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Is there really anything left to say about Donald Trump? And would anything I say make a difference? Well, maybe and maybe not. But sometimes putting your thoughts down on paper is therapeutic. And sometimes you want your convictions registered in public for posterity’s sake, not to mention for the sake of conscience.

So here’s my short take: Donald Trump is an honor candidate without honor.

I’ll get back to Trump (doesn’t everything eventually), but first a literary and cultural digression.

Several years ago I read James Bowman’s provocative work Honor: A History. Bowman’s thesis is that the twentieth century saw the continuing discrediting and disgracing of honor (7). The transition took place especially in the 1960s as the new hero became the anti-hero, “one whose heroism consists less in doing than in suffering and having suffered” (136). Along the same lines, we’ve seen a shift in values from conquering to feeling, from being the toughest guy in the room to being the smartest guy in the room. “If honor was the dirty secret of the warriors, intellectual vanity was that of the anti-warriors” (223). Who needs Gunsmoke when you have The Big Bang Theory?

Bowman argues that our disengagement with honor has left the West unable to understand radical Islam: “A great many grown-up and intelligent people believe, or pretend to believe, that by behaving in a friendly and accommodating way to our attackers, we will show them that they have nothing to fear from us and so defuse their wrath. The idea that such behavior would be taken by a ruthless and implacable enemy only as a sign of weakness is as foreign to them as the idea of honor itself” (306). With the absence of honor, the only universal cultural currency left is pity (313). We now exalt whomever we deem to be in the sorriest state. The moral high ground is not found in being more pious or more powerful, but in being more put upon. Though our vestigial selves may yearn for it, honor does not have the cultural currency among ruling and intellectual elites that it once had.

Bowman’s history of honor is a profoundly conservative analysis. He laments the loss of honor in the West. While Bowman points out dangers in the old honor code, he is quick to criticize what has taken its place: a nauseating focus on authenticity, sensitivity, expressing your hurts, and finding the real you. In Bowman’s reckoning, our world is worse off without honor.

Which brings us back to Trump. The bravado, the tit-for-tat defending of his manhood, the disdain for John McCain’s war record, the ultra-aggressive stance toward our enemies (real or perceived), the unabashed insistence on being the best at nearly everything, even the ubiquitous cry to Make America Great Again–all of it appeals to an older code of honor. If you want to humiliate the dreaded Establishment, he’s your guy. Trump is not for losers. And he’s not for intellectuals either. The attraction is a visceral one: “I don’t back down. I fight back. I don’t care for pity. What we need is power.” Trump is an honor warrior in an age where all honor seems gone.

But of course, Trump is an honor warrior without any real honor.

This is why his candidacy is so disheartening and why pastors like Max Lucado–who’s not exactly known for jumping into the political fray–feel compelled to speak out. It’s why Randy Alcorn took the time to write a lengthy and well documented essay on character, kindness, and Donald Trump. It’s why Russell Moore has been an outspoken critic of Trump for months. The appeal of Trump is genuine enough, but when it comes to actual old school honor, there is no there there. In the old honor code, men may have been warriors, but woman were to be esteemed and protected–their chastity and their integrity most of all. For Trump, women are simply berated, belittled, or bedded. He has no history of using his immense fortune to help the less fortunate, no track record of putting himself in harm’s way for the good of others, and no reason for anyone to think his sense of honor stretches beyond his own ego. As a husband, a business man, an entertainer, and a presidential candidate, he has shown himself to be petty, vulgar, insulting, uninformed, inconsistent, petulant, vain, and guided by no clear principles save for an appreciation for strong men and attractive women.

A vote for Trump is not a vote for telling it like it is, let alone a symbolic nod to a nobler honor code of times gone by. It’s casting your lot with what the worst of the honor impulse might look like if it were stripped of virtue, loaned a million dollars, and given its own reality show. I fear too many Americans–including a large swath of self-identified evangelicals–are looking for some of the right things (only some) in the entirely wrong person. They’re longing for Robin Hood and voting for the Sheriff of Nottingham. Don’t believe the con. A self-professing Christian man who doesn’t see the need for forgiveness is a man who doesn’t understand Christ or himself. To be sure, the president is not to be confused with our pastor-in-chief, but that doesn’t mean we have to be confused about what is honorable and what is not (2 Timothy 2:20-21).


