In July, I wrote a response to a piece by Wayne Allyn Root advocating that Christians must vote for Donald Trump. Root’s piece didn’t turn out to have much readership, but then Eric Metaxas, of Bonhoeffer fame, wrote his own piece for the Wall Street Journal. This piece, in contrast, has gotten a lot of Evangelical response. It has the tone of many of the pieces written by this community: yes, Trump is distasteful, but hold your nose and vote for him because the alternative is worse. Here is, point by point, why I believe Eric Metaxas has it wrong.
1. “Over this past year many of Donald Trump’s comments have made me almost literally hopping mad. The hot-mic comments from 2005 are especially horrifying. … So yes, many see these comments as a deal breaker. But we have a very knotty and larger problem. What if the other candidate also has deal breakers? Even a whole deplorable basketful?”
I’m disturbed by the rhetoric that the 2005 tape is Trump’s only, and most damaging, “deal breaker.” Of course, Metaxas leaves room for the other offensive statements, but this is the only one he mentions specifically. Implied to me, especially in the context of this leaked recording, is that we wouldn’t have any deal breakers with Trump otherwise — “odious” behavior, sure, but not deal breakers.
This appears all over the internet, but a few other possible “deal breakers”.
2. “What if not pulling the lever for Mr. Trump effectively means electing someone who has actively enabled sexual predation in her husband before—and while—he was president?”
This is a complex issue, but I want to start by pointing out that Metaxas nowhere acknowledges the sheer volume of sexual assault or harassment allegations Mr. Trump has had against him. Trump recently responded to one of the allegations by telling his supporters, “She would not be my first choice,” as though her appearance made the allegations obviously false. Politico published a list here, with links to the original sources. There is a more thorough list here from New York Magazine reaching farther back into the past, although you may have to dig a little more to find credible sources. There are also at least 20 lawsuits about sexual harassment within Trump’s businesses. It also appears there is a pending lawsuit in New York alleging that Mr. Trump and Jeffrey Epstein both raped a thirteen-year-old girl in 1994, Mr. Trump multiple times. It’s true that he has not been convicted or lost a lawsuit for sexual assault or harassment, but his accusers are legion. It may be worth noting, also, that Ben Carson, one of Trump’s advisors, says it doesn’t even matter whether his accusers are telling the truth. It’s a little disingenuous to talk about Bill’s horrors in this area without talking about those allegations.
Talking about Hillary’s treatment of her husband’s accusers is harder, and I won’t try to defend her actions, or at least the actions of the Clinton staff of the time, in trying to discredit them. CNN has a good individual analysis of the different accusations and the treatment of them here. There’s also a more in-depth and critical article in the New York Times. A few things worth noting here:
- Like Trump’s accusers, Bill Clinton’s accusers of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment have not been vindicated, either — he has not been convicted or lost a civil suit. He did settle the sexual harassment suit by Paula Jones with no admission of guilt for $850,000.
- There is some amount of uncertainty about Hillary’s exact involvement in these events.
- These allegations are, at base, about Bill. Bill is not running for president. Hillary is.
3. “What if she defended a man who raped a 12-year-old and in recalling the case laughed about getting away with it?”
This is one I’m getting a little frustrated with. Here’s a fact check article on it. Hillary Clinton (then Rodham) worked for a legal aid clinic, one of whose functions is to defend those accused of a crime who can’t afford their own legal counsel. She was on a list of lawyers who would represent indigent clients, so the judge assigned her to the case and didn’t remove her when she asked. You can listen to the recording here as far as the “laughter” is concerned — to me it sounds a lot less like someone laughing at a rape victim and a lot more like laughing at the weird legal idiosyncrasies of one of her cases as a young lawyer. Not classy, maybe. But not laughing at a rape victim, and not “getting off” the defendant, as some claim — plea bargaining isn’t the same as “getting off,” meaning being found not guilty.
This is how our legal system is supposed to work — lawyers do the best job they possibly can for their clients, because everyone is entitled to representation.
4. “What if she used her position as secretary of state to funnel hundreds of millions into her own foundation, much of it from nations that treat women and gay people worse than dogs?”
