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Saturday, October 22, 2016

An "Unprincipled Man"

There is so much that came out of the Oct. 19th debate that I hesitate to comment, but that never stopped me before, nor does it now!
Laying aside for the moment all the charges and counter-charges that have surfaced in past debates as well as in this one, I want to draw your attention to what I believe is one of the most dangerous traits displayed by the Republican candidate for President.  It is this:  Donald Trump is essentially an unprincipled man. 
In order to be principled, he would have to demonstrate by word and conduct that he adheres to certain fundamental principles forming a kind of core that enervates, inspires, motivates and governs his life.  A principled person is imbued with a set of tenets or beliefs by which his or her life is lived.  Some might call it a “code of ethics,” and they would not be amiss in doing so, so long as “ethics” is not restricted to what one “should NOT do.”  A principled person is motivated more by what one should do (and say) in trying to follow a path on the side of what is right.  Being principled has to do with having a guiding sense of the obligations and responsibilities of right conduct. It is less a set of rules than a fundamental truth (or set of truths) that is used in making decisions and choices, and that guides one’s overall conduct.
What principles does Donald Trump say are at the core of his being; what set of principles guide his conduct?  It’s hard to say, because the evidence is spotty, sometimes unclear and often contradictory.  However --
He claims to be an Evangelical Christian.  That would mean he would lay claim to certain principles of that particular denomination and of Protestant Christian belief more generally.  Perhaps it would mean that he even embraces the principles of the New Testament and of Jesus the Christ (the Messiah).  All of which is very complicated because there are strains of belief and of truth within that larger context that can confuse the issue. Nonetheless, let us quote some of the principles espoused by Evangelicals.  According to the National Association of Evangelicals, they include:

1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.  If the Donald believes in this primary principle, then one must question his treatment of women, his bigoted dog whistles about Blacks and Hispanics, his denigration of Mexican nationals, and certainly his isolationist rants over Syrian Muslims, and other ethnic groups.  The Summary of the Law and the parable of the Good Samaritan come to mind as having meanings and lessons quite opposite from Trump words and deeds.

