Analyzing the two September storms that hit America
Eighteen years ago, a WORLD cover pictured President Bill Clinton next to the headline, “Time to Resign.” Clinton had denied having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but her stained blue dress bearing Clinton’s DNA was proof that he had used his power for adulterous purposes, and then lied about it.
This month a videotape showed Donald Trump making lewd remarks about groping women’s genitals. While many opponents over the past year have criticized Trump’s character, the video gave us new information about how Trump views power as a means to gratify himself. It raised further questions about how Trump would act if elected to the most powerful office in the world.
Although WORLD over its 30 years has been more critical of Democrats than Republicans, particularly because of the abortion issue, we are not partisan. The standards we applied to Bill Clinton in 1998 are relevant to Donald Trump in 2016. A Clinton resignation would have been good for America’s moral standards in 1998. A Trump step-aside would be good for America’s moral standards in 2016. It’s still not too late to turn the current race between two unfit major party candidates into a contest fit for a great country.
WE KNOW OUR SUGGESTION that Trump step aside will dismay many of his evangelical supporters, for whom we have high regard. We know they are not the “deplorables” Hillary Clinton despises. They are courageous Americans who realize the desperate situation we’re in because of judges and executive branch appointees who legislate, and a Congress that lets them get away with it.
For many, Hillary Clinton’s platform is reason enough to support Trump. They and we see big media dumping on him and minimizing her offenses. Some conservative anti-Trumpism looks suspiciously like intellectual snobbery. Nor is Trump unique: John F. Kennedy was also a frequent adulterer. (Kennedy—sadly—made sin look like sophistication.)
The prime reason evangelicals tend to support Trump is pragmatic. A White House Clinton-to-Gore transition 18 years ago would have made little difference in worldview—but if Hillary Clinton wins next month, her judicial appointments will turn federal courts much more aggressively to the left.
Our regular surveys of evangelical leaders during the primary season showed almost no support for Donald Trump. Only when Clinton became the alternative did Trump gain majority evangelical support in public opinion polls. Joel Belz early on had called Trump “an arrogant blowhard” (Sept. 19, 2015), and we did not hop on the pro-Trump bandwagon, but continued to report the good and the bad.
Besides, WORLD is a product of God’s World Publications, which as a nonprofit organization cannot endorse candidates. That’s not our job, anyway. Journalistically, our goal is to inform our readers, whom we trust to make wise decisions. Theologically, a deacon told me when I professed faith in Christ 40 years ago, “People often will disappoint you, but Jesus never will.” That’s been true over the decades, and our editorial staff members have learned to put no trust in princes even when they show good character, let alone when they do not.
As individuals, though, our editorial staff members have taken positions. We’ve tended to be #NeverHillary. A few of us were #NeverTrump. Several of us wanted to give Trump every opportunity to represent well an uprising much needed in American politics.We know that few Democrats and only some Republicans abide by the Constitution. They make up rules as they go along, put into practice cranky ideas marinated at leading universities, and demonize opponents.
We’ve seen how the problems go beyond politics. Many corporations profit not by producing better products but by influencing regulators. Equality of law and opportunity disappears as protected groups have their way. Two-thirds of Americans have come to believe that our leaders are corrupt. Democrats may have chosen Bernie Sanders if their party leaders had played fair. A plurality of Republicans voted for Trump’s combination of anti-establishment noise with claims that bringing back good old days would be easy.
After the July Republican and Democratic conventions, I noted that “Trump is generally reckless and Clinton generally ruthless. … Trump is a proud adulterer. Clinton is a proud pro-abortionist. Since character counts, both will almost certainly be presidential failures. … Let’s not rush the process. We have three more months (and three presidential debates) in which to see how these two candidates operate under extreme pressure. We should consider third party candidates as well. This is not a year for early voting.”
We’ve been reluctant to applaud those who call for a definitive no on Trump because, as our republic has turned imperial, it needs the vigorous shaking that Trump supporters would provide, even as their candidate has faltered. Scholar Angelo Codevilla put it graphically concerning both Trump and Sanders voters: “Because this majority sees no one in the political mainstream who shares their concerns, because it lacks confidence that the system can be fixed, it is eager to empower whoever might flush the system and its denizens with something like an ungentle enema.”
WHAT’S CHANGED NOW? Ken Rizer, a military man serving in the Iowa House of Representatives, summarized the videotape’s impact: “Given this recent release, I have decided I can't in good conscience vote for [Trump]. As a base commander, I aggressively prosecuted Airmen who sexually assaulted women. As the father of two college-aged women, I know too well the challenges they're facing daily in regards to groping, lewd conduct, etc. Trump’s comments reveal an arrogant lack of character.”
Didn’t Trump’s earlier comments also reveal that? Sure. We value WORLD readers who concluded earlier that the honor of Christ made it necessary for Christians not to vote for Trump. We also value those who still plan to vote for Trump so as to vote for the Supreme Court. (We’re not sure we should trust Trump to come through on nominations: If a person is unfaithful to his spouse, he’s also likely to be unfaithful to his country.)
The new video pushed theologian Wayne Grudem to withdraw his endorsement of Trump and urge him to drop out of the presidential race. The videotape, in the words of Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “revealed a sexual predator, not merely a playboy.”
In suggesting that Trump drop out and let someone else carry the campaign for the remaining weeks, we at WORLD are not endorsing any other Republican and certainly not Hillary Clinton. We also realize Trump is unlikely to heed our call. We’re aware of the practical difficulties in making a change at this point.
Yet, even with ballots printed and early voting already underway in many states, the Electoral College chooses the president. Despite some confusion, a Republican other than Trump still could triumph, given Clinton's unpopularity. We have repeatedly provided information about her malfeasance: See, for example, our June 11 and Sept. 17 cover stories.
Improbable that a new Republican candidate could win this election: yes. Impossible, no. In any event, to quote Mohler, we should not “allow a national disgrace to become the Great Evangelical Embarrassment.” We should not abandon our witness to the world that God is real: Glorifying God by honoring His standards is worth more than political gain.
WE KNOW THAT MANY CHRISTIANS, including some of our readers, will say that given the judicial stakes it’s wrong this year to draw a line in the sand. Our call for a different Republican candidate will lose us some readers and donors. But, standing before God, we cannot say that what WORLD argued concerning a Democrat in 1998 should not apply to a Republican in 2016.
As the Clinton precedent shows, we set the stage for even worse behavior when we ignore blatant offenses. Our journalistic task is to call powerful people to account, regardless of their party, regardless of the politics of the moment.
We don’t know if God will rescue our nation from the pit into which our politics have fallen. We don’t know if He will rescue WORLD from the ire some Trump supporters will feel. We hope and pray that He will—but if He doesn’t, He is still God, holding the future of individuals and nations in His hands. May His name be praised forever and ever.