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Should the Senate remove President Trump from office?

Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today, says “yes!” He articulates the moral case against Trump. By his account, Trump is a con man and a liar who has spent his life exploiting legal and moral loopholes to his own advantage. As Galli says, Trump did just what Democrats claim: He used military aid and other carrots as bargaining chips to get Ukraine to damage a political rival.

Galli calls for Trump’s removal, whether by the Senate or at the ballot box in 2020. We don’t yet know the options for 2020, so I focus here on the case for impeachment. Cogent though it is, Galli’s case for removal is not convincing.

For starters, there’s a difference between selecting a president and retaining him. Once a ruler is in power, the demands of Romans 13 kick in. We owe honor to whom honor is due, tribute to whom tribute. At times, we have to skate close to giving due to devils. In America, we have Constitutional mechanisms for removing a sitting president, but the Christian tradition urges caution. It’s a truism of Christian political thought that we must bear with wicked rulers. God gives power to evil men, Peter Abelard wrote, “for vengeance against perverse men or for purgation or testing of those who are good.” Trump is no tyrant. In policy terms, his presidency has been a mixed bag. Yet his personal flaws and political errors pose a test we should suffer with patience.

The mid- and long-term political repercussions of removing Trump are also relevant. As last month’s Nancy Pelosi wisely said, impeachment is an exceedingly serious matter. Without bipartisan support, the process will exacerbate already deep divisions within American society. Stipulate that Trump did what he’s accused of: Is removing him for it worth the risk of civil unrest?

As it turns out, Pelosi doesn’t have bipartisan support for impeachment. If successful, it will be a partisan success, and will embolden Democrats to pursue their agenda more aggressively. Remember what that agenda includes. The Democratic party provides a nurturing home for moral and social progressivism; it’s the party of abortion rights, of gay marriage, of a moral libertarianism that scorns the moral traditionalism of a significant sector of the American public. Christians shouldn’t think tossing Trump’s enemies an impeachment bone will satisfy them for long. Factions in this party regard orthodoxy as hate speech, and Trump does run interference for the orthodox. There are times when you have to oppose something just because you shouldn’t give the satisfaction of victory to its supporters. This is one of those times.

Galli preaches to his fellow evangelicals:

Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?

It’s a stirring message, and Galli is right to highlight the dilemma evangelicals have found themselves in. Some are visceral supporters of President Trump who ignore or gloss over his personal faults and abuses of power. Pretending to speak truth to power, they’ve become sycophants whom we should criticize. But the solution for evangelicals isn’t to back the impeachment efforts of people who despise them nearly as much as they despise Trump. The solution is to imitate the prophets, who were relentless in chiding kings and calling them to repentance.

I’ve always liked Richard John Neuhaus’s modest endorsement of American power: “On balance, and considering the alternatives, America is a force for good in the world.” The formula applies to Trump’s presidency: On balance, and considering the alternatives, Trump should stay.

Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

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