I used to love politics.
I suppose in a way, I had an advantage. Born in the late 70s, I grew up in Reagan’s America. By the time I was eight years old, I watched the nightly news with my dad every single day. We didn’t talk about it unless I had questions, but it was an unspoken ritual; a thing we shared. I remember that feeling of there being a real man in the White House; a man of courage, and honor, a man who could inspire and lead but wouldn’t talk down to the little guy. I wrote him a letter once, when I was about nine. I got a courteous reply — not from him, of course, but from a White House staffer sending back a pre-signed template in his name — but to me, it was the same thing, and I was elated. Being a little kid with a man like Reagan in the White House was not all that different from being a little kid with a good dad. You trusted him to protect you, provide for you, and do whatever dad stuff needed doing. Whatever came up, he could handle it. Even when you weren’t paying close attention to one another — you doing your thing, he doing his — his mere presence was comforting.
Later, I learned a love of truth at my uncle’s dinner table, the various men of the family patiently allowing the teenage me to occasionally weigh in on matters of grave importance, be they political or religious. In that setting, I came to understand which things were the most important, which issues took priority. I got better at framing arguments, and eventually, at not saying quite as many stupid things. When other kids my age chose angst and isolation, I preferred to be in the thick of a rousing debate amongst men of character.
It formed me.
I’ve gone through a long political progression since those days, from a neocon young man shaped by talk radio to a paleocon with eyes opened by journals like New Oxford Review and The American Conservative (and Pat Buchanan’s seminal book, The Death of the West) to a slightly uncomfortable libertarian who believed that in a secular state, the only way to have a government that isn’t a danger to the people is to choke the life out of it and keep it small. Since then, I’ve shifted again toward a synthesis of the best elements I’ve found in each. Through it all, as I’ve come to a better understanding of Catholic social teaching, I’ve found myself toying with a wistfully anti-democratic sentiment in general. After all, God is the author of all earthy power, and it is given from the top down, not the bottom up. To allow the mob to choose their rulers is to keep them in a perpetual state of revolt against the natural law – a law confirmed in dramatic power by Christ himself:
Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above… (John 19:10-11)
The Son of God allowed himself to be subject to the authority of a corrupt politician — unto death — and claimed not that his power was false, but that it was given to him by God. That’s a sobering thought to contemplate beneath your Gadsden flag. (I’m not judging. I have one too.) It also reminds us that while we may not love our political options, we should probably take them seriously.
I spent a number of years writing about these topics and trying to find the best approach from a Catholic perspective. Over time, I sensed that my efforts were increasingly futile. The government — and the country — kept sliding leftward. Abortion politics remained in a permanent (and I believe intentional) stalemate. “Conservative” candidates became less and less so. When the current election cycle came around, I was already feeling fatalistic. Busy with more important things, I mostly just ignored it.
And then came the rise of Trump.
I honestly thought his candidacy was a joke. A golden-mulleted, undeservedly arrogant, duck-faced joke. I was just waiting for the punchline.
But as time went on, I saw something in him that I didn’t expect: here, at last, was a guy who knew what America was looking for. Not that we were looking for him, per se, but someone who is fearless and says what he really believes. Someone who has just the right amount of rough around the edges. Quick with a joke. Some reassuring bravado. Brutal candor. A willingness to say the things that would get him in trouble. To deal fairly with opponents, but happy to take a swing at anyone who came at him too hard. To be as cutting as the situation required, even in the pursuit of an office where political correctness had long since become the unquestioned ground rule. A billionaire who, for all intents and purposes, might as well be blue collar.
It was at some point this summer that it hit me: This guy is gonna pull it off, I thought. Nobody can touch him. He’s running circles around these guys. People like him more the meaner he gets. Who saw this coming?
I suppose, in a way, we should all have. Because who in America isn’t sick to death of being politely lied to by politicians who know no other way to get what they want than by pandering? Trump never panders, but he readily offends. He doesn’t give a damn what you think of his opinions; he merely believes they’re right, and tells you so. (Believe him.)
