Of course, it had to be something related to sex that pushed the talk surrounding the Trump versus Hillary presidential race to previously unregistered levels of disingenuous bombast. Thanks to the reactions to the audio of Trump talking dirty that was released a couple of weeks ago, America has now reached peak hypocrisy.
And when the topic is hypocrisy, America’s mind, rightly or wrongly, usually turns to Christian conservative voters—the voting bloc that has had different labels over the years, including the Moral Majority, the Christian Right, or the Religious Right. Of all the voting blocs that get play a part in every election, this one is perhaps the most shameful—and it certainly is the most predictable. Much of the blame for this goes to the preachers, teachers, and religious entrepreneurs who claim to speak for conservative Christians. These leaders present themselves kingmakers, holding values voter summits at which they receive entreaties from Republican presidential candidates every four years while the media prattle on about how important they are to the GOP electoral coalition. The trick, they say, is for the GOP nominee to make these social conservatives feel like they have a place at the table without spooking the country club Republicans who write the big campaign checks. That’s why we get clown candidates like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum who know they can’t possibly win—they also know they can make a pretty comfortable living by serving as rhetorical sparring partners for the real candidates before setting off on another book tour.
Then came Trump, who won the nomination by ignoring special interest politics and coalition building in order to address issues that the Republican Party has avoided but that are viscerally important to millions of Republican—and independent—voters.
The media narrative after the Trump sex talk fiasco was that surely this would be this issue that would cause Christian conservatives to forsake Trump, but James Dobson’s priggish statement in response to such talk proves that his like are playing the same role for a different master, whether they realize it or not.
First, I do not condone nor defend Donald Trump’s terrible comments made 11 years ago. They are indefensible and awful. I’m sure there are other misdeeds in his past, although as Jesus said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ I am, however, more concerned about America’s future than Donald Trump’s past. I wonder about how Bill Clinton’s language stands up in private?
However, my condemnation of the former president is on an entirely different level. To my knowledge, Donald Trump has never abused women physically or had oral sex in the Oval Office with a vulnerable intern. Nor has he committed perjury by lying to Congress for many hours. Clinton, on the other hand, lost his license to practice law for that criminal act. Trump hasn’t been impeached by Congress for his lies. Donald Trump hasn’t vetoed bills that would have outlawed the procedure known as partial-birth abortion. Bill Clinton alone is responsible for the brains being sucked out of unanesthetized babies during delivery. That nazi-esque procedure continued for years until the Supreme Court declared it illegal. Donald Trump is pro-life. Clinton and his wife disrespect the Constitution of the United States, although Trump has promised to protect it, especially the First Amendment. Shall I go on?”
First, let’s look at Dobson’s “condemnation of the former president.” Of course, given what we know to be true, Bill Clinton’s behavior with women is far worse than Donald Trump’s. But it’s always interesting that it’s this specific act of “oral sex in the Oval Office with a vulnerable intern” that people like Dobson always mention in great detail—not Clinton’s serial adulteries, not his pattern of sexually harassing women who worked for and around the Arkansas government, and not even his sexual assaults. There are two reasons for this fixation. First, the grimy details of the Lewinsky affair, which were repeated in the news over and over for months. Second, the fact that Clinton did such things in the Oval Office. For Dobson and those like him, Bill Clinton tarnished their unwarranted faith in the idea that the United States of America is a nation-state ordained by God for special things. To them, the presidency is a holy thing, and the White House a holy temple. They’re affronted about Clinton’s “oral sex in the Oval Office” not because Clinton committed adultery or took advantage of “a vulnerable intern,” but because he violated a taboo of their religion.
Second, Dobson mentions abortion, which is the article of faith for Christian conservative voters. Nothing else matters, they say, as long as we get pro-life judges on the Supreme Court. Never mind that it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, and never mind that there’s no way to predict how a potential justice will rule once he gets the lifetime appointment.
The most important thing to realize is that no one on the right wants the abortion issue to go away. If it did it couldn’t be used to raise money for Focus on the Family or to allow Christians feel good about voting for bad candidates because they can tell themselves at least they kept their hands clean by voting “pro-life.”
Dobson’s final point is the one that reveals the most important thing about Christian conservative bloc, the thing that they know but won’t admit, even to themselves. Their demand of fidelity to the Constitution, particularly on First Amendment “religious freedom” grounds—is an admission that they’re scared of what the country is becoming, and that they can no longer use politics to try and control the culture. What Dobson and other Christian conservatives are saying is that the American church’s current best hope is to have faith in Donald Trump’s commitment to their view of the free exercise clause. They started the culture war only to lose it, and are now withdrawing into an enclave from which they plan to decry and condemn the world instead of trying to fulfill the charge Jesus left us with—to work with God to redeem that world by showing them His love.