Dear Fellow Religious Americans: A Wicked Man is Not Going to Make Our Country’s Problems Any Better

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.

Over the last year, I’ve been among the Never (Ever) Trump conservatives watching friends and family get pushed closer and closer to eventually concluding that they must simply “hold their nose,” as they usually say, and Vote Trump. Like people muscling up the courage to start a drug with predictably huge side-effects, they seem resigned to do “whatever it takes” as a last resort – in case it “works.”

Many of the ongoing efforts to push people away from Trump subsequently use words like: Sexist, Misogynist, Racist, Fascist, Bigot, & Authoritarian – words that I’m well aware mean a lot to my progressive friends in particular (or anyone who sees the world as fundamentally shaped by structural categories of race, class, gender, etc).

Given that these same words have been (increasingly) thrown at most conservative causes (promiscuously) over the last decade, maybe it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise that these words just don’t pack as much of a punch for orthodox religious folks (or anyone who believes the world is fundamentally shaped by something bigger and deeper than socio-demographic categories or identity politics).

For them, for us, and for me, there is something deeper and more fundamental than all those awful “isms.”

There is Good – and there is Evil.  There are Godly things – and those that lead people away from God’s thoughts, plans and ways.

So where does Mr. Trump fall in that moral universe?  What would be the right religious conservative term to describe a man who demeans and insults opponents, lashes out with blame and anger when challenged, talks constantly of himself, runs for President to improve his business ‘brand,’ lies when confronted with contradictions, stirs up mass fear and anger to his advantage, and JOKES about taking advantage of his celebrity status to barge into women’s dressing rooms or force himself on girls he thinks are hotties? [And I quote:  “And when you’re a star they let you do it…You can do anything.”]

How about, umm…Wicked?

Yes, I know, I know:  along with “evil” and “goodness” and “God,” this isn’t a word we prefer in America anymore [1]– except perhaps at (fantastic) Broadway shows or to describe Something Really Cool (“totally wicked, dude!”).

The word meant something very unique and particular, however, to the authors of the Bible – with “wicked” or “wickedness” showing up 325 times as a core descriptor of what most threatens human society.

Various dictionaries refer to wickedness as a “departure from the rules of the divine or the moral law” and “a mental disregard for justice, righteousness, truth, honor, virtue.”

Morality.  Virtue.  Honor.

A new initiative was recently created by Citizen University, the 92nd Street Y (in NYC) and Stanford University, called Ben Franklin Circles, aiming to re-direct America’s attention back to the basic 13 virtues Franklin wrote about. Go ahead – I dare you to test your own self against the 13 standards. For instance, Franklin writes of:

  • Silence: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
  • Tranquility: “Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
  • Sincerity:  “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”

He also mentions temperance, order, resolution, frugality, industry, justice, moderation, cleanliness, chastity and humility.[2]

How does your own life stack up against these standards? And how about our political candidates?

With every candidate I’ve heard from – except one – I can find real virtues at work.

But with Mr. Trump, I simply cannot. Can you?

The reason so many Mormons, in particular, have refused to cave to the bandwagon is that this man stands for nothing we believe in or value. The man is anti-dialogue, anti-decency and anti-fidelity.There is simply nothing about his life that represents what we care about or want.

When Howard Stern described being faithful to his wife in Mr. Trump’s presence, the latter responded: “You’re kidding? Really? What’s that all about?”

It goes without saying that Trump isn’t the only man who struggles or faces the difficulty of staying faithful to a spouse. And if we take Christian teaching seriously, even the most “righteous” among us needs God’s redemption and grace if a marriage is going to have any chance of surviving and thriving (long-term) in this sexualized and pornographic world.

But this isn’t a man who “just made a mistake” or “isn’t perfect.” And by any measure, it’s not even a man who has put this behind him. This is a man with a pattern of bragging about living the very antithesis of Christian (and human) ideals.

