When the Access Hollywood tape hit the news a week ago, Donald Trump’s first reaction was classify his language “locker room talk” that was substantively different than action of such kind. His reminder about the difference between words and deeds is appropriate in this case, and indeed across the board in this election. Of course, there are now more than 5 women claiming that Mr. Trump’s “lewd words” in 2005 aptly described his behavior toward them, but let’s not permit this troublesome consistency to stifle the conversation so soon. A deeper look at the words and deeds of these candidates, particularly in light of their interpretation by and for Christian values-voters is illuminating.
A number of Christian leaders and “family values” Republicans continue to urge moderate and conservative voters to stand by Mr. Trump despite his immoral (and if true, illegal) actions. His message about the economy overpowers any and all bad behavior. Ringing the familiar anti-abortion bell, Christian Trump supporters have outlined a corollary to this argument: Hillary Clinton’s views on abortion promise to result in the moral evil of abortion-on-demand, so reluctant Trumpsters should fall in line for moral reasons. Of course, the flagrant inconsistency between these arguments is readily apparent, but sadly irrelevant in an election full of lies masquerading as truth.
There are two falsehoods that this message promotes:
- Immoral words and behavior are acceptable from one candidate but not the other.
- Reluctant acceptance of one immoral behavior (preying upon women) is forgivable in the name of preventing another (abortion).
Both of these assertions should be evidently wrong to “family values” Christian voters, yet many continue to overlook their presence in the past week’s political discourse. The oft-repeated refrain explaining this irrational position is that avoiding the imminent economic train wreck facing our nation outweighs such petty concerns as personal character. But, if moral issues are sitting on the bench this election, why even make the morality-abortion argument against Mrs. Clinton? The answer is that Christian political commentators cannot resist using this anti-abortion kryptonite to keep the “family values” voting bloc in line; they know that millions of Christian voters detest abortion and will consequently accept any candidate whose views do not make them feel complicit in the killing of unborn children. It is truly a gross maneuver to force a sexual predator down the throats of pious voters simply because he claims to oppose abortion and promises to appoint federal judges of a like mind.
Pious Christian voters ought to remember Mr. Trump’s point about discerning between words and actions because it can help them untie the moral-political pretzel in which they are currently stuck. Mrs. Clinton has spoken in favor of abortion rights for women, and Christians most assuredly should disagree with her views. But we must also recognize that abortion is legal in this country and that any action against it should target the hearts of those vulnerable to its allure, not the political institutions that made its legalization possible in the first place. Moreover, the separation of powers in the United States gives Congress a role to play in checking executive action in favor of abortion. Thus Mrs. Clinton’s words about abortion do not indubitably promise to result in deeds against the unborn—those deeds are already happening, and will continue to take place until a lack of patients, not judicial action, closes the doors of Planned Parenthood. Changing hearts and minds seems an impossible task on a national scale, and indeed it will be as long as values-voters continue to focus on politics rather than mercy therefore allowing themselves to be portrayed as hostile toward the vulnerable women likely to turn to Planned Parenthood.
Mrs. Clinton’s philosophical position in favor of a woman’s right to have access to abortion is morally wrong, but it is not morally equivalent to participating in such action. Here again, we must remember the difference between words and deeds. Mrs. Clinton is not a medical professional performing abortions, and as far as I know she has not encouraged any individual women to obtain abortions. Some of her supporters have spoken in positive terms about their own abortions, and I consider them akin to the white nationalists supporting Mr. Trump—they have aligned themselves with a candidate who does not necessarily act like them, but does empower them and exonerate their behavior.
Turning to Mr. Trump, the scenario is altogether different. Multiple women have now asserted that his “lewd words” indeed migrated into the realm of action. What is more, there is no person or institution with the power to check his behavior. The eyes of the world have not produced self-censorship on Twitter, the presence of his own daughter did not prevent his permitting Howard Stern to refer to her as “a piece of ass,” his marital vows have not encouraged fidelity, and many years of membership at a Presbyterian church has not formed in him a respect of others suitable to Christian life. Even in the White House and for the rest of his life, Mr. Trump will be able to engage in this predatory, adulterous behavior—and he likely will. And for all of this, the “family values” voters will not receive a return on their investment in his candidacy. The same political forces that will impede a Clinton administration’s abortion program will prevent a Trump administration from eliminating what is now considered a constitutional right. Values-voters can stop falling into the kryptonite trap of political anti-abortion arguments, sacrificing one moral virtue for the sake of another and acting as though God’s will for us entails endorsing someone who behaves so shamefully. When the abortion-doctor runs for president, do not vote for him or her. But until then, settle for refusing to vote for a sexual predator.