I was deeply honored this week when U.S. Senator and recently-past Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine went out of his way to provide an exclusive half-hour interview for my weekly newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press. It’s actually the third time this has happened as Kaine, now seeking re-election to the Senate, also did it when he was running for governor of Virginia and for the Senate for the first time.
This time, with the nation gripped in the Trump presidency crisis, Kaine struck a theme that it essential for the country, for his party, and for all who struggle for the progressive values of the American constitutional democracy: namely, for one to achieve greatness, one must be good.
Clearly, the contrast of this notion to everything Trump represents couldn’t be sharper. Mr. “Make America Great Again” is without a doubt the least-good president the nation has ever had, so the prospect of any national “greatness” on his watch is unlikely indeed. He cried yesterday in a commencement address that “no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly” than he. Actually, it’s more accurately that no politician has been less good, at least that we know of in the U.S.
What do you need to show to demonstrate this? His treatment of women? His chronic lying, going back to his days insisting President Obama was not a U.S. citizen, and demanding that his staff do likewise? His bragging about charitable giving that he never actually provided? His pattern of stiffing business partners and sub-contractors?
He is an ordinary immoral thug, a junior partner in the Russian mafia that is just now beginning to call in favors (such as special tours of the Oval Office and regular classified intelligence dumps). His business career was dependent on these mafia thugs, aka Russian spies and compromisers, and he adopted their style and lack of scruples. After all, it’s viewing and treating people as less than dogs that underlies the mafia’s m.o.
But as the Jesuit-trained, former foreign missionary and anti-red lining lawyer representing the poor, Tim Kaine told me this week, he views the awful Trump presidency as a clarion call. “Things happen for a reason,” he said. “This time, we’ve been shaken out of our complacency.”
With people agitated and activated to the level they’ve been since January, the challenge has been to define a direction, an identity, to carry nation forward. Huge amounts of theorizing and podium-pounding has been devoted to this already, and in this context, Kaine’s formula is disarmingly simple and I think profound:
“Nobody can promise greatness if they don’t demonstrate goodness.”
In this context, the leadership of the so-called “evangelical” movement in this country has chosen to embrace the moral midget and thereby to seal their own fate as hideous hypocrites and agents of the degradation of the nation and its people.
Not infrequently eloquent Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, in his column, “Wrong Savior, Evangelicals,” this week wrote, “In the compulsively transgressive, foul-mouthed, loser-disdaining, mammon-worshiping billionaire, conservative Christians have found their dream candidate.”
The occasion was the invitation extended to Trump to deliver the commencement address at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University. Falwell is outdone by another evangelical offspring, Franklin Graham.
The cost of their devotion to Trump, Gerson wrote, is “becoming loyal to a leader of shockingly low character” and “have associated their faith with exclusion and bias.”
Another cost is the inevitable and long-overdue demise of their own mammon-worshiping fakery.
Since Trump’s election last fall, many churches have experienced an upsurge in interest and attendance. Young, serious parents have begun looking for solid moral ground to establish a way forward for their lives in a world gone wacky.
The great appeal of Pope Francis, whom Kaine visited in February and shared a lengthy conversation in Spanish about the refugee crisis, is his surprisingly humble and non-judgmental approach to faith that has an appeal to all destabilized and challenged to address solidly and with gravitas the current crisis.
A universal concept of goodness, in this context, can be found in the simple Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].