2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Presumably Trump has no problem with this tenet of the Faith.
3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory. 
One can only hope that Mr. Trump takes these seriously as tenets of his faith, rather than casually. Each item of this litany of tenets of the Faith has lessons and meaning for leading a principled life.  They are not simply incidents or events; in addition to the Bible, they are the revelatory vessels of God’s Truth about humanity and its immediate and future destiny. If a Christian wants to live a principled life, he or she cannot ignore the power and strength of sacrifice for others (the crucifixion), or the healing nature of taking upon oneself at least some of the pain and suffering of the brokenness suffered by others due to whatever causes – sins, mistakes, drug use, crime, despair, poverty, loss of loved ones.  Sharing the depths and hurt of other’s burdens (and corruptions) in order to offer a healing grace (blessing) to another human being or despised group, is the essence of atonement upon that cross.  And what about resurrection?  Is it not the cornerstone of a Christian Faith that one must live as though one has been given a new life to live in thanksgiving for the Lord’s Resurrection.  Is it not the penultimate symbol of the power of new beginnings, new life, new creation and the promise of life after death?  The principle of Resurrection to new life can be applied to others who have either lost their way or had it taken from them.  A principled life of a Christian must always involve the giving of opportunity, of hope, of an unexpected newness that can transform the deadness and despair in another’s life.
If I have this about right, (I don’t claim to be an expert in explaining the Christian Gospel), and this is essentially what these events reveal about God and His attitudes toward humanity, then how can any Christian – including Evangelical Christians – support segregation in any form, scapegoating of certain groups, the destruction of programs that alleviate the ravages of poverty.  (Poverty, by the way, is not the fault or sin of those who are poor; it is rather (per those ‘infallible’ scriptures) the responsibility of the rich, the well-to-do, of those who choose to “pass on by” and the ultimate responsibility of the nation’s leaders.  It’s all there in that Bible – you can’t escape the message if you read it thoroughly (check my Blog posting of 4/10/2011 where I quote some of those messages).
4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. 
5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
Principles four and five seem to go right along with what I have already said.  There’s just one caveat: the emphasis of evangelical (and probably most) Christians is on the individual and his or her regeneration, or his or her “godly life’ lived almost in isolation from the exigencies and challenges of the world.  The principled Christian or human being does not live in isolation, but acts as part of a community.  And here’s the rub of those scriptures again.  At the final judgment with God on his throne and Jesus seated next to Him, there is a separation of sheep from goats – the good from the bad.  But the basis of that final judgment is not that of just an individual morally righteous life, lived mainly according to rules that restrict one’s conduct.  NO.  The basis for the judgment is what the community has done for individuals and what individuals have done for the people who make up the community and the nation. 
6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation. 
The concept of individual salvation devoid of human service and sacrifice for the community is appalling, and demeaning of the real Gospel of Christ.  It is in fact what Jesus himself reviled and abhorred.  His whole ministry and life were dedicated not to niceties and restrictions of the law, but to the principles of service, sacrifice, human charity, and the love of one’s neighbor.  It was his reviling of lawyers, Pharisees and scribes – the leaders of his day – for leading unprincipled, narrow lives that ignored the poor and the destitute -- that put him on the cross. 
7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.  But this again misses the point of those authoritarian, infallible scriptures.  The principle that believers are spiritually united in Christ is too inwardly-directed.  Christ taught that all humanity was united under God.  He always points beyond himself and beyond individuals to the people, the community, the foreigners, the poor, the downtrodden, the widows, the orphans, the broad-based human community with all its difficulties and its demons.  He carefully chooses a despised Samaritan to be the hero, so to speak, of one of his most important parables.  
The Donald does not say much about his Christian principles.  Thus far, my impression of his adherence to Evangelical principles is that he sees them more as a tool than as an obligation or responsibility.  That would align with so much of what he says and does.  He uses so many tools to get what he wants that the list is almost endless.  Trump uses women as tools to get what he wants; he uses the Courts as tools to force people and groups into giving him what he wants; he uses the laws of the United States to give him what he wants (to pay no income taxes).  In other words, Trump uses almost everything that others regard as inviolable or almost sacred, as tools to obtain status, riches, power and position for himself.  His principles are those of the cut-throat businessman who has no regard whatsoever for what others think, feel, believe, need or cherish except insofar as they can be used by him as tools or mechanisms to advance himself.
Thus, it may be quite fair to say about Donald that he is an unprincipled man in terms of his religion for the very reason that he is willing to use that affiliation as a tool to advance himself.  The very scriptures that are so integral to all that Evangelicals believe (in its position as ‘infallible’ and ‘authoritative’ Word of God) contain some very fundamental principles that mitigate against using any of God’s creation to advance oneself at the expense of others.  The Summary of the Law for instance spells out a duty or obligation to one’s God as first and foremost in life, inextricably woven together with caring about other people to the same degree that we tend to watch out for ourselves.  Donald Trump seems to have it all mixed up.  He places himself in the primary position of concern and then uses his neighbors, colleagues, friends, enemies, clients, workers, wives, contractors, and now the mechanisms of government itself as tools to maintain and enhance his position (and his power).