This whole area looks a little murky, but this particular claim also seems to be unsubstantiated. Here’s a pretty good overview of the situation. Charities are tricky, because they don’t have to precisely disclose the identities and amounts of donors, but you can go here to see cumulative giving (in large categories) from the Foundation’s donors. Metaxas is probably referring to:
- Saudi Arabia: 10-25 million
- Sheikh Mohammed H. Al-Amoudi (Saudi Arabia): 5-10 million
- State of Kuwait: 5-10 million
- Nasser Al-Rashid (Saudi Arabia): 1-5 million
- Dubai Foundation: 1-5 million
- Issam M. Fares (Lebanon): 1-5 million
- Friends Of Saudi Arabia: 1-5 million
- Amar Singh (India): 1-5 million
- State of Qatar: 1-5 million
- The Government of Brunei Darussalam: 1-5 million
- The Sultanate of Oman: 1-5 million
- United Arab Emirates: 1-5 million
“Hundreds of millions” looks like an exaggeration, but the real issue here is whether she used her position to get these donations. Keep in mind these donation amounts date back to 2007 and include those from both before and after her time as Secretary. This Politifact article goes through the various ethical landmines, and this one gives more detail on the accuracy of Trump’s pushback toward the Foundation. Some highlights: Hillary was not on the Board of Directors for the Foundation before or while she was Secretary, and Saudi Arabia (likely the main focus of Metaxas’s comments) did not donate during her tenure. It is difficult to definitively tell whether Hillary “used her position” to “funnel” money into the Foundation.
It’s true that some of these nations treat both women and the queer community badly. The government’s entanglement with them, however, is far from limited to possible overlap with the Clinton Foundation. To criticize that, we’d have to look much more closely at our own foreign policy — the Clinton Foundation, after all, is doing charitable work. What are we doing?
Somewhat separately, the similar accusation that the Clintons “lined their pockets” through the Foundation while she was Secretary of State is false. The Clinton Foundation has an A rating from Charity Watch, and 88% of its fundings goes to actual program costs rather than overhead, which is considered very good.
Worried about all this entanglement if Hillary becomes president? In that event, the Foundation will stop accepting foreign and corporate funds, and Bill will step down from the board. See more here.
5. “Since these things are true, can I escape responsibility for them by simply not voting?”
This felt a little disingenuous, like he could bolster his argument more by repeating to readers that his statements are true. But I take his second point — I agree that we can’t escape responsibility for these issues by simply not voting. We also can’t escape the much more serious issues that a Trump presidency would create.
6. “The anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer also did things most Christians of his day were disgusted by. He most infamously joined a plot to kill the head of his government. He was horrified by it, but he did it nonetheless because he knew that to stay ‘morally pure’ would allow the murder of millions to continue.”
Out of context, this is a beautiful excerpt. I’m going to assume Metaxas is equating Christian voters, and not Trump, with Bonhoeffer, because it would be a tough argument to analogize trying to assassinate Hitler with bragging about sexual assault. What I’m struggling to understand is the implicit assumption here that not intervening in a Clinton win would be tantamount to watching the Holocaust without doing something. Whose Holocaust are we worried about right now? Mexicans? The press? Muslims? Political dissidents? Women? Or maybe just an outbreak of preventable disease? I’m exaggerating — sort of. But I guess I’m unclear what Hillary’s corollary to the Holocaust is.
7. “It’s a fact that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the country’s chance to have a Supreme Court that values the Constitution—and the genuine liberty and self-government for which millions have died—is gone. Not for four years, or eight, but forever. Many say Mr. Trump can’t be trusted to deliver on this score, but Mrs. Clinton certainly can be trusted in the opposite direction.”
No, that’s an opinion, and one I’m a little confused by. This must be the aforementioned Holocaust metaphor. I’m going to take a wild guess and say we’re probably talking about abortion, gay marriage, “freedom of conscience” laws, and maybe the second amendment. Here’s the thing, though: the Constitution also includes freedom of the press, freedom of speech, equal protection of the law, due process, the right against cruel and unusual punishment, and freedom of religion for more than just Christians. See #1.
If you’re a one-issue abortion voter, I know there’s not a whole lot I can say to persuade you. Trump is certainly not a long-term pro-lifer, but he has pledged to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. The thing is, though, Roe v. Wade was 7-2 decision with some pretty conservative justices in the majority. It’s not nearly as liberal of a decision as people think, and I’m incredibly skeptical of his ability to get it overturned, especially because justices don’t always rule the way their appointing presidents expect. This seems to be one of the biggest ways Evangelicals find to make a decision in this election, and why they think Trump is better. I also think it’s a completely misguided attempt to accomplish something much more difficult than it would appear on its face.
