In the 2016 election, voters who say that traditional values are important to them disproportionally supported Donald Trump. In one survey, 78 percent of white evangelical Protestants supported Trump. This is an interesting statistic. Here’s why:
|The seven deadly sins||Trump quotes|
|Greed||“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”|
|Gluttony||“Some people consider it to be the greatest apartment in the world.” (Trump on his golden New York City apartment, which includes toilet made of solid gold.)|
|Envy||.” (Trump on former POW John McCain)|
|Lust||“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything.”|
|Wrath||“If I were running ‘The View,’ I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’”|
|Sloth||“I thought being President would be easier than my old life.”|
“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”
“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure. It’s not your fault.”
“I’m also honored to have the greatest temperament that anybody has.”
“I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.”
“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”
Additionally, Trump has shown many character traits that are opposed to anything a seriously religious person considers right. He has disgraced family values. (“Actually, I was only kidding. You can get that baby out of here. Don’t worry; I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking. That’s O.K. People don’t understand. That’s O.K.”), bragged about infidelity (“Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’”), insulted a Gold Star family (by implying that the mother of a fallen Muslim did not speak at the Democratic National Convention because of her religion, not her grief), and talked about dating his own daughter (“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”).
Finally, many evangelical leaders have stated that supporting Donald Trump is incompatible with traditional values.
If we were to play the odds, our expectation would be clear. We would expect Trump to get less support from white evangelical Protestants than from other groups. Trump’s character obviously conflicts with what most conservative Christian’s look for in a trustworthy person; there seems to be no obvious reason why they would vote for him. Based on these facts, we would expect that Trump finds less support with white evangelical Protestants than with other groups.
This prediction would be wrong. White evangelical Protestants formed the core of Trump supporters in the 2016 election. Trump won 46.1 percent of the popular vote, which is a considerably smaller share than the roughly 80 percent support he received from white evangelical Protestants. Why is this? What attracted white evangelical Protestants to Trump? The Theory of Moral Duality can answer these questions.
How high-moral-quantity ideas can overwrite values
To understand why evangelical Christians supported Trump, we should consider the emerging redefinition of manliness among the evangelical community. Books such as John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart argue that men have forgotten their God-given nature. While these ideas can be helpful for many people, their adaption to the political process has created destructive results.
According to Eldredge, men have three core desires: battle, adventure, and beauty. However, outside influences have tamed them to suppress these desires. This neglect, in turn, caused them to create destructive outlets for suppressed needs. It is why many men drink, take drugs or engage in other forms of self-destructive behavior.
To escape their prisons, Eldredge wants men to reclaim their strong, dangerous, and aggressive nature. Only when they live up to this God-created image, says Eldredge, can men be truly happy and overcome self-destructive behavior.
Everything that Eldredge says is perfectly true – in some cases. Many people indeed suppress their desires, which leads them to find false replacements for them. These people could improve their lives if they lived their true selves. I have detailed this process in my book Stop Chasing Carrots.
Even this healthy process must consider side constraints. Therefore, the longest chapter of my book defines limitations that can hedge in the destructive potential of my idea. Following our true selves does not justify everything. In Eldredge’s book, such limitations are less clear, which is why their moral quantity can be more easily inflated.
To give you a better understanding of Eldredge’s book, consider these quotes:
“For after years of living in a cage, a lion no longer even believes it is a lion … and a man no longer believes he is a man.”
“We don’t need accountability groups; we need fellow warriors, someone to fight alongside, someone to watch our back.”
“A man needs a much bigger orbit than a woman. He needs a mission, a life purpose, and he needs to know his name.”
“If we would endeavor, like men of courage, to stand in the battle, surely we would feel the favorable assistance of God from Heaven. For he who giveth us occasion to fight, to the end we may get the victory, is ready to succor those that fight manfully, and do trust in his grace. —THOMAS À KEMPIS” (This quote was included in the book.)
“Aggression is part of the masculine design; we are hardwired for it.”
Eldredge is right in many cases. Many people want adventure and beauty. In our private lives – on the micro level – his ideas can be helpful to many. But his idea fails to apply to all cases. Not every battle is justified, and not every man battling something (or someone) is a sign of this man’s true nature. Eldredge knows that, this is not a critique of his book. For example, he writes:
“True strength does not come out of bravado. Until we are broken, our life will be self-centered, self-reliant; our strength will be our own. So long as you think you are really something in and of yourself, what will you need God for? I don’t trust a man who hasn’t suffered; I don’t let a man get close to me who hasn’t faced his wound. Think of the posers you know—are they the kind of man you would call at 2:00 A.M., when life is collapsing around you? Not me. I don’t want clichés; I want deep, soulful truth, and that only comes when a man has walked the road I’ve been talking about.”
It is hard to see how Donald Trump, a self-centered person who lives in a golden penthouse, brags about everything he does, and shows no signs of humility, could get Eldredge’s stamp of approval. To Eldredge, bravado is the opposite of strength, to Trump it is the same thing.
