So if you are, like me, scratching your head in wonder at how some of your evangelical friends can possibly support the Planned-Parenthood-affirming, misogyny spewing, liberal business man Donald Trump, I have a theory. How is it possible that some conservative Christians are getting behind a man who made his money off of gambling interests, who has treated his wives like disposable property, and has made a career of narcissism and greed?
I can explain, but first I’d have to let you indulge me in some sports nostalgia, specifically the early 90’s NBA rivalry between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls. My adolescence was spent in Chicago rooting hard for the Michael Jordan-led Bulls against the hated and fierce Detroit Pistons. The Bad Boys of Detroit were not just another team. They were a mortal enemy who, until 1992, refused to be vanquished. The image of Jordan’s team sweeping them out of the Eastern Conference finals is one I will carry, with joy, to my grave. But I digress.
The Pistons were led by a rebounding machine named Dennis Rodman. Rodman was (is) a strange and exotic dude. Bulls fans loved to mock him for his off-the court exploits that often involved crazy hair and Madonna. He was part of a cast of characters on the Pistons whom Bulls fans loved to cheer against.
We booed Rodman mercilessly . . . until October 2nd, 1995. I remember where I was when I got a call, from my mother nonetheless, about a trade. “The Bulls just traded for Dennis Rodman.” I was in the car and the call came in on a car phone (remember those?). It was the beginning of my senior year of high-school. I pulled the car over and turned on the sports radio station and listened. Sure enough, Chicago had traded for their nemesis.
In a moment, my feelings toward Dennis Rodman changed. It wasn’t long before I started seeing his off-the-court antics as kinda quirky and fun. “He’s eccentric,” I’d tell people, “but that’s what fuels his greatness.” Yep, I was a full-fledged homer, drinking Chicago Bulls Kool Aid in barrels. Rodman helped the Bulls win three more championships, so the echo chamber didn’t burst until he was traded, his career faded, and he got even more weird.
What does Rodman have to do with Trump? In America, around election time, we get divided into two political “teams”: conservatives and liberals. And sometimes our allegiance to our preferred team clouds our judgment about someone’s character and ability to lead well. Elections become less of an opportunity to choose a candidate wisely and more of a sporting contest or a reality show.
Donald Trump may have views that look nothing like the conservatism of Buckley, Kirk or Reagan, but that doesn’t matter. To Trump supporters, he’s wearing the team jersey. He is their guy. His craziness, his intemperate statements, his past history of not championing anything remotely like conservatism–this is irrelevant. For some who are angry at Democrats and even angrier at establishment Republicans, Trump sounds like he’s on their team. Even if he really isn’t.
When it comes time to actually vote, I believe conservatives will wise up. Because unlike Dennis Rodman’s contribution to the Chicago Bulls, Dennis Rodman doesn’t help the GOP win anything.
This kind of epistemic closure–”He’s saying all the right things I want to hear” is a danger for people of faith in every election. We are tempted to be so loyal to our “team” –in this case a conservatism identified more by being “against Obama” than for anything–that we forget we are supporting someone who has no business near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What’s more, by getting on the Trump bandwagon, we end up supporting ideas and issues most evangelicals vehemently oppose.
I’m no Trump supporter, but I’ve been seduced before by partisan Kool-Aid. Early on in my career, I was persuaded to vote for a gubernatorial candidate in Illinois who championed everything I was opposed to because, well, “He’s on our team.” Instead of voting for a pro-life Democrat who would have governed Illinois well, I voted for a Republican who ended up in jail. I still regret that vote.
Evangelicals need to guard against adopting a posture of engagement that is more in love with personalities than principles and more closely wed to a movement than gospel-formed ideas promoting human flourishing. We should soberly evaluate candidates, on both sides, not simply for what or who they are against, but for the totality of their platforms and their track record in public life. What’s more, we should refrain from an echo-chamber mentality that looks more like pathetic sports fans defending the indefensible than principled decision-making. And we should understand what we are doing when we are voting. We are stewarding our God-given right to choose imperfect and temporary leaders who ultimately rule at the discretion of Christ, who sovereignly moves in the hearts of rulers.
Supporting someone like Donald Trump simply because he is “wearing the jersey” is a kind of blind loyalty reserved only for sports fandom not for choosing the most important leadership position in the world.
Especially when you consider this irony: Dennis Rodman recently endorsed Trump for President.