Blaise Joseph’s article comparing Donald Trump to the Roman Emperor Constantine was first published in MercatorNet on March 26, long before he clinched the Republican nomination and went on to defeat Hillary Clinton. At the time, it seemed audacious and improbable. Now it seems prophetic.
Christians are unable to speak freely. Religious freedom is under attack. Society is materialistic and immoral. Western civilisation is facing huge threats, from within and without. And apparently the one powerful emerging leader is no saint.
You’re thinking America 2016? No. Rome 312.
The leader is Constantine, who is vying to become the Roman Emperor. Constantine had many defects: he had multiple wives and even put one of them to death, was extremely ambitious, and was a ruthless general and politician. But the legend remains that he had a “Road to Damascus” moment, saw a vision, converted to Christianity, triumphed over his opponents, and became a great emperor of Rome.
Constantine would go on to not only save the Roman Empire, but also liberate Christianity. He signed the Edict of Milan in 313, giving Christians the right to practice their faith and speak freely. This was enough to allow Christians to engage in the public sphere with freedom, thereby enabling them to spread the Christian message to the ends of the empire and Christianise a pagan culture.
Constantine himself was no pillar of virtue, but he created the environment which gave Christians the freedom to influence society. The early Christians were perfectly capable of influencing society themselves; all they needed from the emperor was the freedom to do so.
Fast forward to 2016, and we can see many obvious similarities. Western society has many problems. Conservative Christians have the solutions to many of those problems, but cannot articulate them freely in the public square due to endemic political correctness and cultural Marxism.
Conservatives do not lack will, good arguments, or articulate defenders; what they lack is the freedom to speak bluntly about social issues without being shouted down by the vindictive hordes of secular progressivism for “offending” particular groups of people. Donald Trump is the only person who can give us that freedom.
But first, consider the following:
- Stating that children should ideally have a mother and father because on average they will do best in that environment (as supported overwhelmingly by the relevant social science) renders you “homophobic” (even though the statement has nothing to do homosexuality) and a “hater of single mothers”;
- Explaining that there is actually a biological and societal reason that marriage has been promoted and protected as between a man and a woman for millennia (hint: it’s about children) makes you “bigoted”;
- Arguing that the high divorce rate hurts children, and that no-fault divorce is responsible for many social problems, makes you “living in the 1950s” and a “dinosaur” (even though the social data on the effects of divorce is indisputable and President Obama himself has said as much);
- Affirming the biological fact that men and women are inherently different makes you “transphobic” (something that no one knew existed just a few years ago);
- Pointing out that babies do not simply magically appear out of nothing after nine months, and may in fact have a right to life and dignity before birth, makes you an extremist (just because) and a sexist (even though this statement says nothing about women).
There are many more examples. The point is that making perfectly reasonable statements causes so much outrage that conservatives either give up or end up losing credibility and becoming impotent in influencing public opinion. Arguments are not considered on their merits but rather assessed based on the extent to which they offend particular groups of people. This makes the conservative Christian cause in the public sphere ultimately hopeless.
And this is where Trump comes in.
American doesn’t need a president to make arguments for us. America just needs a president to give us the freedom to make our arguments without fear of being shouted down by the politically correct brigade.
Whatever else you might say about Trump, he is definitely politically incorrect, and prides himself on that attribute. He refuses to back down after making controversial statements. He does not apologise for offending groups after making arguments. He stands up to the media. He is defiant in spite of being vilified by political elites, journalists, and academics.
Let’s consider the example of illegal immigration. Trump is tapping into the understandable tendency for ordinary citizens to be sceptical of high levels of immigration, especially when there is little or no order to the immigration program. For many years, this was a no-go-zone, as those who raised the issue were shouted down by calls of “racist” and allegations of offending immigrants, Mexicans, etc. Trump, however, in less than a year, has managed to kick-start a proper debate on the topic by refusing to be howled down and apologise for potentially offending minority groups. Regardless of your views on illegal immigration, it is clear that the tactics of the cultural Marxists, used in the immigration debate, simply do not work against Trump.
Or take the issue of terrorism. Unlike many other Christian leaders, Trump calls out the evil of Islamic terrorism and extremism for what it is; and seeks to sensibly scrutinise the policy of mass Islamic immigration in order to protect national security. In doing so, he has again overcome the slogans of “Islamophobia” and “racism to actually discuss an important, sensitive issue.
Christian conservatives need exactly the same thing to happen with other issues, like abortion and marriage. This is how Trump could be a great president for conservative Christians. Trump is the one presidential candidate who is capable of changing society to make it more tolerant of robust discussions on controversial issues. At last, with a leader who publicly holds the silencing tactics of the left with utter contempt, it would be possible to stand up to leftists on hot-button issues.
