Was Trumps Election Divinely Ordained?
December 2017By Christopher Gawley
Christopher Gawley is an attorney in the New York City area. His academic articles have been published in The South Dakota Law Review, The Capitol University Law Review, and The George Washington Law Review. He regularly writes book reviews and articles for Christian Order.
Put not your trust in princes: in the children of men, in whom there is no salvation. Psalm 145:2-3
No matter ones politics, November 8, 2016, was a momentous occasion. The unthinkable the impossible had happened: Republican Donald J. Trump was elected by a comfortable margin as the 45th president of the United States. Election Night 2016 will live on in the memories of Americans old enough to understand it as well it should; it was the political equivalent of a 100-year flood that devastated the political geography of the country. Whether it remains as a lasting realignment or something less, Trumps election was seemingly nothing short of miraculous if we define miraculous as those events that defy natural expectation and explanation.
In 2016 the political implications of controlling the presidency were enormous for both major American political parties. In February of that year, Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in the wilds of Texas, leaving ideological control of our nine-headed Caesar, the U.S. Supreme Court, up for grabs for the first time in a generation. The Senate Republicans decision to refuse President Obama the opportunity to fill that vacancy meant that the winner of the November election would not only inherit the enormous responsibility of shaping foreign and domestic policy, which has become almost dictatorial in the age of the administrative state, but he (or she) would immediately have the power to put a lasting stamp on the Supreme Court. Conventional wisdom suggested that Trumps Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, was on the precipice of attaining the political capital necessary to continue the permanent reshaping of America begun by Barack Obama. Moreover, the chance to flip Senate control from Republican to Democratic seemed well within reach.
The Fight for the Soul of the Party or Was It?After eight years of the dramatic cultural impact of the Obama presidency, one might have suspected that Republicans would be especially organized and united in their attempt to wrest executive power from the Democrats. But the bruising fight for the partys nomination left the GOP bitterly divided, so much so that the Establishment GOP was soundly beaten by Donald Trump, a political neophyte and celebrity populist who was part Huey Long, part Gordon Gekko, part Ronald Reagan, and part Patrick Buchanan. Trump challenged the globalist orthodoxy of the Establishment. Much to the chagrin of Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Trump denounced the troika of free trade, unfettered immigration, and foreign wars. Along the way, he presented himself, in an about-face from previous public statements, as a champion of the pro-life cause.
The internecine Republican nominating contest that bled into the general election portended the worst of political outcomes for Trump. No successful candidate has ever been hated by both parties as much as he was. A sizable contingent of Republican politicians and the pundit class (old and new) did everything in their power to derail the runaway freight train that Trump had become during the primary season. Even after he secured the necessary delegates to earn the nomination, Republican Never-Trumpers were hard at work devising strategy after strategy to rob him of the nomination. The rupture was painful and real: For the first time since the Reagan revolution, the unanimity typical of the Republican Party was broken. Trump survived, but he limped into the general election as a wounded candidate presiding over a fractured party against one of the best-financed and most-organized candidates in U.S. history in Hillary Clinton. The Establishment GOP eventually and sullenly fell in line behind Trump, but a vocal minority of Never-Trumpers continued to beat the drums of dissent all the way through Election Day (and still do).
Social Conservatives, Disunite!For socially conservative voters, the coming election and its seemingly foreordained Clintonian victory were disconcerting, to say the least. Not only had they endured eight years of a president who despised them and pushed policies diametrically opposed to their worldview, like same-sex marriage and free birth control, but they were looking at the prospect of seeing, for example, the push to outlaw abortion deferred for another generation, given the likely shift of the Supreme Court. Moreover, the buzz following President Obamas landslide re-election in 2012 was that the Democratic Party had an insurmountable demographic electoral advantage that effectively meant we might not see another Republican president in our lifetimes.
Adding to this bleak forecast, social conservatives were bitterly divided over nominee Trump. Most assumed that his appeal to social conservatives would be limited, given his previous socially liberal views, modern lifestyle (hes been married thrice and divorced twice), and well-known penchant for crass and vulgar language. But a seeming majority of social conservatives flocked to him and became a bulwark of the Trump coalition. Other Christians, from the less enthusiastic to the hostile, refused to support him for a variety of reasons. Some could not overcome their distaste for his vulgarity and nastiness, no matter the stakes. Other Christians were card-carrying members of the neoconservative movement and, as such, disdained Trumps America First platform as much as did the writers for The Weekly Standard. And these socially conservative dissenters were vocal for example, a group of Catholic intellectuals signed an open letter denouncing Trump during the primary season. Evangelicals made similar denunciations.
