The Trump phenomenon leaves many people perplexed. On the one hand, he has done many good things for the conservative cause. On the other, he undeniably gets into trouble with his unique style and tweets, many of which open him up to criticism and attack.
While it is true that the president excites a temperamental reaction in many Americans, the debate over Trump is not about temperament. One only needs to look at the left’s vitriol. Temperament alone does not give rise to such hatred. Something more profound and substantial must be its cause.
Indeed, the key to understanding the left’s crazed obsession with President Trump is to realize that leftists have made it all about him because they do not want the public focusing on other issues. They see how many Americans are growing in discontent with secularism run amok and have a corresponding yearning for God and His Law.
All Trump, All the Time
The surface debate is all about President Trump, and he serves as the left’s punching bag, albeit one that punches back. The left uses the president to energize its grassroots, turning him into a visible personal target. The left learned in the past administration that it could not demonize the Little Sisters of the Poor—although they tried. The “deplorables” label backfired, having offended a broad sector of the American public. In President Trump, the left found a national leader whose abrasiveness enrages its rank and file.
Having propped Trump up as a target, the left tries to make the debate all about him and only him. They criticize his every move, comment or tweet. They investigate every episode from his storied past. They make coverage so intense that if the word “Trump” is taken out of major news stories, little else remains.
Above all, the left wants to keep their attacks extremely personal and emotional. The NFL National Anthem controversy started as a clash between patriotism and anarchy, but the left turned it into a personal tug of war with the President. Border security is all about national sovereignty, but the left twisted reality into a pretzel with their constant refrain that the president is a man obsessed with walls. The left wants to turn everything into a passionate personal dispute and avoids the more vulnerable field of ideas and principles, in which it will lose. By making everything personal, the important issues are kept veiled and the left’s vulnerabilities shielded from public scrutiny.
Not All About Him
However, the real debate is not about President Trump at all. What the left hates is what the president represents. They associate Trump with a return to an order that must be avoided at all costs.
Radical liberals fear the return to a Christian order since it would apply the Ten Commandments as the foundation of the moral law (as it once was in America). They fear the traditional family (that once flourished in America) because they know it is the ideal platform for a Christian order to thrive. Legitimate love of country, respect for private property and chaste, moral relationships are all targets of these liberals. They reject notions of sin, good and evil, right and wrong, or affirmations of objective truth. Specifically, they fear the Culture War’s unsettled issues. Should such an order triumph, then the “gains” of the sexual revolution will be lost.
The left’s emotional and personal hatred for President Trump is based on seeing him as the symbol of all they find loathsome.
Nevertheless, these leftists know that the president does not represent this order entirely. He is honest enough to admit this. It is no secret that his past life and even some of his present positions do not entirely coincide with the fullness of this godly worldview. The left knows this but still makes him the imperfect spokesman of the Christian order.
Turned Into a Symbol of the Christian Order
While radical liberals fear this Christian order, they know they cannot attack the President for holding views associated with it. The American way of life is too intertwined with Christian values to be attacked openly. Thus, they move past this dilemma by associating the President with every hateful caricature of a Christian order and every anti-Christian ideology that opposes their socialist agenda.
The left deforms the Christian order they fear into a cesspool of horrifying attitudes that are eschewed by all decent Americans. The president is made to represent racist, fascist, white nationalist, nativist or totalitarian attitudes that are all vague and undefined. His abrasive personality is attached to this caricature so that his words, gestures or deeds are twisted to give an appearance of adhesion to these ideas.
Like the Christian order, liberals also know President Trump does not mirror this tangled mess of ideas. He is twisted into the symbol of all brands of activists on the fringe of the American conservative political spectrum or the darker regions of the Internet.
Steering the Debate
In a certain sense, not much has changed in the fight for the American soul. Rather, the fight has only intensified and further polarized. Most of the players remain the same. However, different tactics are needed.
The first thing to be done is not to follow the left’s narrative of making the fight all about President Trump all the time. This should not be a highly emotional personal fight but one focused on Christian principles. Steering the debate away from personal disagreements toward principles is the most effective way to silence and frustrate the left.
This is not to say that conservatives must ignore the left’s antics when attacking the President or conservatives in general. However, they should take advantage of these many opportunities to force the other side to talk about principles and ideas, which the left does its best to avoid, being ill-equipped to deal with them. A debate about the border, for example, should always lead to talking about the meaning of sovereignty and the rights of nations. It should never be reduced to a mere exchange of slogans.
Secondly, the personal debate around the person of the President does have the advantage of forcing the other side to unmask its hidden goals. Conservatives should take advantage of these irrational outbursts to expose the sterile and empty ideas behind their agenda. The left must always be forced to define themselves. Conservatives should discern radical liberal goals and denounce them. They should describe the frightening world the left wants for America using the left’s own words.
Staying on Message
Finally, conservatives need to stay on message as they have done through the decades. They must unite around those moral values and issues that have always served to provide surprising victories, including in 2016. They must clearly define and stand up for those perennial values of a Christian civilization that are the foundation of any stable order. They must defend the natural law and ordered liberty that are so much a part of our history. They must never abandon the defense of marriage and family. Private property and a free market must always be promoted and tempered with Christian charity.
Above all, there must be a bold and unapologetic defense of God and His Law. All activism must be based on complete trust in God Who never abandons those who fight for Him. Indeed, America will only be blessed when God is again the center of lives and is proudly acknowledged in the public square.
Presidents come and go, but God and perennial values always remain. In this sense, the battle is all about Him, all the time.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.