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60 thoughts on “Whither Honor?”

  1. Doug says:

    @chris hutchinson, Any POTUS is insignificant when we consider the extent of entrenched controlling interest groups. We might feel better with a man of outstanding character in office, but he would really have little to no effect. Entrenched systemic problems must be resolved by something more powerful than a figurehead. For such a task we can rest confidently in the God of all systems. That said, should we really deride those who vote contrary to our liking? After all, does holy writ even instruct us on how to vote in a democratic society? We must ultimately trust in the Lord. Think about it, would you have selected Mel Gibson to make a serious movie about Christ’s passion?

  2. I would not have chosen anybody to make a movie about Christ’s passion. Some things are best left Written and unpictured. I am a reformed minister, after all.

    And no, Scripture does not foresee Christian participation in democratic societies (though the church has remarkable democratic elements to it, e.g. Acts 6). But it does require us to submit to worldly authorities, while fearing only God (I Peter 2). And it expects the magistrate to be those who follow some form of rule of Law, which Mr. Trump has shown little respect or even curiosity about what that actually means.

    So I just want someone sober and stable that we can live peaceably under and think that is much more in line with the directives and expectations of the NT (Romans 13, Eph. 6, I Peter 2, Rev. 2-3, John 17, I Cor. 5, etc.), then your assertions that the whole system must be somehow overthrown. Where is that in the NT, prior to Christ’s return?

  3. P.S. This does not have to do with my liking. It has to do with thinking morally about our responsibilities as those who bear some (albeit little) power in a democratic society. Who is not trusting the Lord here? Trust in God and keeping your powder dry are not antithetical mindsets, Calvinist though I be.

  4. Doug says:

    True, but most of us do not really know the candidates. We only see their fabricated packaging. And let’s be honest, no one really cares about the rule of law unless they benefit from it. If Republicans or Democrats cared about the rule of law they’d have impeached Presidents for starting war after war without congressional approval and for exercising unlawful executive orders. They would have ignored unlawful SCOTUS decisions. Candidate after candidate puts on a nice “Christian” front, and all evangelicals run after him. He does the same as all the rest when in office. Perhaps a brick is needed to break the window. Judging from all the opposition, Trump may just be that brick. A brick doesn’t need to have good character.

  5. Cody says:

    Doug, it kind of seems like you would like Trump to be president in order to “punish” both American political parties. Therefore people should vote for him not because he would do a good job but because he would do a bad job. Could you tell me if this is an accurate assessment of your position?
    P.S.
    If anyone reading this is a fan of Trump, please don’t take offense at what I’ve said! I was just trying to sound out Doug’s position, not explain my own

  6. Doug says:

    Correct. A structurally unsound high-rise must first be brought down before it can be replaced with a sound structure.

  7. Cody says:

    Thank you. As a citizen of the USA I can’t say I appreciate the sentiment but I appreciate your time and effort you put into it.

  8. joe m says:

    A vote fro Trump is just that, a vote. Since when is The Presidency some sort of honor litmus test? I simply don’t get all the preachers who think they have authority to tell us who to vote for. I don’t recall Jesus dissing Caesar.

  9. Joyce says:

    Was JFK honorable? or FDR or LBJ or Bill Clinton? This vote is note just for an executive position of government, but a whole government. All three branches are “up for grabs”. We appreciated the Gospel Coalition sending us the platforms of all the parties recently. My husband and I had no trouble choosing the party that went along with our beliefs. Joyce

  10. Little Sheep says:

    It’s apparent even the author presumed as so many in the media & America that Trump would never win the presidency. This article was unwise in the sense that it was being spoken about the future president of this country, the person scripture tells us to honor. People should have held their judgement & waited on what the Lord wanted but many were not humble but apparently too sure of themselves.
    We got the result that God intended, with our without the people of God He does His work for His purposes.
    The whole ‘Never Trump’ group of Evangelical leaders, particular the Reformed who seemed to be most at it, don’t much reflect their belief or submission to a sovereign God in such a stance.

    Clearly, many people (even in the church) confused God’s will with what they presumed God’s will to be.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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