We knew what we were doing: Gushee on Trump, 2015-2016

We had every reason to know what kind of president Donald Trump would become.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.

I have watched the first six months of the Trump Presidency mainly in stunned silence.

In this column, what I will do is quote some of what I said about Donald Trump my Religion News Service columns during the presidential campaign.

The reason for doing so should be obvious. We knew what we were doing, and we did it anyway. The warning signs about Donald Trump were everywhere, and we elected him president anyway. That undoubtedly says far more about us than it does about him.

So take a trip down memory lane with me.

I wrote this after the future president declared that John McCain was not quite a war hero because he had been captured by North Vietnam, a comment which in retrospect should have ended his campaign before it even really began:

We do not want a president who lacks verbal self-discipline and humility. The same holds true for just about any other position of leadership, and really, for a well-lived life in general. In the end, character trumps everything. –7/21/15

I offered this comment after the future president’s first trip to speak at Liberty University:

There is a great word for the kind of faux religiosity trotted out by Donald Trump at Liberty, and not only by him. That word is tribalism…The particular tribe that Mr. Trump was ham-handedly courting on Monday was white evangelical and fundamentalist Christians…But usually the candidates are more fluent in the actual language and customs of the tribe. Usually they know how to send tribal signals in more subtle ways. But Donald Trump is not known for subtle, and would not be capable of it in this regard because he is completely unfamiliar with the actual practice of evangelical Christianity. –1/20/16

Here I wondered whether the future president would likely self-destruct due to the consequences of his own actions:

There are logical reasons why tyrants are brought low, no miracles required. One reason is that their actions inevitably evoke opposition. Those who are denigrated, harmed, or threatened form the first circle of opposition. Those who are morally offended but not directly threatened often join them, if they are brave enough. Those tempted to remain bystanders find it increasingly difficult to sit on the sidelines, their self-interest giving way to the higher claim of conscience. It is of the nature of the tyrant to respond to such opposition with more denigration, harm, and threat. This widens the resistance all the further, so clashes and suffering deepen. The tyranny then intensifies in response, leading to greater and more costly resistance. And so it goes, until the spiral reaches some kind of terrible climax.  –3/14/16

After the GOP Convention, I reflected on what Donald Trump had become as a presidential candidate:

We once thought [Donald Trump] was just kind of a brash and funny businessman and reality TV star. It turned out that we got a man whose character has interacted with the hottest national spotlight in a way that has badly damaged both himself and all of us. Grief seems a more appropriate response than anything else. –8/11/16

After many provocations, I reflected on Mr. Trump’s problems related to telling the truth and other basic ethical principles involving the use of human language:

Speech reveals character. Those who routinely sin with words reveal holes in their character that we must take seriously. When we encounter people who reveal a chronic inability to keep the basic ethics of speech, the rest of us learn not to trust them. We certainly learn not to entrust anything important to them, including, for example, the federal government. –8/16/16

Just before the election I wondered about what had become of our national character:

We need a renewal of moral seriousness in this country. We need to retrieve religious and moral resources easily available to us for the cultivation of character…And we need to look for leaders in every venue — family, church, business, community, national government — who exemplify character qualities like honesty, discipline, self-control, unselfishness, patience, forgiveness, humility, mercy, and covenant faithfulness. –10/3/16

And here is a comment I made about evangelical Christian politicos who used to write books and make speeches about the importance of character in politics, and in our nation:

Is there anything that Donald Trump could do now, or could be shown to have done in the past, that might tip his perceived character challenges to a point where they might be seen as disqualifying? For the Christian right folks I have mentioned, that point has apparently not been reached yet. Despite everything…Christian right people used to be some of our culture’s leading advocates for a restoration of sound character in America. Character counts, they said. We need to fight all those forces that corrode our culture and cheapen human life, they said. We need men of strong, Christ-like character to lead our families, churches, and nation, they said. Oh well. –10/15/16

We don’t know what kind of president Hillary Clinton would have been. Certainly there were reasons for serious concern. It’s all a counterfactual now.

But we do know, and had every reason to know, what kind of president Donald Trump would become.

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