My disdain for Donald Trump is no secret. That Utah gave Trump his lowest vote count among red states was a proud moment for me. And, as a Latter-day Saint, I was very pleased to see so many of us vote for someone else. While many establishment Latter-day Saints are slowly, if not begrudgingly, looking on the bright side of a Trump presidency, I’m not one of them. None of my critical views about Donald Trump have changed. But, recently, I’ve been forced to reflect on the extent of my disdain and these reflections cut deeply about the meaning of my conservatism.
Most people who read the news are aware that a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir quit the group over Donald Trump – specifically, she quit the Choir because it had accepted an invitation to sing during his inaugural parade. She believes, as do many Latter-day Saints (including me), Trump’s character and behavior to date is unbecoming, if not irresponsible, if not dangerous, as president of the United States. In addition to that objection, this former Choir member is also deeply disappointed that her church accepted the invitation and now, in the press, wonders aloud how the Choir’s performance will be viewed by the world. She believes that the LDS Church will suffer in reputation through political characterization. If the Choir sings at Trump’s inauguration, the LDS Church must be endorsing all that Trump is and stands for.
Quitting the Choir was not her only option. Joining the group for the inaugural trip and performance is a voluntary service. There are hundreds of Choir members and not every member is required, or even asked, to sing at every event. She simply could have declined to participate. Instead, she chose to leave the Choir. One has to wonder how long it will be before she chooses to leave her faith as well?
In her shoes, I would have declined to participate. There is no amount of patriotism or sense of civic service or the common good that could move me to participate – such is my disdain for the man and what he represents. I would not have quit the Choir for this reason and I certainly would not question or criticize the LDS Church for accepting Trump’s invitation. Only ideologues behave that way. This former Choir member has behaved like an ideologue.
I have no clue concerning the politics of this woman. She projects a very progressive vibe, but who knows? It doesn’t really matter, except in how her behavior reflects ideological characteristics that could be confused with standing for principle – as we, conservatives, often claim we do. So how do we discern between ideological behavior and rightly standing for something?
Conservative Edmund Burke faced this exact issue as he confronted and criticized the French Revolution. Burke argued that revolution was the wrong tact. He said ridding France of every established institution in favor of pure democracy was a grave mistake – even the institution of monarchy. Yes, the monarchy in France was corrupt but there were other ways to remove the corruption and avoid what became the Reign of Terror. Ideologues only see two options – their way or the highway. The former Choir member only saw her way or the highway. A third way existed but that third way was an unacceptable option and, in fact, unrecognizable to her.
Authentic conservatives are open to consider all options. This doesn’t mean all options are acceptable, only that all options at least need to be recognized. If you are a conservative, you are not an ideologue. Likewise, if you are an ideologue, you are not a conservative. So what separates an ideologue from a principled person? Were America’s founding fathers ideologues or men of principle in their war for independence? Was Jesus an ideologue for not bending to the will of others?
Here are two important lessons for Utah conservatives today. First, if you only see two options for any issue – your way or the highway – you’re an ideologue not a principled patriot. And, second, the high price of standing for something is your blood, not the blood of others. That was the difference between our founding fathers and the Jacobins of the French Revolution. It’s the difference between Jesus and Lucifer. Fight and die we must to preserve principle but ideologues fight and die to rid the world of people with whom they disagree.
Back to our singer. It’s one thing for her to quit the Choir and quite another thing to question the motives of her faith. If you will, she seeks to rid the presidency of Donald Trump and, evidently, her church of bad decisions. Her desire is ideological not principled. The LDS Church includes her, for now, but she is not the LDS Church. For her to presume that her way is the only way is the behavior of ideologues. It is the way of tragedy and sadness.