If the Donald was a principled man, he would have to take the scriptural principles to heart, as we say; that is, he would have to make them an integral part of his core and act upon them to worship and venerate his God.  And the primary way to do that for a rich man is to use his riches as tools to better the lives of those less fortunate.  Believe it or not, the written Word of God makes that a guiding principle throughout the Old and New Testaments. (For a more detailed treatment of that subject, refer to my post of 4/10/2011).  Did the Evangelical Association and the Donald miss that biblical principle perhaps?
There is another Summary of Principles that the early Hebrews accepted as their code of conduct/ethics/law called the Ten Commandments.  It is divided between commandments that address the veneration of Yahweh (the name of the God of Israel) and those that address interactions as a community or nation.  If nothing else, this set of commandments is accepted by conservative Christians as given by God.  And, many believe it is a code of conduct so basic within our history and culture that it should appear on our Court buildings carved in stone. 
The question is, how committed to these principles is Donald Trump?  Are they another set of tools to be used for self-aggrandizement, or are they a core set of values that guide his conduct?  We cannot know for sure, but some of his alleged conduct is questionable in relation to them:
Thou shalt not commit adultery:
--questionable conduct in relation to his marriage vows: Marla Maples and others come to mind from recent revelations by several women
Thou shalt not bear false witness:
--Donald has taken bearing false witness in terms of lying, innuendo, denigration and false stories to such an extreme that now his Party is being torn apart by his unprincipled approach to everything
            Thou shalt not steal:
--taking money under false pretenses like using the Trump Foundation monies to pay for use of his company facilities, for a portrait of himself, to pay lobbyists, and his own businesses for campaign expenses, etc.
Thou shalt not covet:
--one definition includes an inordinate desire for something without due regard for the rights of others – would that speak to some of the many court cases against Donald Trump for taking services from contractors and then not paying them; withholding payments to workers, or offering promises of a complete education at Trump University but not providing all the necessary elements of that pledge?
Do the principles of Trump’s chosen religion come through as an integral part of his conduct at any point? Hillary Clinton may have gotten it about right.  Perhaps they shine through his children.  Certainly, Ivanka has demonstrated some integrity in disagreeing with some of her father’s rhetoric, as has his wife.  But a clear answer is not yet developed – we need time to evaluate his legacy through his children.
Perhaps they show forth in some old Protestant ethics (or myths perhaps) that hard work is godly, or that success means one is blessed by God, or that the measure of a man is in his wealth and his property.   
In conclusion, I think we all must ask what set of principles guide this man from within?  A difficult question that has already been commented upon by economists, politicians, lawyers, employees, contractors, and followers, to mention a few.  I find Trump to be at least "wrongly principled," and at most unprincipled, because I find in his utterances and actions so many things that are contrary to the fundamental principles of his Christian faith. 
On the other hand, there are principles that he presumably borrows from his business life, and by which he patterns his words and his conduct.  Unfortunately, many of them are also contrary to the bases upon which our way of life and governing is built.   For him, it seems --
  • Authoritarianism trumps democracy;
  • Strongman tactics are idolized whereas service of others is the principle found in the scriptures;
  • Coveting of profits and of riches is glorified, but helping the less fortunate predominates in the good Book. His giving to charities is questionable and limited (does he tithe, as encouraged by the Good Book?).  Without his tax returns being released, we shall never know for sure.
  • The manipulation of people by use of many tools is the norm in business, it appears (at least in his enterprises), yet the standard of Christianity is the loving care of neighbor woven inextricably with the love of God. 
  • And I guess, finally, that there is an air of privilege and superiority that hangs over all of Trump’s dealings, words and conduct.  He emphasizes over and over that he alone is the answer for all of America’s difficulties and problems.  He knows more than the Generals about ISIS.  He alone can undo and rewrite complicated treaties and trade agreements.  And he alone can fix our inner cities with something called Law & Order.  He is all-knowing, all-seeing.  He alone stands between Chaos and a Greater America.  (But somebody else beat him to the line: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”).
I submit to you that this is a “wrongly-principled” man, guided by beliefs, myths and illusions that are not always on the side of doing right on behalf of others.  The principles of his faith, the principles of our form of government, and the principles of one of the bases of our laws (the Ten Commandments) seem not to be integral to this limited reality of his.

We have seen it all before – men and women unprincipled, undisciplined, uncaring, but feeling invincible, unobligated and not responsible for the nation or the world’s problems.  They are most likely to chart a course that damages themselves, their families, their enterprises and the welfare of all those who are caught in their lack of principled stand for the rights and well-being of others. Often, such men and women lead their followers down dark lanes and back alleys into the abyss of destruction of much that undergirded and shaped their lives and their welfare. 

Are we there again?  I fear we are, and we may be stalled here for a while until we can figure out just who we are, why we’re here, and where we need to go to preserve the truths and the actions that will make us a more principled nation!  (Unfortunately, a “greater nation” tends to smell of superiority and contentiousness – exactly opposite from the truth of our own founding principles!).