Most of the reasoned arguments for Donald Trump follow from larger theories about the demise of our polity and culture, and about Hillary Clinton’s complicity in that disintegration. I find some of these theories, at base, convincing. Our nation’s strands of social cohesion and moral commitment have been picked apart over the past few decades. They are strands that derive especially from family, civic, and religious bonds, and they are fundamental to a Christian understanding of the human person: marriage, generation, honest toil, and the service of eternity in humble self-offering. This unraveling has been polemically advocated by Democratic Party policy in the US over recent years, driven by globalized capital, and pursued around the world through a well-networked array of social scientists, political strategists, and bureaucrats. There is every reason to believe that a Clinton presidency—and Congress—will continue this dynamic, desiccating the soul of our people.
But almost every element of this dynamic of human dissolution has also been aided and abetted by Republican policies, if in different guises: commercial self-interest, disregard for the poor and the survival struggles of economically battered workers, lack of interest in environmental self-discipline and generational concern for the future, disrespect for the Nations. For a long time I have believed that a comparison of these besmirched tally-sheets somewhat favored the Democrats. But as a larger vision, the difference between the parties is hard to sustain over the long term, as in fact the actual lives of all members of our society have merged into a generalized drift into nihilistic self-regard. We live in a time and place, and according to forms of behavior and production, that are profoundly ugly and often simply blasphemous before our Creator. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party has shown the slightest interest in transfiguring this warped sense of our common life.
Christians in America are increasingly like Christians in Egypt, as I discovered during the last elections there, determining under which enemy one can perhaps survive. The idea that the best thing we can do in the face of our dismal choice is to dismantle the entire political system is attractive. Some proponents of Trump have taken this line, supposing that his personal repulsiveness, crazed inconsistencies, and mercenary mendacity are just the disrupting tonic needed for a morally self-deluding era. This seems naive: When things fall apart, people are destroyed. It’s not something to be wished for. The integrity of Christianity—along with most forms of human decency—was not strengthened by the demise of the Roman Empire, nor by the collapse of the corrupted Weimar Republic. As a conservative, I believe that continuities, even twisted ones, form a more trustworthy basis for radical renewal than do the apocalyptic cataclysms of social chaos. Trump has stated his willingness destroy the Republican Party, which would only make matters worse. We need at least two functioning parties, probably more, if we are to have any measure of stability, something for which we pray for the sake of the Gospel’s enunciation (1 Tim. 2:2-4).
Does this mean voting for Clinton? I don’t rule it out. I resist the proposition that any principled Christian, or conservative, must rule it out.
Christians should see the present nadir of American politics and its enabling of a hollowed-out culture as a summons to deeper catechesis, more persuasive apologetics, fuller evangelical communion, brighter martyrdoms. Nor does this does preclude Christian engagement in public life, however difficult that may be in our present culture of “liberal” intolerance, precisely if our engagement is sustained by the renewal of a common witness of faith. As Christians, we bear terrible responsibilities, in our complicities and acquiescence, for a past that has brought us to this condition. We now bear even heavier constructive ones for the future. It is a venerable penance and vocation, that stands independent of the political parties of our era.
Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College. His most recent book is A Time to Keep: Theology, Morality, and the Shape of a Human Life.