David French has recently written another scathing article on the lack of Evangelical virtue, teeing off Al Mohler’s intimation that he will likely vote for President Trump this Fall. Now that the character test has been failed, French claims the competence test will follow closely behind.
I like David French.
I know some of my readers have just thrown up a little in their mouths, but hold tight and try to swallow it back down. As should be clear to anyone who reads my blog or watches/listens to CrossPolitic, I do not share French’s adamant Never-Ever-Till-Hell-Freezes-Over-Trump stance, and I frequently find myself disagreeing with French’s takes. But French was kind enough to sit down with the CrossPolitic crew back in January when we were in Nashville (which really was kind enough), but when he might have easily done his time with us and moved on, he made extra time for us and showed us genuine generosity. I think we may have been a genuine curiosity to him as well, sort of like seeing exotic birds in an Amazon jungle, or three Idaho natives off the reservation, or something.
David French’s biography has also underlined his care for genuine character. He hates hypocrisy. And you can tell this is a true hatred of hypocrisy because he examines his own life first. And I know from first hand experience that he’s willing to re-examine his own life first (more on this below). Probably most famously, his own involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom, joining the United States Army Reserve to serve as a squadron judge advocate, and deployed to Iraq in 2007 during the Iraq War, testifies to this commitment. He was technically too old to join, but his conscience would not let that get in the way of what he saw as being consistent with his convictions. Add to this the massive work he has done for religious liberty and free speech, particularly on college campuses, as well as his vocal support for overturning Roe v. Wade, and there’s a lot to respect. And so I do.
French on Mohler
In this recent broadside, French excoriates evangelical hypocrisy — as has been his wont, seizing upon Al Mohler’s announcement that he is likely to vote Republican for the rest of his life, citing the platform of the RNC as more significant than the personal piety of the man — at this point. In the radio address Mohler noted that he did not vote for Trump in 2016 precisely because of character, in keeping with a fairly straight line of presidential votes beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1980.
French points to Mohler’s own acknowledgement of his past insistence on character, particularly during the impeachment trial of Clinton, in which Mohler notes that he made numerous public television and radio appearances calling upon Clinton to resign. So what happened? Perhaps the strongest representation of Mohler’s argument is that the last four years have simply seen a further massive shift in the American political, cultural landscape. Mohler cites the landslide of secular militancy from the left, trundling blithely off the cliffs of LGBT tyranny and insanity, combined with a surprising number of strong accomplishments from Trump, using executive authority to suppress abortion and his vast conservative judicial appointments, among the most significant. I mean, what happens when your choices for president are Nebuchadnezzar and Herod and you refuse to vote for either one the first time, but when Nebuchadnezzar gets elected and starts doing things that are halfway reasonable, is there no room for reconsideration?
French is at his strongest when he compares the cries of character during the Clinton impeachment and his claim that evangelicals have retreated from that clear standard with Trump. His question may have a reasonable answer, but it is a reasonable question: What gives? Clinton lied and committed adultery in the White House. Trump has been promiscuous and no paragon of virtue at least before coming into the White House. Has something changed in Trump’s character?
While I don’t know how Mohler would answer that, my two questions in return to French would be: How does Trump’s apology for for his very vulgar and appalling comments caught on the infamous Access Hollywood tape figure into this? Can Trump be forgiven for those comments at least? And second, don’t Trump’s judicial appointments and pro-life victories count for something in evaluating Trump’s true character?
French has not at all convinced me of his overall point. For example, he claimed in our conversation in Nashville that there were literally thousands upon thousands of documented Trump lies. He pointed me to Glen Kessler who runs The Fact Checker at The Washington Post for evidence. So when I got home I took a gander at the site and came away sorely unimpressed. I don’t know how to say this nicely, but I will try. It’s like these people never talked to politicians before. Politicians are notorious for overstatements, exaggerations, optimistic projections, high hopes, razzle-dazzle rhetoric, and broad brush braggadocio. The only difference I can tell with Trump is that he says it like a rich hillbilly, and I think that really gets under the skin of the elites. When you brag and boast and round up or round down depending on how you want to spin the story, you’re supposed to do it with a sophisticated air of class — you know like Obama. But Trump can only manage to muster a sophisticated air of crass and for some reason it almost always comes off rhyming with NASCAR or WWE.