If Trump becomes president of the US and the most powerful leader in the West, he can fundamentally change Western culture. The effects of his presidency would go far beyond the shores, and walls, of America. People would speak more freely about a range of issues. Political correctness, after being denounced by Trump over and over again, would be severely weakened. Cultural Marxism and the politics of victimhood would be crippled. Progressives who seek to shut down debate would realise that their tactics no longer work. And following this fundamental transformation of the political scene, conservatives could finally be free to make their case in the public sphere.
Everything else would follow from this. Our universities would become places of learning and free thinking again. Better judges, lawyers, and politicians would result. The population would be far better informed because public debates would take place with fewer impediments. This would lead to long-term successes on social political issues, like abortion and marriage, and also allow Christians to make Western society truly Christian once again.
Now, many conservative Christian commentators and academics have spoken out against Trump. For example, a large group of Catholic academics and public intellectuals, including Professor Robert George from Princeton, came out recently with many criticisms of Trump: all of them understandable, many of them justifiable, and some of them indisputable. It is perfectly legitimate to be concerned about Trump’s sudden change of heart on abortion, his past comments on marriage and family, his attitude towards Muslims, his support for torture, and so on.
People such as Professor George are intellectual giants who have been great warriors for conservatism, but they appear to be missing the bigger picture this election. They want to elect candidates who have a record of defending conservative positions, as a way of mitigating the control that progressives have over social debates, a reality that they just accept. But why do we just have to accept it? Why can’t we think outside the square and elect someone who might be able to deal a fatal blow to political correctness and cultural Marxism?
Having a consistent conservative president of the US would without a doubt be a welcome event. Publicly making the case for a number of Christian causes and nominating sound judges, for instance, would be good results in and of themselves. However, there is a very limited amount of good this would do when there is still a culture that severely restricts public debate particularly on a number of vital social issues. Conservative politicians, commentators, and academics would still have to tread carefully, dilute their arguments, and apologise for offending people, as long as cultural Marxists have a hold on public debate. No long-term victories are possible while this is the case.
Just look at the minimal sustainable benefits from eight years of George W. Bush, a conservative Christian, in power. He was everything a conservative Christian could ask for. He even had a Republican congress for a period of time. But what do we have to show for the eight years he was president? Is America in any conceivable way more hospitable to Christianity and to conservative principles than it was in 2000? Even if you blame Obama for rolling back the good things that Bush did, then you have to accept that Bush’s achievements were so unsustainable as to be virtually useless. So what exactly is the point of electing another mainstream conservative Christian President?
Coming from a commerce background, Trump is the “high risk/high return” option. He could end up achieving little for conservatism and embarrass conservatives in the short-term. But it is also quite possible that he drives cultural Marxism out of the public sphere, allowing Christians to make their case freely for many generations to come.
Maybe it is just those of us in our impetuous youth, but we have had enough of the culture of political correctness and should be willing to take almost any risk to grasp the once-in-a-generation opportunity of eradicating this culture from Western countries. If we push back against cultural Marxism, and there is no better way of doing this than by making Trump president, then political correctness will be significantly weakened, and after four or eight years of Trump, would be crippled beyond healing.
There are also legitimate questions about Trump’s character, temperance and ego. Trump is certainly no saint. But do we really need a saint as President of the United States right now? Or do we just need someone to free up the public sphere to allow Christians to help make everyone saints?
In any case, does anyone seriously believe that Trump has a bigger ego than any other politician? He just refuses to display the fake humility that politicians have come to perfect and the population have come to despise.
Here again is a similarity with Constantine: as emperor, he was such an egotistical individual that he even named the capital of the empire, Constantinople, after himself (even Trump wouldn’t go this far, probably).
Like Constantine, Trump is an imperfect human and a flawed leader. But just as Constantine is now widely referred to as ‘Constantine the Great’ for his achievements as Roman Emperor and giving freedom to Christians, is it possible that one day Trump may be remembered as the man who ‘Made America Great Again’ and revered by Christians as ‘the Great’?
Trump could be exactly what conservative Christians need right now. We are currently constrained by a cultural Marxist environment of political correctness. Working within this constraint, it is possible that Ted Cruz or “anyone but Trump” is the best Republican candidate. But if we want to take away this constraint once and for all, then Trump is the best candidate – in fact, he is the only candidate.
Blaise Joseph is Assistant Dean at Warrane College at the University of New South Wales, where he is studying a Master of Teaching. He has completed a Bachelor of Commerce, has a strong interest in social policy, and has written for MercatorNet and Online Opinion on marriage and family issues.