Also, “forever”? Hillary would “ruin” the Supreme Court “forever”? I’m a little surprised to hear language that extreme and that unsubstantiated from him. I’m not sure how it would be possible that this would stop the Supreme Court from ever having a conservative majority again.
The judiciary is independent of the executive branch once they’re appointed. There’s only so much a president can do there. Yes, appointing Supreme Court justices is very powerful — powerful enough that I certainly don’t want Trump to do it — but our Constitution separates our governmental powers for a reason.
8. “If imperiously flouting the rules by having a private server endangered American lives and secrets and may lead to more deaths, if she cynically deleted thousands of emails, and if her foreign-policy judgment led to the rise of Islamic State, won’t refusing to vote make me responsible for those suffering as a result of these things?”
This is another one that’s a little impossible to have a conversation about. Here’s the New York Times on the timeline of what happened with the emails. Yeah, this was careless and stupid. Also, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also did this. It sounds more like she was disorganized than “imperiously flouting the rules.” Also worth noting — WikiLeaks’s leaked Clinton emails? Looks like Russia was probably behind the hack, despite their denial of meddling in the election. Also, a Putin ally said the US had to elect Trump or face nuclear war, but I digress.
To the ISIS accusations: the roots of the terrorist group stretch back to 2004, way before Obama’s presidency or Clinton’s Secretary career. There is an argument to be made that the administration’s policy in Libya, which Clinton had a strong hand in, created a power vacuum that ISIS exploited. The trick there is whether we’re willing to say that the continued reign of an oppressive military dictator didn’t warrant intervention — foreign policy is more nuanced than saying what she did “led to the rise of the Islamic State.” ISIS relied on a broad range of elements, and Clinton’s foreign policy was only one of them.
Also, Trump’s foreign policy — well, several pages’ worth of Republic national security professionals say they refuse to work for him. A former head of the CIA under both Republican and Democrat administrations endorsed Clinton because he believes she is a capable leader and he would be “a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief” and “is already damaging our national security.” He wants to pull back from our allies, loves flattering Putin (who loves jailing dissidents and invading things), and doesn’t understand why he can’t use nuclear weapons.
9. “We would be responsible for passively electing someone who champions the abomination of partial-birth abortion, someone who is celebrated by an organization that sells baby parts. We already live in a country where judges force bakers, florists and photographers to violate their consciences and faith—and Mrs. Clinton has zealously ratified this. If we believe this ends with bakers and photographers, we are horribly mistaken.”
She doesn’t “champion” partial-birth abortions, she voted against a blanket ban that included no exceptions for the life and health of the mother — there’s a difference. In 2000, she said, “I have said many times that I can support a ban on late-term abortions, including partial-birth abortions, so long as the health and life of the mother is protected.” More recently, in March, she said, “I have been on record in favor of a late-pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.”
Planned Parenthood is not selling baby parts. They do donate tissue and costs can be covered. Only 3% of their budget goes to abortion (which does not, itself, get federal funding), and 45% goes to STI/STD testing and treatment.
The last bit of this section is a tricky issue, I think. In this country, you’re not allowed to discriminate. If your business is open to the public, you can’t refuse to serve someone who’s black or Hindu or in a wheelchair, and refusing to serve someone because they’re gay is discrimination. Whether you think people ought to be able to discriminate that way is a different question. We as Christians are called to love and serve everybody. I’m unconvinced that Trump will be the staunch defender of Christianity that he claims, considering his total lack of understanding of what Christianity is. It’s also worth noting here, again, that defenders of religious freedom need to advocate for religious freedom for everybody, not just themselves.
10. “A vote for Donald Trump is not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump himself. It is a vote for those who will be affected by the results of this election.”
I agree. It’s a vote for the Muslims who are afraid to be recognized, like the man who was kicked off a plane for saying “Inshallah.” For the press who shouldn’t be threatened for doing their job. For Mexican Americans whose character is called into question. For the women he can’t stop objectifying. For the victims of the largest refugee crisis in history who need our help.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Metaxas himself, from a blog post in June called “A Few (Passionate) Thoughts on America!”
The fundamental idea of “exceptionalism” comes from the first pages of the Bible, and it means that God blesses a people in order for them to bless others. If this country has been blessed, and it has, that was always meant to be thought of as a way for us to use those blessings to bless the whole world. To bless immigrants and to bless those beyond our borders and to bless those within our borders who were struggling.
Let’s do that. Let’s go bless the world.