Such forthrightness is refreshing, if not entirely convincing. Many conservatives have taken note of Trump’s opportunism, of his willingness to change his tune if it appears to be in his best interest to do so. This is not an uncommon characteristic in politicians, and in an age of video on demand, we’ve seen overwhelming proof that saying one thing one day and another the next is simply part of the job for many of these people.
But if that doesn’t exactly inspire trust, it should at least provide parity. I simply fail to comprehend how so many otherwise good and decent people believed that any of the other candidates who survived the brutal culling of the early primary season wouldn’t eagerly lie to them — if a bit more connivingly — about anything that suited their purposes. Not putting our trust in princes may be a divine mandate, but it’s also sound practical advice.
Will Trump change his positions on things? Almost certainly. Few campaigners live up to all their promises, or can overcome all forms of opposition. But the kind of promises a candidate is being expected to live up to matter too. One candidate vows to do all she can to further the disastrous policies that have brought a nation to its knees, and does so with the utter conviction of her own righteousness. The other enumerates the kind of principled action steps that many of us believe are exactly what the doctor ordered, but delivers assurances like a used car salesman. Who do we believe?
In reality, human motivations and behaviors are complex. Neither candidate will fulfill all that they have promised; both will certainly accomplish some of it. Hillary will disappoint the left and Trump will disappoint the right, but it is a near certainty that each will do things that will horrify the other side. They are not morally equivalent. They represent distinctions with a difference.
But what of character? Trump says mean things, it’s true. He is crass and vulgar. We’ve heard him saying things on tape that we’d never want to believe our fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons capable of. In the wake of the recording, we have a wave of new accusations of old assaults, only just now rising to the surface after many years when it is politically expedient. Accusations without witnesses or evidence of any kind; accusations which can never be proven but are incredibly potent publicity weapons against an already obviously flawed man. Could they be true? Certainly. But the presumption of innocence is a fundamental concept of American jurisprudence.
In the absence of real evidence, it’s hard to take this as a disqualifying factor. Trump says he’s left his lewd behavior in the past, and I’d like to believe him. I don’t; not fully, but I’m also painfully aware that I’m unable to read hearts. People change. Hearts are softened. Trump has said that meeting so many thousands of people on the campaign trail who put their trust him him has been a sobering thing, a thing that his impressed upon him the gravity of his responsibility. When I heard him say that, I detected real sincerity. I’m usually good at picking out lies, but there was something in his face, in his voice, something that told me that maybe he didn’t take this too seriously going in, but then the reality hit home: all these people are believing in you, and you may just be their last shot at stopping the country they love from going under.
That would be a mighty humbling thing, and a hard one for most people with any common decency to ignore. I don’t think Trump is what I’d call a virtuous man, but he doesn’t strike me as a malicious one either. I sense that he has a code, and if he’s a bit too fast and loose with ethics or morality, his is a world that nevertheless still has boundaries. Lines that he won’t cross. Operating principles.
Of course, I don’t know any of this for certain. He may be the Trojan Horse many conservatives fear. Maybe my ordinarily trustworthy intuitions are failing me. Admittedly, I have watched the man with disdain-tinged fascination for most of this year, unwilling to be his standard bearer. It has only been in the past few weeks that something has changed in me. It is perhaps the thing I have watched subtly growing in him — a thing that looks very much like statesmanship and serious concern for the good of our people. It is perhaps the dawning realization that no matter how much corruption and lawlessness is revealed about his opponent, she will never be held to account. If Hillary Clinton becomes president, it is America’s Rubicon Moment. It is the day we finish our transition from a republic to…well, not an empire, but a criminal dictatorship with a press eager to serve as propaganda machine.