Bravo to those such as the Deseret News Editorial board willing to call this what it is:

What oozes from this audio is evil. We hear a married man give smooth, smug and self-congratulatory permission to his intense impulses, allowing them to outweigh the most modest sense of decency, fidelity and commitment. And although it speaks volumes about sexual morality, it goes to the heart of all ethical behavior. Trump’s banter belies a willingness to use and discard other human beings at will. That characteristic is the essence of a despot.

I Will Save You America! It’s more than about Trump minimizing his failings – and even bragging about them. It’s that he presents himself as the answer to what we’re facing. When pressed for details about anything he’s bringing to the table, his answer is virtually always the same:  People need to trust him!  He’s gonna do it!

And I quote: “I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, will come to an end. Beginning on January 20th of 2017, safety will be restored.”

There’s another Biblical word for people promising false salvation…”Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not” said Jesus, when his disciples asked him about the sign of His second coming:  “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets…” (Matthew 24)

Of course, even those running for High School President end up sounding like this a little. And it’s hard to find any leader in modern history that has been described and praised in a Messianic sort of way more than our current president.

Hillary Clinton is making plenty of her own grand promises too – and there are many reasons why people across the political spectrum are wary of her too.

She is not our answer either.  And I stand with fellow conservatives in seeing our country in a very dire situation.

But here’s the question we have to face, fellow religious conservatives: do we really believe a man like Trump is our answer? 

We the (Angry) People: Time for Some Soul-Searching? Obviously, the popularity of Trump’s candidacy is a question that extends far beyond his own personality and character. Benjamin Franklin, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, “[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” And John Adams in a speech to the military in 1798 warned his fellow countrymen stating, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality. . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral…people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.[3]

More than simply ‘biblical ideas,’ or ‘religious dogma,’ morality and virtue were relished by America’s own founding fathers (and mothers) as not only a ‘nice thing’ – but as essential to who we were as a country – and to our survival in the future.

And how about today?  What does the fact that Howard Stern’s Buddy is within shooting distance of the White House say about us?  

Furthermore, why would the Constitutional framework of our country become ‘inadequate’ for a people tossing morality aside? Robert Winthrop, Speaker of the U. S. House, wrote, “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them.”

If all of the above is true, then maybe stopping Trump (or candidates like him in the future) is going to take more than coming up with better insults to top his. Maybe it’s going to take a coming together of all the basically good, decent and moral people across the political spectrum (yes, including many of those decent, moral liberal folks!).

That might be the silver lining on this whole election season – witnessing goodhearted (decent) people coming together and saying, “this isn’t okay…this isn’t how our conversations in America should be…we’re better than this!” There seems to be an awakening of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life wanting to preserve and restore what really makes America great…finding what we have in common (such as an appreciation of basic human virtues) and relishing a space where our disagreements can freely exist.

But if we’re going to have a chance to Do That Together, our first order of business is to Just Say No to Mr. Trump, fellow religious conservatives.

Still unconvinced? Want to give him one more chance?  Please read this piece from the insightful Nicholas Kristoff on Mr. Trump groping a client over and over…THEN I dare you to walk into that ballot box – and cast a vote for this man to lead our free nation!

Note: These views represent my views alone – and not any organization or person I associate with in the dialogue world – including Phil!

Jacob Hess is the author of 13 peer reviewed articles exploring contrasting narratives of mental health and socio-political issues.  He currently directs the health non-profit All of Life which offers free online classes exploring applications of mindfulness for those facing mental health challenges. Jacob has (co)authored three books: You’re Not  as Crazy as I Thought, But You’re Still WrongOnce Upon a Time…He Wasn’t Feeling It Anymore and A Third Space: Proposing Another Way Forward in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Impasse (Disagreement Practice, Treasonous Friendship & Trustworthy Rivalry in the Face of Irreconcilable Difference). Two other projects – Red Blue Dictionary and My Science Can Beat Up Your Science, will be released this fall.  His work with Phil Neisser at State University of New York has been featured on This American Life and was recently honored by Public Conversations Project. His many wonderful writing collaborators and dialogue partners disagree in all sorts of ways with Jacob’s religious conservative views, and this essay only represents his own convictions. As a proud partner of Living Room Conversations, the Village Square and a long-term member of the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation, Jacob’s life work is dedicated to making space for thoughtful, good-hearted people to find understanding (and affection) while exploring together the deepest of disagreements.


