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“There is only one heresy and that is Antinomianism.” John “Rabbi” Duncan
In Christian theology, an antinomian is a person who believes the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation. Ronald Bailey, REASON, Burn-It-All-Down Political Antinomianism is Not Libertarian
Why must we apologize, explain, and make excuses for a President who has become an embarrassment instead of “the leader of the free world”? A few weeks ago an article by Leonard Pitts Jr. in the Miami Herald (There’s no excuse for Trump’s inexcusable moral corruption) listed some excuses put forward by people who know (or should know) better.
“We kind of gave him — ‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, on the white evangelical response to Donald Trump’s alleged tryst with a porn star
“He’s new at government, and so therefore I think that he is learning as he goes.” House Speaker Paul Ryan on allegations that Trump sought to interfere with an FBI investigation
“[Politicians] say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed.” Chief of Staff John Kelly on Trump’s promise to build a border wall
“He’s a human male. … So he’s not perfect.” Pennsylvania voter Joey Del Signore on Trump’s boast of sexually assaulting women
“It’s not policy. It’s social media. You know the difference, right?” Former aide Sebastian Gorka on why people should not take Trump’s alarming tweets seriously
“All people lie.” North Carolina voter Bill Wallace on Trump’s frequent untruths
“Let’s not judge the president on what he says.” Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci, on reports that Trump called Haiti, El Salvador and Africa “shithole countries”
“I’m not going to blame him. Absolutely not.” Pennsylvania voter Pam Schilling on Trump’s failure to deliver on his promises
Why are so many Americans willing to abandon their moral values for this President? Why have they have become “political antinomians?” Do they really have so much faith in him that they can ignore his obvious faults? Or, do they think he is the best or the only chance to get their pet programs passed? Either way they are setting themselves up for disappointment.
According to Leonard Pitts Jr. in his Miami Herald article, the Trump supporters are caught up in a cult:
Christian leaders are breaking faith, political leaders are sacrificing moral authority, average people are doing violence to decency and logic — all to excuse the inexcusable and explain away the objectively awful. That’s not political loyalty. Would so many people have so readily dismembered conscience on behalf of Reagan, Clinton, Bush or Obama? No. So, the explanation for this lies beyond reason. This is less a presidency than a cult.
All cults end in tears. Like the foolish Danny Dravot in Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, our “mad king” President will wake up some day to find his severed head plunked down on the desk of some poor journalist. Then again, maybe not. As Donald Trump likes to say: “We’ll see what happens. Time will tell.”
So far there seems to be little doubt among Trump supporters that their guy will prevail.
The libertarian Ronald Bailey has a slightly different take on the current political atmosphere but arrives more or less at the same conclusion:
In the current electoral context, voters disgusted with how corrupted our political system has become are attracted to the lawlessness at the heart of Trump’s personalized theory of governance. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” declared Trump at the Republican National Convention. Supporters have faith in Trump the Great Man and therefore are political antinomians.
Bailey describes several ways that (then candidate) Trump shows a callous disregard for the law. But, this only endears Trump to them. After all, what they really seem to want is to blow up the system. They may succeed. Bailey concludes:
The lawless passions that are fueling the rise of Trump are not likely to bring us a freer society. If he wins, you should expect the opposite.
I recommend reading both the Bailey and the Pitts articles to better understand why I use the term political antinomians to refer to many Trump supporters.
Our “mad king” President knows quite well the power of his cult personality on his followers. He famously said: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” And, it appears he was right given the consistency of his support after making a number of comments and actions that would have derailed any other President.
Some of the “burn-it-all-down” political antinomians explain that they are rebelling against a “political correctness” that has gone too far. Listening to our “mad king” President, one wonders if he’s gone from one extreme to another even going so far as to incite violence (see the feature art at the top of this post).
The President has mocked the disabled, denigrated Mexicans and other non-white races, said that some of the alt-right marchers shouting racially charged slogans in Charleston were “good people” and on and on. When he moved our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a controversial decision), he chose a bigoted pastor to give the prayer to open the embassy. Yet he claims he is the “least racist person … ever interviewed.”
The President is proud of his strategy of doubling down and refusing to apologize whenever he utters something offensive or false. The President has made and continues to make so many false statements that Politifact keeps an ongoing list. Yet, he has the gall to call the real news “fake news.” We recently learned that by “fake news” he means news he does not like.
The President’s staff (to the extent that he has one) walks on pins and needles in fear of being fired or otherwise incurring the boss’s ire.
Voters should know better than to condone these eccentricities of our “mad king”. I think they do know better but don’t care. They remain in the “burn-it-all-down” mood. Professional politicians do know better but they have been seduced by what they deem to be a once in a lifetime chance to achieve some of their cherished goals. The “mad king” President has delivered on a few of these but far from all. His supporters have the faith that he can deliver yet more. And perhaps he will. But at what cost?
Political antinomians close their eyes to the laws, secular or moral, that have guided western civilization and made democracy possible: truth, facts, mutual respect, a willingness to negotiate. They abandon these principles for the sake of a few controversial policies knowing these policies could be reversed down the road should the political atmosphere change. The damage to our institutions, however, cannot be reversed. In fact, the damage caused by the “mad king” and his “merry band of pranksters” may prove terminal to our young democracy. That is the great tragedy of where we are today.