calm detachment. You don’t want to loosen your bowtie, and get down in the mud — even if that’s where God’s calling you to go rescue the helpless.
In times of peace and plenty, when the leading political factions share common assumptions … we can afford to be a lot more reserved and courteous. That’s the kind of society we hope to live in, of course. Think of Nixon debating Kennedy. They agreed on the goals of government, and most fundamental values. They disagreed about how to put all that into practice.
Don’t Treat Hitler Like a Normal Politician
But what about when things start breaking down? When one faction in politics stops playing by the rules you’d all agreed on? Then it trashes the basic values which your society rests on. It perverts the law every chance it gets, and applies it unevenly against us. If it can’t do that, it flouts the law, and counts on getting away with it. Its only criterion is power, and how to amass it. That is what we face on America’s left, from academic faculty lounges to the Democrats in Congress.
Sometimes people think that the principled thing to do is to pretend that nothing has changed. The British and French in the 1930s refused to believe that the Nazis were demonic. No matter the cruelties they inflicted on helpless Jews, or the crassness with which Hitler broke his promises. The Allies kept telling themselves that they were dealing with a normal foreign country. It was led by a rational actor. He had a list of demands, and some of them were reasonable (like a better deal for Germany after Versailles). As for his unreasonable demands … were they really worth fighting a war over? And that is how a totalitarian despot gathered the power to conquer most of Europe, even as richer nations with bigger armies looked on and watched.
Let’s say a big thug was assaulting a little old lady. And you’re a trained boxer. Your first instinct might be to wade in and put up your dukes, as if you were in the ring. But if the criminal pulls out a knife, or picks up a trashcan … are you really going to stick to the Marquess of Queensbury rules?
Forget the Nazis. Imagine a street fight. Let’s say a big thug was assaulting a little old lady. And you’re a trained boxer. Your first instinct might be to wade in and put up your dukes, as if you were in the ring. But if the criminal pulls out a knife, or picks up a trashcan … are you really going to stick to the Marquess of Queensbury rules? If you do, then you’re being servile. You don’t care enough about saving the innocent to do what’s proportionate to the evil.
You Don’t Get a Free Pass for Ruthlessness
Of course there are limits. Some things are just evil in themselves, and you can’t ever do them, no matter what. You couldn’t use a grenade against the mugger that was certain to harm innocent bystanders. But you can, and should, match his aggression. If you don’t, it’s a failure of love.
On the world stage, we can’t face aggressive, colonizing Islam with muttered, phony pieties like George W. Bush’s mantra of “true Islam” as a “religion of peace.” At home, we can’t tamely let the Democrats pack the courts with mediocre radicals like Sonia Sotomayor — then bow to “Senate tradition” when they use it to block our appointments. (Thankfully, the Republicans finally figured this out in 2017.) When the left applauds private citizens for demolishing public statues, then lets them go unpunished … should we really be obeying ludicrous court orders that call a Ten Commandments monument “unconstitutional”?
A Failure of Love
Not everyone agrees with me, of course. Those who loathed Moore before this scandal hit were largely the same kind of conservative who found Donald Trump too “icky” or personally compromised to support against Hillary Clinton. Even given her track record of ruthlessness and the raging powerlust of our unhinged leftist establishment. That’s a failure of love, from a man without a chest.
That said, some leaders, however effective, have squandered their reputations through personal faults that repulse the public and tarnish your “brand.” Electing them might save one Senate seat, for one term, but lose us close elections in other states. Voters’ memories are short, but the media are relentless.
The kind of men who are good at getting angry when it’s needed don’t always know when to stop. Sometimes they are vain, hot-headed, narcissistic and reckless. That’s dangerous as well. It’s our job to step in and restrain them. The wildness of our enemies doesn’t give us absolute license ourselves. If we think that, then our anger will backfire. We will seem like the “bad guys” and our foes like hapless victims.
As I said, there’s no easy formula. And now you can go back to reading about that alleged yearbook signature.