Paul Ryan Bears False Witness Against Donald Trump and All His Supporters
I like to think that every faithful Christian takes the Ten Commandments seriously, and applies them throughout his life. There’s no nudge-nudge/wink-wink when it comes to politics. You can’t commit idolatry or adultery as a means to winning, even in order to attain some worthy end. The Commandment forbidding “false witness” is quite specific.
Some Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas believed that it forbids every kind of verbal falsehood, right down to “little white lies” and lying to Nazis at the door looking for Jews you hid in your house. I disagree with that reading, and have written at length on the question of whether it’s fitting to wield falsehoods to those with no right to the truth, such as Nazi stormtroopers or abortionists. Go read that if you’re interested.
But I think every serious Christian can agree on the narrowest, most literal reading of the Commandment: Bearing false witness means telling a lie about someone that demeans his character in order to harm him. That is intrinsically evil, the attempted murder of an innocent person’s reputation, and no political goal justifies it. It wouldn’t have been right, for instance, to falsely claim that you knew that Adolf Hitler ritually worshiped Satan, even if that would have been helpful in keeping him out of power.
Paul Ryan Slanders Half of America as Fascists or Dupes
So how can we judge Paul Ryan’s recent, vicious attack on Donald Trump — and by implication, on every American who supports him? That constitutes (if polls don’t wholly lie) more than half of Republicans currently. Let’s examine what Ryan said, see if it’s remotely true, and then examine whether even Ryan could rationally believe what he is saying — to judge as best we can if Ryan is willfully and maliciously trying to assassinate the characters and judgment of tens of millions of Americans who back Donald Trump. Keep in mind that this man sought and accepted the nomination for Vice President of the Republicans, and willingly served as Speaker of the House for two years Trump was in office.
Mind you, I don’t think Trump is beyond criticism. Far from it. While he was in office and since then I’ve vented my irritation at many of his decisions. No, not his personality or the “mean tweets,” which I found refreshing. (Keep in mind that I too am from Queens, NY.) But many of Trump’s choices in office are open to serious question, such as those raised by Steve Deace and other supporters of Ron De Santis. We need solid assurances and concrete evidence that such mistakes won’t be repeated.
The Political Death Sentence Ryan Supports for Trump
But those mistakes aren’t what Ryan is talking about. Instead, he’s making the most serious accusation in American politics short of treason. He’s claiming that Trump sought and seeks a dictatorship. Read Ryan’s words for yourself, in context. That context was Ryan praising Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger:
Look, Trump’s not a conservative. He’s an authoritarian narcissist. So I think they basically called him out for that. He’s a populist, authoritarian narcissist. So historically speaking, all of his tendencies are basically where narcissism takes him, which is whatever makes him popular, makes him feel good at any given moment… He doesn’t think in classical liberal-conservative terms. He thinks in an authoritarian way. And he’s been able to get a big chunk of the Republican base to follow him because he’s the culture warrior.
I think Adam and Liz are brushing their teeth, liking what they see. And I think a lot of people in Congress are good friends of mine who would take the vote back if they could, because I think a lot of these members of Congress, on the second impeachment, they thought Trump was dead. They thought after January 6th, he wasn’t going to have a comeback. He was dead, so they figured ‘I’m not going to take this heat, vote against this impeachment, because he’s gone anyway.’ But what’s happened is he’s been resurrected. There’s lots of reasons for that. But he has been. So I think there’s a lot of people who already regret not getting him out of out of the way when they could have. So I think history will be kind to those people who saw what was happening and called it out, even though it was at the expense of their personal well being.
I won’t dispute the “narcissist” charge, except to note that calling a politician a “narcissist” is akin to accusing an MMA fighter of being “violent.” It’s pretty much part of the job, and politicians who aren’t at least borderline narcissists tend to flail when they’re campaigning … in much the way De Santis sadly has.
What Evidence Does Paul Ryan Offer?
But “Authoritarian”? That’s an exceptionally serious charge for an American politician, akin to saying that a middle school principal is a pedophile. Our whole political system is based on the separation of powers, and our country was founded by men whom some call “tyrannophobes.” That is, their every decision was driven by the desire to frustrate authoritarians. That’s why we hobbled ourselves with so many checks and balances, as speedbumps to slow down and temper the exercise of power.
What evidence did Ryan offer for this extraordinary charge, a political sentence of death in a healthy America? None. He just took it for granted that media would repeat the claim and treat it as true. In that way, Ryan was acting like the snowflakes who greeted Trump’s election in 2016 as akin to the Nazis rolling through Paris. They dubbed themselves “the Resistance,” as you’ll recall, and decided that any means at all — including lies, abuse of power, betrayal, and biased reporting — were justified in derailing the rise of a dictator.
Was Trump Authoritarian in Office? Or Not Authoritative Enough?
Since Ryan didn’t bother to support his reckless attack, let’s do the work for him. Let’s ask if at crucial moments in his presidency Trump acted like an authoritarian. Or if, as I fear is true, he instead proved too eager to compromise, too naïve about trusting enemies with high positions in office, too prone to let flattery soften him up so that he’d trust his longtime opponents.
Did Trump keep his campaign promise concerning the crimes of Hillary Clinton committed in office to “lock her up”? No, he dropped that like a balloon at the end of a birthday party. She skated on her abuse of government computers and her massive, corrupt cover-up. What kind of authoritarian misses the chance to imprison his opponents — as Ryan’s Democrat allies are trying to do to Trump and his attorneys?
Did Trump react savagely when RINOs he’d appointed to his own cabinet tried a 25th Amendment coup, to declare him “unfit for office” because they didn’t like his policies? No, he didn’t even mass fire everyone involved, including Nikki Haley who now admits she knew about the coup but who didn’t warn Trump.
Did Trump appoint close allies to purge the Deep State of Obama’s holdovers, who were even then scheming to falsely accuse him of treason via collusion with Russia? No, he listened to Mike Pence’s advice and fired Gen. Mike Flynn — the only man who could have cleaned out that nest of vipers.
Did Trump react to that phony impeachment frame-up by purging the Deep State? No, he simply crowed that “no collusion” had been found, and appointed Bush-era hack William Barr as attorney general.
Did Trump try to rig the 2020 election? No, he didn’t even act energetically enough to quash Democrat vote fraud and vote rigging schemes smuggled in under cover of the COVID panic.
Did Trump use the military to suppress the George Floyd riots, overriding blue state governors who were letting their cities burn?
Did Trump fire Anthony Fauci, long after it was clear he was hijacking outrageous power over millions of Americans based on lies?
Did Trump try to use the military or the executive branch to avoid handing over power to Joe Biden? No, he sent demonstrators to march outside the Capitol, insisting that they act “peacefully and patriotically.” But FBI infiltrators and provocateurs were on hand to help make sure that didn’t happen, and now hundreds of innocent Americans languish in prison.
I could go on and about how Donald Trump was not even remotely authoritarian — was in fact not authoritative enough to break the back of the Deep State and the Uniparty, whose squishy center-right Paul Ryan represents.
But I think I’ve made my point: Paul Ryan has committed slander, has rendered false witness against Donald Trump and all who support him. Don’t hold your breath till he repents.
John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”