Early on Thursday morning Trump’s Twitter tirades reached what many are describing as a new low. Responding to criticism of him on the show “Morning Joe” Trump called host Mika Brzezinski “low I.Q.,” “Crazy,” and claimed she had been “bleeding badly from a face lift” when he saw her at Mar-a-Lago in January.
For many this evoked Trump’s well known disgust with blood and other effluvia, particularly that of women. Trump also referred to Brzezinski’s co-host and fiance Joe Scarborough as “Psycho Joe.” GOP politicians from Lindsey Graham to Paul Ryan offered condemnation that varied in its vehemence from tepid to slightly less tepid, but the White House staunchly defended Trump’s ugly personal and misogynistic attacks.
When asked about them, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the tweets as coming from Trump’s position as a “tough” and “a fighter” who “fights fire with fire.” She told Fox News host Bill Hemmer:
I don’t think that the president has ever been someone who gets attacked and doesn’t push back. There have been outrageous personal attacks not just on him but on everyone around him. People on that show have personally attacked me many times. This is a president who fights fire with fire, and certainly will not be allowed to be bullied by liberal media, or the liberal elites within the media, or Hollywood, or anywhere else.
But the questions kept on coming and the criticism mounted. Later in the day, Huckabee Sanders was forced to turn to a particular kind of religious language to justify her defense of Trump, the Protestant language of universal human depravity.
Hallie Jackson of NBC news asked Sanders whether she would defend Trump’s latest tweets to her own children saying “You talk about being personally affected by all of this as well—and that there’s nothing wrong with the president fighting fire with fire—is the argument that you’re making. You have stood here and talked about your family at this podium. Are you going to tell your kids this behavior is OK?”
Huckabee Sanders’ response is well worth examining. She said “Look, I’ve been asked before when it come to role models as a person of faith. I think we all have one perfect role model and when I’m asked that question, I point to God, I point to my faith. And that’s where I would tell my kids to look. None of us are perfect and certainly there’s only one that is.”
In other words: No I wouldn’t tell my kids the President is a role model, because nobody is a role model except God himself.
This “flattening” and “relativizing” of Trump’s extreme moral depravity has been taking place for some time. Back in July 2016 Franklin Graham spoke to a group of 900 evangelicals and told them they should vote for Trump not because he was a good man, but because “we are all sinners” and that Trump, like everyone, falls short of the glory of God. Huckabee Sanders is now making the same theological point with regard to the president’s shockingly ugly and demeaning language and behavior.
She can’t deny that Trump is reprehensible, but since we are all imperfect compared to God, Trump’s indefensible behavior becomes more evidence that only God can be a truly righteous “role model.” This is old-school Protestant theology laid bare.
Interestingly, 16th century Catholics worried that this might happen.
When first confronted with Martin Luther’s radical new grace/works formulation in “On the Freedom of a Christian” they wondered why anyone would ever do good or behave morally if good works didn’t matter? In combating the abuses of “works righteousness” which no longer satisfied those living in an anxious age, Luther inverted the works/grace model so that good works would freely flow from Christian faith and be indicators of salvation, they wouldn’t lead to it.
This was a great relief to Luther and to Protestants who came after him, who were now no longer responsible for securing their own salvation given the depths of their depravity. Faith alone would save them, not works. And true Christians would not do good and live righteously so they could get to heaven, as Christians justified by faith, they simply wouldn’t be able to help it. “By their works shall you know them.”
But Trump does no good works. His moral depravity is on full display. Franklin Graham, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and any Christian who still defends Trump as he lies, harasses, insults and demeans those around him can only do so by saying, in effect, “So what? We are all morally depraved. What’s the big deal when the president does it?” Pelagius, where are you when we need you?