As a man of principle myself, you’ll never hear me mocking those whose consciences inform them that they cannot support Trump. I understand that they believe him a vile and vicious man. I think they misunderstand the level of cooperation they impart with their vote, or the proportionate reasons that compel the case, but I didn’t come here to debate philosophy. The fact is, we need people with ironclad moral principles. They are the anchor that keep us from straying too far from the straight and narrow path. I only wish that they would recognize that in moments of crisis or war, sometimes it really is true that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I keep finding myself thinking about being a soldier under enemy fire. What if the rest of my unit were dead, and the only man left standing beside me was a known philanderer who hit every brothel he could every chance he got? Do you think it would make sense for me to choose that moment to reject him? To scoff at his covering fire? There’s a talk we would need to have about Jesus, it’s true…but it could wait until we survived the imminent danger. A sinful man’s bullet flies just as straight as a saint’s.
I have skin in this game. So do you. I expect my life to become appreciably worse under a Clinton regime. For someone like her, the things I write about — especially my orthodox Catholic beliefs — make me a thought criminal. As the father of a large family, my ability to provide will be diminished by bad economic policy, excessive spending, and tax increases. As a parent who has taken recourse to homeschooling, I can expect to have my hand forced on turning my children over to state education. As a man who has lost healthcare for his family already under the “Affordable” Care Act, I will wind up in an even worse predicament with more of the same. As an owner of guns, I expect to be subjected to greater scrutiny, and possible confiscation. As a person who recognizes the threat of Islam and the radical homosexual agenda, I will be accused of hate speech. As the father of young boys, I could lose my sons to a new world war that is even now brewing in response to a disastrous foreign policy.
These things are probably just the tip of the iceberg.
So now here I am, faced with a decision whether or not to vote for someone I initially couldn’t stand. As I’ve reflected on the electoral options of my lifetime, I realize that Trump’s policies are better than those of any candidate I’ve ever voted for. I agree with him on trade. I agree with him on immigration. I agree with him on refugees. I agree with him on energy. I agree with him on American industry. He agrees with me — or at least, has done more to convince me than I ever would have expected — on abortion. And while he’s no Reagan, he has a confidence and a manly edge that reminds me more than a little of that great leader of my youth.
Admittedly, he might turn out to be a colossal disappointment. This election feels a lot like Russian Roulette. I know that a vote for Trump is a gamble — but it’s certainly no more of one than no vote at all. I’ve reached a point where my political calculus is that I’ll take the possibility that he’ll do what he says over the certainty that she will. The consequences of losing are too great.
I hear people saying that voting for Trump will “damage the cause.” I have news for you, ladies and gentlemen: everything I’m seeing is telling me that if he doesn’t win, you can kiss your precious cause goodbye. If Hillary Clinton is elected, the conservative vote will never again matter in America. We are already approaching the demographic tipping point via unchecked immigration, people pouring in from the Third World and voting for a government who will give them a handout. If we lose the Supreme Court, we won’t lose it by one justice. We’ll lose it by three. We will have decades of a judicial branch willing to rubber stamp every horrific decision made by a leftist cabal that has secured their future power base by bribing the electorate.
In the words of Private Hudson: “That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over!”
I’m not going to sit down with my head in my hands and just let that happen. Not while there’s still a chance. The country may be too far gone already, and Trump could be everything his conservative detractors make him out to be. I’ll jump off those bridges when I come to them — and if the man doesn’t honor his word, that’s on him, not me. I’m voting for stated policies and principles, and an administration made up of people who have credible track records in doing them. I’m not looking for a political messiah. They don’t exist. You want to save the Christian West? Pray for the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. You want to hit the brakes on a runaway train in the hopes that you can contain the damage? Trump’s your man.
What it all comes down to is this: I see one shot — and only one shot — at a future worth fighting for. I’m going to take it. Whatever happens, at least I’ll be able to look my kids in the eye and tell them that I tried.
– Steve Skojec is the founding publisher of OnePeterFive.com, a journal of Catholic culture.