Recent actions of presidential hopeful leave room to adopt a tone of cautious optimism
A week ago I finally committed to a long overdue decision. I’d been putting off committing to the second year of my graduate school program for the better part of the summer. I could depend on few, if any, positive reasons to convince myself to return. After spending four years in a full-time role for a publishing organization, my first year of graduate school seemed like a professional step back—a constant hoop-jumping effort in academic snobbery and university politics.
Yet I could find no overwhelming reason to convince me not to return. An uncertain job market, regret over the wasted investment, and the loss of a social life all gave me pause when considering abandoning my advanced degree. For the entire summer I ruminated on my two choices; for the entire summer it felt like I wasn’t going to choose one option so much as I would not choose the other.
When I finally did decide to return, I did so after receiving the advice of a great Christian scholar who asked me to consider adding a question mark to my choices. Instead of looking at either option in terms of the negatives—in terms of what I might lose, or what I felt certain I’d dislike—I might try considering the positives. I might, as crazy as it sounds, choose one direction over the other because I legitimately felt like it would be in my best interest.
This is the mindset that Jerry Falwell Jr. brings to a recent Washington Post editorial. While I realize that Falwell is not Catholic, his message about Donald Trump, in fact promoting Donald Trump, is notable due to the many Christian and Catholic voters who find themselves in the odd situation of potentially voting for Trump on the sole basis of being “Never Hilary.”
I consider myself one of these voters. Having gone from various stages of “Never Trump” to finally arrive at an “idea” of Donald Trump, I subsequently tip-toed closer to the Never Trump banner throughout July. The reasons are, for anyone who paid attention to the fallout from the Democratic National Convention, self-explanatory.
Still, I’m willing to give Falwell a read. I’m also willing to consider the recent resignation of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and last week’s “semi” apology from Trump—the one where he said that he regretted choosing words that caused “personal pain” during speeches and interviews—as signs that there might be something to genuinely like about Trump, as opposed to just dislike about Clinton. Throw in Trump’s visit to Louisiana flood victims (yes, the one many people claim is just a public relations stunt) and I can see glimpses of the kind of leadership qualities that Falwell mentions in his op-ed.
Falwell’s thesis is fairly clear: America is more exposed to external threats and internal economic and social strife than any other point in our post-9/11 history. The president of Liberty University has already taken quite a bit of heat for comparing Trump to Winston Churchill—heat which I’m not sure is completely warranted. If anything, the potential for the comparison might be a little more accurate than even Falwell believes. That’s because World War II has a funny way of crystalizing our collective memory of figures like no other event in human history, with Churchill serving as Exhibit A.
Don’t get me wrong—Winston Churchill’s personality, grit, and rhetorical skill as an orator are all reasons that you and I stand here in a (relatively) free world today. Yet Churchill was hardly a perfect human being or politician. He had a personal habit of excess that led to bankruptcy, a checkered and disastrous record of economic policy throughout the 1920s, and colonial polices that left the outside world (and many in Britain) accusing him of jingoism.
Yet Churchill was a leader. A man who, at a time when a country needed him, at a time when Britain was under siege from abroad and facing unrest from within, appealed to a sense of national pride and unity. He was also a man whose tough talk and hard line against Germany extended back into the 1930s, when appeasement became the official policy of the British government.
The comparison is awkward in many regards (Trump lacks Churchill’s extensive background in the military and politics), but so are most modern political comparisons. What’s important to take from it is not so much that Trump could unite the country against a looming existential threat (Islamic extremism), but rather how voters who are on the fence about Trump might choose to view him.
For those voters I am prosing neither an opinion of “Never Trump” nor “Never Hillary.” I am appealing to something beyond fear of apathy or the gritted teeth of making a deal with the devil. What I am advocating for, and what I believe that Falwell was advocating for, is the willingness to look at the 2016 election through a lens that supports one candidate and not just rebukes another (although it does still acknowledge that component of the choice). It calls for something the American voter is uncomfortable with: Optimism.
So allow me to be optimistic, even if it is a guarded, cautious, experienced optimistic. Allow me to indulge the idea that the same quick reaction that has often gotten Trump into trouble might help to bring comfort and a concerted response in times of disasters. Allow me to recognize that in less than a month, Mr. Trump will become the first presidential nominee in a decade to address the Value Voters Summit, in the process speaking confidently about a policy proposal that, in recent months, is nothing if not pro-life. And allow me to ask the question, from now until November 11th: Trump?