From the start of Donald Trump’s run for president, all conventional wisdom wrote him off as a joke, predicting, and predicting again … and again his inevitable crash and burn. Yet with each such prediction and with each successive condemnation of him from all quarters, his popularity has grown. Not only do people support him, but they do so with numbers and enthusiasm not enjoyed by any other candidate running. With the focus on Trump himself, less attention has been paid to his supporters, who are often brushed aside in the discussion, dismissed as a bunch of angry bigots or the like. That over simplified view avoids the real reasons for Mr. Trump’s popularity. Mr. Trump’s supporters have lost all faith in the political leadership we have been under, and in Trump they hope for a complete change of course in governance, a turn-around from the current direction of our country. Their support of Trump also reflects a level of rebellion against the smothering political correctness that has infected our nation’s political and social discourse. Unfortunately, it mostly reflects a seeming inability to understand our country’s biggest problems and what kind of leadership we now desperately need.
Mr. Trump’s campaign has attracted working class Americans from both major parties as well as independents. While they are varied in religious affiliation and social values, what they share in common is that for years they have watched their country drift inexorably farther off course under the collusion of both major political parties. Mr. Trump has focused much of his appeal on their sense that their economic horizons have drastically narrowed as American jobs have been exported at the same time as immigrants have crossed our porous borders and flooded the job market with cheap labor. They are tired of waiting for
the promised rewards of international trade deals and domestic policies, like Obama Care, that only leave working Americans ever more squeezed economically and jaded politically. Mr. Trump’s campaign theme, “Make America Great Again,” has touched a nerve among his supporters, who also believe that America’s “greatness” is in decline. Growing racial tensions in our cities, threats of terrorism, military conflict and instability around the world – all lend to a deep crisis of confidence in current leadership. Trump’s supporters, accurately or not, perceive his approach as out-side-the-box, and that inspires hope that he is a guy with the chutzpah to get us back on course.
Even as this group of Americans has become disenchanted with where things are going, they have also seen an erosion of their freedom to speak out against it. Democrat and Republican politicians alike, main stream academic and media institutions, even business leaders – all have embraced a pervasive code of political correctness, vigorously enforced with iron-fisted severity. Dissenters from the acceptable world view find themselves bound like Gulliver, one thread at a time. Political correctness started as a form of social etiquette and now has mutated into a system aimed at chilling free speech. What began as outdated thinking eventually became offensive speech; now it is deemed unacceptable. We are in a surreal world where hyper-vigilance must be observed to avoid even the slightest hint of offending any of the numerous and often irrational sensibilities de jure. Along comes Donald Trump, a regular bull in a china shop, toppling and shattering the pious orthodoxy of those who have grown accustomed to unchallenged control of what is and is not allowed to be said in the public square. This is not to justify evil speech for the sake of being rebellious, but it helps in understanding why Trump’s supporters so fervently cheer his every outrage against the speech cops.
The rub in all this is that there is little evidence that Mr. Trump’s supporters have any grasp on what truly ails America at the deepest level. If they had such an understanding, they would have coalesced around a candidate who has the vision to lead our nation in recovering the Christian-based values of our founding. It’s doubtful whether Donald Trump recognizes the greatest danger facing us: that we are forgetting who we are as understood in natural law and in our Christian cultural roots. For instance, though he has said he is “prolife with exceptions,” odds are slim that Donald Trump understands the fundamental reality that all the good jobs and prosperity and security and freedom in the world are of no avail whatever if we have it all in the midst of a collective shrug at the slaughter of our children in the womb – for any reason. Many Christians share these doubts about front-runner Trump. In March a group of prominent Catholic intellectuals published an article expressing reservations about Mr. Trump’s true colors. They stated the following:
“[T]here is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments to the right to life, to religious freedom and the rights of conscience, to rebuilding the marriage culture, or to subsidiarity and the principle of limited constitutional government.”
As Christians called to show Jesus to our fellow citizens, we have our work cut out for us.