Bracing for Trump, Clinton TV: Are Americans as cynical as the French about morality?

If you hang out with lots of #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary people, either in digital or analog life, you know that one of the things pushing them toward despair right now is the knowledge that in the near future the White House will be turned into a reality TV franchise.

Anyone who lived through the Clinton years (or checked out the book) knows what that was like. And does anyone doubt that -- win or lose -- Citizen Donald Trump will find a way to increase his brand's profile via opinion and entertainment screens large and small?

Can you imagine the lurid advertisements the Democrats could run about Trump's private and business affairs if they were running a candidate other than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

This brings me, logically enough, to that Washington Post feature that ran with this headline: "2016 is the year of the messy private life -- and the year when it no longer matters." As best I can tell, the goal of this story was to ask two painfully valid questions:

(1) Is this the year when Americans finally achieve the maturity of the French and and admit that the moral lives of politicians don't matter?

(2) How are so many evangelical Christians rationalizing their support for Donald "You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass" Trump?

As you would expect, the emphasis is on the second half of that equation:

HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio -- In this deeply conservative part of Ohio, full of cornfields and horse-drawn Amish buggies, people know all about Donald Trump’s two very public divorces, his extramarital affair with a beauty queen who became his second wife and his five children from three marriages.
But more surprising to many voters than the complexity of Trump’s “Modern Family” personal life is that it is not stopping them from voting for him.
“The other day I was thinking, ‘Why doesn’t it bother me that he has had three wives?’ ” said Carole Shetler, 66, a pastor of a Christian church who also works at the Wholesome Valley Farm store. “We have been desensitized.”
Only one president, Ronald Reagan, was divorced when he sought the White House. But Reagan had only one ex-wife. And unlike Trump, he did not have women publicly feuding over him -- nor had he appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine.

Of course, America is now a postmodern and increasingly an openly post-Christian nation. The Post team notes that divorce, cohabitation and other moral wrinkles are part of the culture. Intact marriages and homes are not that common, with 46 percent of children living in a home led by two parents who have not been divorced.

Thus, the Rev. Carole Shetler -- once again, "the Rev." is missing from a news reference to a female minister -- added, later in the story:

“Let’s face it -- there is not a lot of choice,” said Shetler, a Trump supporter who recalled the sex scandals that swirled around former president Bill Clinton. “We have to have change. I know other pastors, and they are for Trump, too.”

The story offers a long, and valid, summary of Trump's colorful life. I would imagine that there will be similar reports in print -- but probably not on television -- about the Clintons and their colorful battles with the vast right-wing conspiracy in the American media. You think?


What is missing from the Post report? Frankly, I was surprised that the story never wrestled with the role that religious and moral concerns play in the #NeverTrump phenomenon. Anyone who follows Twitter knows that it would be easy to have found solid, culturally conservative leaders who are not ready to pull a lever to vote Trump.

Yes, it was important to interview some religious leaders who have bought stock in Trump (Hello Jerry Falwell, Jr.). But why not ask religious conservatives who oppose Trump to explain their point of view? Yes, I would even ask them what they think God is up to, during this painful year in American life.

Toward the end, there was this one quote from an evangelical leader who offers a hint of a larger perspective:

Michael Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civil Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, also said he does not consider it a positive development that people overlook affairs and broken marriages in their leaders. “Character matters,” he said. “This is an indication of the state of our moral and cultural moment.”

Aaaaannnndddd what else? That's it? Those of us who follow Cromartie's work can imagine that there was quite a bit of material left over from that interview.

I would have like to have seen the Post editors include more direct quotes from this interview, as well:

... Perhaps most surprising is that even some of the Amish who are so traditional that they do not use cars or cellphones say they support the non-traditional Trump.
“I don’t want to be judgmental, but I would give both Clinton and Trump a D for their personal lives,” said a 64-year-old Amish farmer who was selling organic seeds. ... When he looks at the non-Amish in the United States, he sees so many people who don’t get married, or who get married several times, that he wondered aloud who would qualify if the job of president was open only to those who had remained faithful to their first spouse. He said he has been married for 41 years, has four children and 10 grandchildren, and supports Trump over Clinton based on the Republican candidate’s views on abortion.

Let's hope that this report is merely the set-up for serious work to be done in the future. I would hope that experienced religion-beat folks will be involved in future Post reports on what is happening in the minds, and hearts, of religious believers who will enter voting booths this fall with bitter tears in their eyes.

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