My Plate of Peas
Now as I was reading along chewing the French article manfully, along came this line: “When a president declares that there were “very fine people” in a collection of tiki-torch-toting white supremacists, shouldn’t Christians of all colors be gravely concerned?” Here, I choked. Actually, I didn’t choke, I just closed the article. For several days. It might have been a full week. There are Bible verses about putting on the full armor of God and such, and well, this was definitely the stuff of principalities and powers in high places. Here, in the course of lambasting the evangelical world in the name of character and virtue and courage, French repeats the old “very fine people on both sides” slander. Jeepers, I said to myself, and then for good measure, I added, gadzooks. Eventually, as I say, after a week or so, I forced myself to open the article back up, and I finished it off manfully, like a plate of cold peas from my childhood (because reading thoughtful, intelligent people you disagree with really is good for your digestive system).
In making his “tiki-torch-toting” claim, French links to an article (the link is preserved in the quote above) in the Bulwark where one Robert Tracinski works his way through the actual words that Trump used and argues that there were no very fine people on site protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument. All of them, every last one of them was a Neo-nazi, white nationalist because, well, and this really is his argument: he himself is a “very fine people” who opposes the removal of Robert E. Lee statutes, and well, he wasn’t there and he, of all people, oughta know if any of his very fine people had gotten off the reservation. The only people there, especially on the night in question, and the only permit apparently on file for the peaceful protest were a conglomeration of not so very fine people. And as everybody knows, the only people that ever show up to protests are the ones who have dutifully filled out the appropriate paper work and checked a box that indicates whether they are “very fine people” or “tiki-torch toting white supremacists.” And so there you have it, clear as a mudpie.
But here, at worst, you have Trump simply very mistaken about who was in attendance on a particular night. The point French seems to want to pin on him is that he actually intended to call “tiki-torch-toting white supremacists” “very fine people.” But that is simply wrong and false and incorrect. And the article French links basically admits that, albeit reluctantly and with all kinds of handwaving about why he shouldn’t have made that mistake. Regardless, if I were Glen Kessler or a member of his crew, I would be forced to call it a lie. I award you four Pinocchios, Mr. French. Trump’s actual words clearly distinguished from the bad white-supremacists and normal Americans who simply don’t want all the historical monuments pulled down. So, in the interest of preserving Mr. French’s integrity and virtue, I submit that he really does need to retract this claim.
Game of Groans
But I actually think there’s an even more glaring hole in Mr. French’s own character that calls into question his ability to make accurate character judgments. And it’s a point we brought up with him in person when we met in Nashville back in January. And that is his public enthusiasm for Game of Thrones, HBO’s erstwhile uber-popular blood and boob fest. For those of you virtuous enough to be blissfully ignorant, GOT premiered in 2011 and quickly became well known for it’s on-screen full nudity, sex acts, sexual violence, including at least one particularly gratuitous rape scene, which even many pagans were embarrassed by. While the actress later said she didn’t regret her role, she did describe her experience as requiring vodka to perform and involved her frequently crying afterward.
Even an article in Esquire Magazine, no paragon of Christian virtue or character, noted that “those scenes made it clear that Thrones was a show willing to mount its action upon the stage of women’s bodies.” When we pressed David about the apparent contradiction between his very public criticisms of Donald Trump’s womanizing and his own enthusiasm for the womanizing of Game of Thrones, we had a very good back and forth. You can watch the entire 2 hour interview if you are CrossPolitic Member here, or go here and become a member. And yes, that was an utter and complete shameless plug.
Our conversation with French continued for a bit after the cameras were turned off, and he eventually said he would definitely give my concerns more thought. Perhaps he has, and perhaps he’s even said something about it publicly, but I don’t recall seeing anything about it and a quick google search turned nothing up. So here I am wondering why we should accept French’s concerns about Al Mohler failing a character test when French was for years publicly and vocally entertained by full nudity, sex acts on screen, and dramatic rape scenes that required vodka and tears to perform. How has Mr. French not already failed the character test, and why shouldn’t we be concerned that he is in the process of failing the competency test?
2. Like? Really? Not hardly.
3. Throw up? More like spew.
4. “Serving” as a lawyer? I would encourage you to speak with men who have experienced the dubious pleasure of “Jags”. The entire premise of “hi guys, I am here to help, I am a lawyer” is a hard sell.
5. Mr. French strikes me as the “Oh well, I Never!” faction of the R.L. Dabney “Conservatives as Exercise Machines” party, but relegated to the pink 2 and 5 pound weights.
I read Mr. French’s piece on National Review trumpeting Game of Thrones. It’s not right. He seems like a good man but he should retract what he wrote if he wants to be consistent. I think your assessment is fair. I don’t understand why French can’t criticize Trump without also agreeing that the alternative would be terrible for the country and the church.