It was so bad that it was like a civil war within a broader war: Religious voters denounced the sincerity and authenticity of their co-religionist for either supporting or vilifying Trump. His socially conservative detractors still harbor deep misgivings about his policies, personal qualities, and fitness to be president. On the flip side, many of his socially conservative supporters see their fellow detractors as hoisting the worst of self-righteous and hyper-pious demands upon a political figure.
Trumps candidacy laid bare the implicit inconsistencies within the Republican Party. Unlike the Establishment GOP, social conservatives put an emphasis on the culture wars (i.e., abortion, sexual morality, and the primacy of the conventional family). When it comes to the primary issues that animate todays think-tank Establishment GOP (e.g., war-making, globalist alliances, and free trade), social conservatives have historically fallen into line in what amounts to a marriage of political convenience. Many social conservatives have misgivings about these Establishment policies but have been left with no other choice until Trump. When given an opportunity to repudiate some of the sacred cows of the Republican Establishment, many social conservatives jumped at the chance.
Were on a Mission from God or Are We?When Trump prevailed against all odds to win the presidency, many of these same religious Trump supporters were quick to attribute his victory to Divine Providence. This sentiment was genuinely ecumenical Catholics and evangelicals alike hailed his stunning victory as a sign of divine intervention. Undergirding this belief of divine favor was the apocalyptic dread of what Clintons victory would have meant. A sizable group of social conservatives saw 2016 as the final tipping point when the forces of darkness would become utterly unstoppable. It was not uncommon to hear social conservatives say that the softer harassment of Christians that has become customary in our age would soon birth a harsher persecution that would ultimately result in martyrdom in the near term. It only takes a quick Google search to find serious leftist academicians who argue that Christian parents who harbor anti-LGBT beliefs should lose custody of their children. For many social conservatives, November 8, 2016, seemed like the end of the world and the end of their right to live openly as Christians in America.
Yet the apocalypse would have to wait God raised up the unlikeliest of champions in Donald J. Trump, or so religious conservatives claimed. His victory might be only a speedbump in the eventual triumph of darkness in the Western world, but it is nonetheless an unexpected reprieve from the gallows upon which their enemies had hoped to string them up, and string them up right soon.
A year after Trumps historic election, debate still rages among Republicans. For every one of his few victories e.g., the successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat there have been numerous chaotic missteps. While he has been on the receiving end of the most vicious and unhinged smear campaign ever waged by the media, President Trump has also suffered from myriad self-inflicted wounds. And when he falters or tweets something seemingly beyond the pale, the Never-Trumpers re-emerge to remind us that they dont support this demagogic madman, and never have. For the social conservatives who are wary, to say the least, of President Trump, the designation of him as a man chosen by God for a special mission to save the U.S. is simply a bridge too far. It goes without saying that the elites of the Left think he came straight from hell (metaphorically speaking, of course), but even among some social conservatives the talk of divine intervention on behalf of Trump is unsettling, and potentially blasphemous.
My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts: Nor Your Ways My Ways, Saith the Lord.What are we to make of the claim of divine intervention in Trumps victory in the face of almost certain electoral defeat? At the very least, we should establish first principles based on the history of Christianity and even that of Israel in Old Testament times. First, God acts in history and is not indifferent to manifestations of injustice and impiety in this world. This statement should be axiomatic for Christians: The Incarnation itself was, among many other things, an action of God in history to rectify worldly injustice and impiety.
Second, the fervent prayer, penance, and fasting of Gods people often has, in inscrutable ways, moved God to act in this world. To be a Christian is to believe ipso facto that God acts in the world for the good of His people. Prayer is the efficacious medium through which we offer our petitions for that very action. The Church has long instructed the flock to implore God for deliverance from every conceivable form of human misery from war to pestilence to drought. And that asking is, so we are taught, better received by our Lord when it is accompanied by fasting and penance; in other words, the efficacy of our prayer is related in a mysterious way to our particular willingness to suffer and atone for the sake of our petition.
Third, Christians (and Israelites before them) believe that God has worked wonders through people of suspect character before. From Cyrus the Great to Constantine, from Charles Martel to El Cid numerous examples can be offered of men of questionable virtue being raised up to perform mighty service to the people of God. Indeed, but for their questionable virtue, many of these heroes would have been declared saints long ago. Whether we believe today, for example, that the outcome of the Battle of Tours was directed by the hand of God is of little import; what matters is that Christians (and Jews) have always believed that God raises up less-than-worthy men for heroic acts.