[1] I was once told by a feminist advocate that I was wrong to call rape “evil”…given the religious connotations.

[2] These include:

  • Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  • Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  • Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  • Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

[3] He also said “religious people,” but I’m trying to bring out universal elements here as a potential way of religious and non-religious (moral) people coming together.

6 Responses to “Dear Fellow Religious Americans: A Wicked Man is Not Going to Make Our Country’s Problems Any Better”
  1. Phil Neisser says:

    Well spoken, Jacob, but I can’t resist asking: does this mean that you’re going to vote for Clinton? I ask because I’m curious given your views about men and women’s roles, at least as I understand them. (I do not ask because I think you should vote for Clinton. My view is that those in swing states should vote for Clinton to help Trump lose, but I respect your right to vote as you believe best.) — Phil

  2. Maggie VanHaften says:

    Jacob Hess and Phil Neisser…you are the two who got me on my path of civil dialogue. I am still learning everyday, but I thank you for the start. I am now starting a community dialogue and, if you two don’t write a guide, I might be forced to do it ;-)…by the way, well said, Jacob.

    • jzhess says:

      Wow – thanks for letting us know, Maggie! When your guide is finished – we’ll be sure to share it on our blog. (:

      Where are you working right now? Tell us more about it.

  3. kirienblog says:

    Conservatives don’t believe in isms or identity politics? Really? Because they have been feeding off the trough of white identity politics for decades.

    For example George H. Bush’s Willie Horton ad or George W Bush using the false claim that John McCain sired an illegitimate black child to win the South Carolina primary in 2000.

    Or the last 8 years of birtherism spouted by the gop.

    Kind of difficult to claim that wasn’t about race when the gop had no problem with McCain running for President despite being born in Panama or with George Romney running a couple decades ago despite the fact that he was born in Mexico.

    And then there is Nixon’s southern strategy best described by Lee Atwater thusly:

    Skip to content
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    Exclusive: Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy

    The forty-two-minute recording, acquired by James Carter IV, confirms Atwater’s incendiary remarks and places them in context.
    By Rick PerlsteinTwitterNOVEMBER 13, 2012

    It has become, for liberals and leftists enraged by the way Republicans never suffer the consequences for turning electoral politics into a cesspool, a kind of smoking gun. The late, legendarily brutal campaign consultant Lee Atwater explains how Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves:


    You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

    And then there is the identity politics where christian conservatives keep on 1:treating non Christians as lesser than, 2: trying to legalize discrimination against some of their fellow Americans and then have the gall to 3: claim they are the ones being persecuted.

    Oh and let’s remember the identity politics that was Mittens 47 percent comment.

    • jzhess says:

      Thanks for your comment, James. To clarify, no one is suggesting that conservative individuals, institutions (and politicians) don’t draw about identity constructs – and engage them every day (and in ways, sometimes, that are concerning and deserving of critique). After all, that’s one of the big ways the modern world has been organized. What I was pointing out is that on a fundamental level, conservatives don’t share the progressive view that they are central in undergirding everything. In other words, we believe there is something *more* fundamental and central and crucial to be talking about, focusing on and emphasizing – aka, right or wrong, good or evil, whether something aligns with God’s will, or not. Does that help?

  4. jzhess says:

    No it doesn’t, Phil – although I was impressed with Clinton’s op-ed in our local paper –

    I want to see what polling numbers are for the other candidates – and see who has the best chance of knocking Trump off. Although I will likely vote for another 3rd party candidate, my views of gender roles would not prevent me from voting for a women – that’s for sure!

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