Donald Trump (who as candidate for the presidency is now Donald J. Trump) took the stage at the Republican National Convention to deliver his acceptance speech, fully the populist we have come to expect. But he also revealed more than we have seen on the campaign trail. Thursday night, Donald the Democrat showed himself. And the partisan crowd cheered, though perhaps just from emotional momentum. I wonder how they feel the morning after.
The bad boy Donald was there. He promised the wall and to ban Muslim immigration. Actually, he only used the “Muslim” once in his speech and it was not in this connection. He said, “we must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.” Presumably these nations of origin include France and Belgium.
There were also some welcome affirmations. He got down to the fundamentals of political theory when he stated: “The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens. Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.” He said he joined the race for the White House “so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves.” That is a biblical view of government. The Old Testament prophets rebuked the leaders of Israel for not acting on it.
In populist fashion, and perhaps credibly, Trump presented himself as a regular guy from Queens – despite the inherited wealth, the prep school, and the lifestyle of the rich and famous. He can be crude because regular guys like the electricians and bricklayers he talks with on the job site can be crude and he speaks their language. He connects with ordinary people and their concerns, and gives voice to those concerns. “I am your voice,” he assured us. This horrifies both the liberal elite and the conservative cognoscenti.
For the most part, people can be trusted to identify and defend their interests. Our system of political and economic liberty presupposes that. But ordinary people don’t necessarily grasp the big picture or the fundamental principles on which the defense of their interests depend. The cognoscenti do. Neither Adam Smith nor the architects of our republic were ordinary people.
Donald Trump is not guided by political theory. But he is guided by convictions he has held all his life. For example, he has been complaining about bad trade deals for decades. And for decades he has been a Democrat. Last night, the Republican Party nominated a Democrat to be its 2016 candidate for president. It’s not just the economic protectionism. His daughter Ivanka introduced him with assurances that he will push hard for universal access to daycare for working mothers. This is a big government, feminist policy proposal that Democrats have been advocating for 30 years. It not only recognizes women’s participation in the workforce; it will encourage it. It will also thus further fracture the home and dilute the value of an individual income whether the father’s or that of the single mother. She also rolled out the “equal-pay-for-equal-work” complaint which has no basis in 2016 reality but which Democrats like Hillary Clinton continue to cite as a major justice issue of our day. The crowd cheered anyway.
Then there was the homosexual theme. Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was wearing a pink triangle lapel pin during his interview with Chris Matthews of MSNBC. Then tech mogul Peter Thiel, one of the most prominent speakers on the most important evening of the convention, affirmed with campaign approval: “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all, I am proud to be an American. I don't pretend to agree with every plank in our party's platform. But fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline.” The crowd started cheering at the word “gay” and it built from there. Apparently the Trump supporters at the convention were Democrats too. Apparently it was the Democratic National Convention #1, to be followed by #2 next week. Perhaps that overstates the point.
Then Trump himself stopped far short of where Barack Obama has gone since his election in 2008 and where Hillary Clinton will charge with battle cries next week: the complete normalization of every form of omnisexuality and the severe punishment of anyone who stands in its way or even privately disagrees with it. Trump didn’t promise to protect them from Christians or from moral conservatives, but only from Islamic jihadists. “Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted [the] LGBTQ community. No good. And we're going to stop it. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Believe me." The crowd roared their approval. Then he added, off script of course: "And I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.”
The fact that he went beyond the now common term LGBT and added the Q was a signal to that faction that he sympathizes and will defend their interests. The previous night, Lynne Patton, vice president of the Eric Trump Foundation and a highly placed black woman in the Trump universe, and thus a strategic speaker, included in her list of answers to Black Lives Matter: “LGBTQ lives matter.” She also included the Q which stands for either questioning or queer or both.
The question for Christian voters is this. What is the relationship between Trump’s signaled support for LGBT concerns and religious liberty which has come widely under assault by that faction? Keep in mind that this is no longer 1980. The Christian concern today are not to restore Christian America. It is simply to preserve the freedom to live their Christian lives consistent with their faith, whether in their homes, businesses, schools and colleges, or even churches. Angry and vengeful forces of progressive cultural enlightenment are battering on these doors to find, silence, and rehabilitate any remaining holdouts against the post-modern sexual revolution of godless human autonomy. Yes, that’s how I would put it.
In his speech, Trump thanked evangelicals and religious people for their support. But he made no mention of religious liberty. Ivanka called him the champion of the helpless and forgotten, but the candidate himself made no claim to be our champion in this defensive fight.
So where does he stand? There’s a little over three months left for seeking clarification on this. Perhaps Jerry Falwell Jr could press his friend on this. Vice-president Pence, who is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” is certainly well-positioned to lobby for the protection of law for God’s people.
Donald Trump is a Democrat – a law and order, foreign policy hawk Democrat. Insofar as the Grand Old Party is now the party of Trump and his descendants and all the apparent Democrats who cheered him from the convention floor last night, there is no more Republican Party. So regardless of whom we elect in November, it may be time to draw out of the Republican Congressional delegation a philosophically conservative and sympathetically Christian party that would present itself as being in everyone’s interest. Call it the Liberty Party or hijack the Constitution Party. But big government, progressive, Trumpist populism cannot remain the only viable alternative to the post-Obama Democrats.