Should We Regard Even Our Most Vicious Political Foes As People?


Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State
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And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. (Mark 4:14)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all…To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17, 20-21)

“I’ve never seen hatred like this,” he said…To me, they’re not even people, it’s so sad.  Morality’s just gone, morals have flown out the window, and we deserve so much better than this as a country.” (Eric Trump rightly slams vicious left as ‘not even people’)

When I the read Cheryl K. Chumley’s brief commentary on Eric Trump’s remark, quoted above, it struck me as a perfect illustration of ‘tragic irony’. As my readers would expect, I wholeheartedly agree with Eric Trump when he laments that “Morality’s just gone, morals have flown out the window.”  As they should also expect, however, I thought his observation that his father’s harsh and relentless critics are “not even people” perfectly illustrated the effect of the smashed moral compass, whose vicious consequences so dismay him.

If Cheryl Chumley had praised Eric Trump’s moral sensibility, instead of his remark, she would have avoided the pitfall that ensnared him, as it has so often ensnared the father, in whose footsteps he is certainly following, as Chumley accurately observes.  I was born into a country in which many people believed that folks with my physical characteristics were “not even people.”  Given the basic premise of America’s moral understanding, this had very practical consequences.

It meant that we were not entitled to equal protection of the laws; equal access to public facilities, or to paths of opportunity on which to show, by our decent character, hard work and results that we were more than equal to the challenge of responding to God’s endowment of right. According to our nation’s vital premises, that endowment is in the nature of all human beings.

Chumley’s praise of Eric Trump is apt to encourage the atmosphere of mutual diatribe and disrespect that has so far replaced civil discourse in the aftermath of the last election.  The campaign is over, but the political wars continue—not in the least abated by the outward appearance of respect for our common citizenship (literally conveyed, at its root, by the word “politeness”) that once, however speciously, clothed the rhetorical barbs and assaults such political conflict inevitably involves.  During his campaign, Donald Trump blazed the trail of this angry disregard for politeness, with what Cheryl Chumley calls his “blunt talk”.  The tragedy is that such talk can be a blunt instrument whose repeated use deadens the sense of propriety constitutional government demands.

For the moral decline Eric Trump laments isn’t simply a matter of social niceties.  It strikes at the practical foundation of our constitutional self-government.  Contrary to the assumptions of the amoral ideologies now dominant among America’s elitists (socialism/communism and “pragmatism”), “being on the right side of history” and “getting things done” are neither of them sufficient to satisfy the requirements of human justice.  Results must be achieved by uses of power that respect the boundaries of right. All else is tyranny.

This requirement governs the logic of the U.S. Constitution. It is the key to understanding the challenge its Framers faced when they met to devise a remedy the ill effects of the inadequately empowered government set up under the Articles of Confederation.  Contrary to the polemical thinking of some conservatives, the immediate concern of the Framers was not simply to protect individual “freedom” from government.  It was to keep the government of the United States from collapsing because it lacked powers sufficient to secure its own existence and functions, much less the liberty of the American people.  The civil disorder and warfare liable to result from that collapse would have threatened the lives and livelihoods of all individuals, as it extinguished the national hopes the war for Independence aimed to secure.

But orderly survival and prosperity were not alone the focus of those hopes.  Both were being achieved, for many Americans, under British rule.  The taxing issue that enkindled the Revolution wasn’t’ just about the results of government- it was about the right of self-government, which Americans were already successfully implementing in their respective states.  It was about erecting a government that would respect and extend that success, while preserving the united power by which, as a people, Americans had successfully sustained their claim to self-rule.

For reasons deeply rooted in their Christian faith, America’s founding generation saw self-government as an aspect of their responsibility to do what is right in God’s sight.  This was not because they insisted on the simple primacy of free choice (as many Americans, whether they call themselves liberals or conservatives, are doing now).  They condemned such freedom as licentious and inevitably self-destructive. To them, it represented the willful rejection of God’s love, exemplified in the provisions by which He has made and makes our existence possible. But they took to themselves God’s challenge, when He said to the Israelites, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life….” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

So, in their Declaration of Independence, those first citizens of the United States did not say that the purpose of government is to secure “freedom”.  Freedom is the opportunity for choice.  It is an empty form of will until, after deliberation, we choose to use it in some way.  To guide our choice God provides help, programmed into the very fabric of our nature; written, as it were, upon our hearts; speaking with the voice of conscience.  Our freedom is to choose.  But our liberty is to choose rightly.  When we commit to right doing, we act as the agents and ministers of God’s government, with authority no merely human sovereign may rightly disregard.

This possibility of right action, equally within the reach of all humanity, is the natural capacity in light of which we are, all of us, equally assumed to be persons. By nature, we are supposed to represent our Creator’s will, until by our deliberate choice, we discard the character He undertakes for us as humans.  This makes sense of fact that, in our Constitution, government is required to extend due process to all persons, not just to citizens.  The substance of this respect is not abridged until they have been convicted of wrongdoing.

Even then, punishment must also be kept within bounds, as befits the fallible judgments of humanity.  The one who made us, alone, has the warrant to deny the character He assigns to our existence. There is no majesty in human law that can simply withdraw from any one of us the respect God extends to humanity in His act of creation; and which Christ also extended, even as he unjustly endured the death penalty on the Cross. Jesus could still see and respect God’s intention for the sinners he was dying to save. From conception until we stand before God for judgment, are we not called to do likewise, as human beings, but more particularly, as Americans?