Nonetheless, like any idea, Eldredge’s idea, too, becomes destructive when it is charged with a high moral quantity. This is the main lesson of this article – even good ideas become destructive when we inflate their moral quantity.
Adapted to the political process, Eldredge’s ideas become destructive. Eldredge wants an aggressive man with little respect for accountability, which conflicts with the essential democratic idea of checks and balances. Holding politicians accountable is the main reason why democratic societies have created much more constructive results than communist or fascist systems, whose main characteristic is the leaders’ lack of accountability. Someone who has elevated the moral quantity of the aggressive, unaccountable alpha male might consider this idea more important than the essential democratic idea of checks and balances, which opens the idea for destructive results.
As I detail in The Theory of Moral Duality, it is unimportant how well-intentioned the politicians are. Human mental biases and imperfections will turn any government without checks and balances destructive – even if it is led by the most benign leaders.
There is no reason to believe that Eldredge intended his ideas to be adapted to politicians. But when someone has applied these teachings to his personal life and has learned that they work well for him, it is a small step to look at other people through the same lens – including politicians. And when you are looking for a politician who wants to be an aggressive lion, a warrior who disregards accountability groups and has the much bigger orbit of a man, the logical choice is Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Every additional scandal confirms this idea, even if it clearly proves that Trump has little regard for Christian values.
When Eldredge’s well-intended guidelines are adapted to a government, they necessarily lead us towards a politician with totalitarian tendencies.
Why unrestricted manliness can become a destructive idea
In its high-moral-quantity form, the idea shows the three typical signs of destructive ideas:
- Division into groups. One group consists of women and men who have renounced their true nature. This group is inherently opposed to men who follow their aggressive, true nature and tries to force them to their side. This division creates the idea’s infinitely evil threat of anyone who wants to prevent a man from being wild.
- Binary argument. Anyone who attacks a man who is living out his aggressiveness is trying to force him away from his God-given true self and is a personification of the infinitely evil threat.
- Appeal to higher wisdom. Because the aggressive man is made in God’s image, he is infallible.
I believe that some white evangelical Protestants made this mistake. Trump was their defender of goodness, the embodiment of true manliness. Democrats became the idea’s infinitely evil threat, the dark force that sought to fight manliness, forcing men to find destructive outlets for their suppressed desires. The high moral quantity of this idea overwrote any concerns that Trump’s demeanor could conflict with anything for which their ideology stands.
- Trump’s promised deregulations fit the narrative of freeing men from their shackles.
- Trump’s promises to renegotiate NAFTA and build a border wall were signs of strength where weaker presidents failed, of a man who accepted no restrictions.
- Trump used the strong male narrative when he accused Hillary Clinton of lacking the stamina for the job.
Many of these points were far-fetched, but they appealed to the ideal image of a man that some voters had charged with a high moral quantity. For these voters, it became almost impossible to acknowledge Trump’s weaknesses – they had to support him over Hillary Clinton.
Only the Theory of Moral Duality can explain these processes without accusing these people of having vicious motives or just being, for lack of a better term, stupid.
How to pursue our definition of the good more constructively
To avoid supporting ideas with a high moral quantity, we must keep the moral quantity of our ideas low. Most importantly, we should remember that our ideas might be able to create constructive results in many cases, maybe even in all cases of our own individual lives, but that they are unable to create constructive ideas in all cases for society at large. Before we adapt them to other situations we should always ask ourselves whether this adaption makes sense.
Regardless of who we believe made us or where our individual traits come from; even if we are completely sure we understand the process or the person behind it, claiming to know the intentions of this person or process is always an appeal to a higher wisdom that charges our ideas with a high moral quantity and creates destructive consequences. Even if we know who or what made us, nobody knows better how any person is supposed to be than that person themselves. Only when we abandon our desire to tell others how they are supposed to be or why they are wrong, can we create constructive macro-level ideas.
Many ideas are not unlike Eldredge’s. Ideas that encourage men to be alpha or strong create the same desire for unaccountable men. These ideas are not wrong – they can help some people in some situations – but they are not generalizable, not universally right either. Regardless of how much they have helped us in our daily lives, we should be careful to adapt them to the political process.
The threat of misusing an idea for destructive purposes is why we have to equip our beliefs with built-in side constraints that prevent the idea’s generalization and adaption to the political process.
As I have detailed in the Theory of Moral Duality, the only two ideas that can be generalized are the desires for survival and access to society. Any political construct that seeks to create constructive results in the long term must make these ideas its priority and avoid letting the generalization of other ideas get in the way.
- My best guess is that John Eldredge, based on his book, did not vote for Donald Trump. But by slightly misinterpreting his teachings through a selective reading, one could easily use his ideas as the ultimate endorsement for Donald Trump.
- Eldredge’s example of divine manliness shows that good, helpful ideas can easily be misused to justify destructive actions when their moral quantity is inflated.
- To prevent a similar misuse, ideas need built-in side constraints that prevent their adaption to the political process.
If you liked this article, you will probably enjoy my book The Theory of Moral Duality: How to Avoid Destructive Political Ideas, Heal Divided Societies, and Deal More Kindly With One Another. Get it on Amazon now!