One of the numerous questions that will dog historians seeking explanations for this period in American history is why so many devout Christians, who work hard to incorporate Christ's teachings into their own lives and the life of their community, embrace President Donald Trump, a man whose life makes such a mockery of those teachings. Indeed, we have saddled ourselves with a president who seems the very personification of moral rot.
He has cheated small-business men, contractors and employees. He has defrauded students and conned charities. He has clearly committed sexual harassment and not only admitted it but bragged about it — on videotape. Hush money has been paid to women with whom he is alleged to have committed adultery in order to silence them including a porn star who says he cheated with her on his third wife shortly after she gave birth to their son.
There has been his taunting of women, of a reporter with disabilities, even of American patriot John McCain, whom Trump actually ridiculed for being captured while fighting for our country in Vietnam — a war that Trump evaded by using his family's wealth to cook up a clearly phony story about bone spurs. There have been the lies — not merely hundreds of them but thousands of them. Last week, the man actually mocked a dead World War II veteran, who served honorably in Congress for decades, by suggesting to supporters that he is in hell, ridiculing the man's grieving widow at Christmastime.
One shudders to think of the effect Donald Trump is having on America's children, and one wonders how those who profess to care about children have stayed so silent about him for so long. Last week, however, the silence was broken by Christianity Today, a prominent evangelical magazine founded by the Rev. Billy Graham, which called for Trump's removal from office on moral principle.
"That he should be removed," editorialized the magazine on Thursday, "is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments." The editor of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, emphasized on Sunday that this was wholly a judgment on Trump's morality, and one reluctantly reached.
"I'm not really ... making a political judgment about him," said Galli, whose publication has a reported 4.3 million website visitors monthly as well as several hundred thousand print subscribers. "I am making a moral judgment that he's morally unfit, or even more precisely, it's his public morality that makes him unfit."
"We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now," the magazine wrote. "But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral."
But more damningly still, the magazine laid out Trump's failure to meet acceptable moral standards in unsparing fashion. "The reason many are not shocked about this," it wrote, "is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused."
"Morally lost and confused" is surely a gentle, and charitable, way of putting it. But it is nevertheless an important statement by a respected publication of faith that there are limits to the silence that has so sadly protected an immoral president. Christianity Today has done the nation its readers love and revere a very great service.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.