But Gods raising up of such men does not glorify them it glorifies Him. God does not reward vice because it is contrary to His nature; therefore, if God raises up an unrighteous man for a heroic act, He raises him despite his lack of virtue and never because of it. Indeed, another principle is that God tends to work more through the relatively righteous than He does through the relatively unrighteous. Saints are saints for a reason, and their cooperation with Gods grace is the mechanism for the often wondrous and miraculous things they accomplish. Veneration of the saints is, therefore, perfectly acceptable because following the examples of their lives leads us to a deeper relationship with our Lord.
Fourth, Gods ways are not our ways, and, absent special revelation, we cannot know for sure whether God has, in fact, divinely ordered an outcome to effect some particular end even if we acknowledge that He has both the power and inclination to do so. A corollary to this principle is that caution and circumspection ought to be our guide in ascribing to God a particular outcome, even if we believe that the outcome in question helped forge a more just and holy world.
Application of these principles renders the question of divine intervention and Trumps election easy to answer: We just dont know. What we can say is that God is not indifferent to, among other things, the scourge of divorce and broken families, the filthiness of libertine sexuality and pornography, or the impious machinations of modern man against the exercise of authentic religion and rightly formed conscience. Our Lord cares about righteousness and holiness, and He most certainly acts in this world. To apply the second principle accordingly, is there any doubt that some number of Christians, who believe that the U.S. is a nation hurtling headlong into perdition, prayed fervently, fasted, and performed acts of penance to implore God to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming the leader of the free world? Moreover, is there any doubt that God could have chosen Trump as an imperfect and even deeply flawed instrument to defeat Clinton and to arrest, if but temporarily, the full realization of a world in which good and evil have been fully inverted with the imprimatur of law? Parenthetically, if true, there is something satisfyingly sardonic about Gods choice of Trump to slay, politically anyway, the candidate who epitomized everything wrong with modern feminist ideology.
Those who dismiss out of hand that God raised up Trump in this moment of history are saying more about the limitations of God than the deficiencies of Donald Trump. If we are not able to categorically affirm Gods role in the 2016 election, we are not yet in a position to categorically deny it either.
If Trumps election turns out badly for the people of God, the Christians who baldly ascribed Divine Providence to his election would look more than foolish; they would have falsely accused God of having put him there. Moreover, there is another reason for circumspection: Ockhams razor, the time-honored philosophical principle that the best explanation for an occurrence is the simplest one. The election of Trump is explainable by the fact that what we witnessed was a political retrenchment of a plurality of the American electorate against the ascendant globalism that has come to dominate both political parties. Trump appealed to the same embodiment of forces that unleashed Brexit five months before his election the stunning vote of approval by the British people to exit the political body known as the European Union. Trump and Brexit, in that sense, represent the anxieties of older voters over the breakneck pace and deforming nature of recent cultural changes. That said, Ockhams razor deals with probability, not certainty; so, dismissal of Gods hand in all this is unreasonable because it is simply unknowable. In time, our progeny in faith will be in a better position to evaluate the divine import of Trumps election. History tends to clarify.
The Dangers of Political MessiahsSetting aside the unknowability of Gods intervention in the 2016 election, the circumspection required as it relates to Trump is doubled when we consider the temptation of political messianism, the belief that God has anointed a certain person to lead us into the new promised land, a Christian utopia. The belief in a creature as a political savior, though alluring, is antithetical to Christianity. We need champions in this world, and it is not difficult to see that need morph into something approaching idolatry. If God accomplishes an amazing feat through someone less than holy, the temptation exists to whitewash the vice in that actor. But if 2016 was a miracle, it was Gods alone. Going further, the fact that God might have worked a miraculous result through Trump does not make Trump an object of special veneration. We owe no religious allegiance to Trump, even if we believe he was Gods instrument in this instance.
The political outcomes of the 2016 election seem very important, but as Christians we know that our rewards are not in this world. Thus, even a Clinton victory, no matter how odious and deplorable to social conservatives, would not have materially changed our position with respect to God. But if we believe that God acted through Trump or even if we dont we now owe a special duty to pray for Trumps wisdom and conversion, as is our duty with each of our leaders, even had the election turned out differently.
Trumps power is only as great as God continues to provide. We should pray that God guides this man in the path of righteousness and justice; indeed, given Trumps well-known vices, it is only prayer that can sustain him in the challenges ahead. Meanwhile, we Trumpers and Never-Trumpers alike should bear patiently and charitably with one another.