Charlotte Brontë would have forgiven Trump his Stormy Daniels’ sins, because she separated an individual’s personal sins from the way they treated others.
In the wake of the Anderson Cooper/60 Minutes‘ interview with Stormy Daniels, there’s been something of a war raging (albeit politely) between Dennis Prager and Jonah Goldberg. The issue is whether it should matter to conservatives that President Trump was not a Boy Scout in the years leading up to his presidency — and, indeed, did something as morally reprehensible as having a one-night fling with a porn star immediately after his son’s birth.
Dennis Prager wrote a column saying that Trump’s personal behavior — which is a black mark on his soul and an insult to his wife — should not matter, because we are not Trump’s soul nor his wife. Instead, we are the citizens of the nation he is leading and in that capacity, his presidency is moral because it stands up to evil and does what is right:
I do not agree with those — right or left, religious or secular — who contend that adultery invalidates a political or social leader. It may invalidate a pastor, priest or rabbi — because a major part of their vocation is to be a moral/religious model, and because clergy do not make war, sign national budgets, appoint judges, run foreign policy or serve as commanders in chief. In other words, unlike your clergyman or clergywoman, almost everything a president does as president affects hundreds of millions of Americans and billions of non-Americans. If a president is also a moral model, that is a wonderful bonus. But that is not part of a president’s job description.
The second problem with the adultery-matters-in-a-political-leader argument is that the policies of a political leader matter much more — morally — than that individual’s sexual sins, or even character. It is truly foolish to argue otherwise. Would we rather have as president a person with racist views who otherwise had an exemplary personal character or a believer in racial equality who committed adultery?
The fact is it is none of my business and none of my concern whether a politician ever had an extramarital affair. To cite just one of many examples, a president’s attitude toward the genocide-advocating Islamic tyrants in Tehran is incomparably more morally significant. That is just one of many reasons — on moral grounds alone — I far prefer the current president to the faithful-to-his-wife previous president.
Jonah Goldberg, who cannot get past his deep distaste for Trump’s personality and his deviations from doctrinaire 21st century Republican conservativism, thinks that the Stormy Daniels matter (and others like) it are such black marks against Trump that we Americans become complicit in his sins when we support his politics. For that reason, in a post about secularism and conservativism, he essentially accuses Prager and other religious people who support Trump of being unfaithful to their faith:
Last week, Dennis argued that the moral character of a president paled in importance, to the point of triviality, when compared to the morality of his or her policies. Whatever the merits of that claim, which are certainly debatable, I find it hard not to see the thrust of that argument as remarkably secular. It is utterly instrumentalist and consequentialist in its claim that we should judge politicians purely by the desirability of their policy program. Arguing that it’s ultimately okay (or at least irrelevant) for public role models to flout religious norms — and sacraments! — so long as they get tax and regulatory policy right strikes me as something very close to the “secular indoctrination” that Dennis condemns in his most recent column.
In other words, Goldberg and those who support his view of things argue that Stormy Daniels is just the icing on the cake proving the argument that you can’t simultaneously be religious and support Trump politically because Trump is a bad man. As an aside, Goldberg does not hold that same view of Martin Luther King, who was also a serial adulterer:
As so often happens, it was King’s tragically premature death that reminded so many of his historical stature. But even then, the riots and chaos of 1968 were not the ideal climate for sober appreciation of his contribution.
And, if you can forgive a bit of partisanship, the way some of his heirs — literal (the King family) and figurative (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton et al.) — tried to claim a monopoly on his legacy made that appreciation more difficult as well.
King’s views on economics and American foreign policy were also too bound up in his persona for some conservatives to forget or forgive. More importantly, the generation of conservatives (though not necessarily Republicans, who disproportionately voted for the Civil Rights Act) who wrongly opposed the civil-rights movement either out of misguided constitutionalism or simply out of archaic racism needed to die off before King’s contribution could be better appreciated across party lines.
So what was King’s contribution? Simply this: He forced America to fulfill its own best self.
In the rest of a column that rightly gives MLK his place in civil rights history, Goldberg neatly elides the fact that, as noted, King — a minister — had horrible morals under the standards of the Seventh Commandment, and that he became increasingly Marxist in the year and a half leading to his death. Marxism is an evil ideology.
However, although Goldberg doesn’t say so, in the larger scheme of things, both MLK’s adultery and his Marxism were inconsequential — the former because it did not affect his larger moral message to the nation; and the latter because he died before his message shifted from the good of civil rights to the evils of Marxism.
That same division — focusing on the good a man does for the nation rather than his personal sins — should and can be true of Trump’s policies. In his presidency, which affects all Americans, not just Trump and his wife, we are seeing him returning the American government to the rule of law, not bureaucracy; placing the concerns of America and Americans before those of people in other countries; and, as Victor Davis Hanson aptly explained, cutting several Gordian knots that bedeviled the traditional foreign policy establishment, thereby making the world a safer place. Those all count as virtues in my book.
Not only do I agree with Prager, I think Charlotte Brontë would have too. Charlotte Brontë, of course, was the retiring daughter of an Evangelical Church of England priest, who rose to sudden fame when the British public read her shattering first novel, Jane Eyre. If there are any among you who have not read that book, beware of spoilers ahead. And for those who read it so long ago they have only the faintest memory of it, here’s a quick rundown:
The book begins when Jane is a 9-year-old unloved orphan living at the mercy of her cruel aunt. The aunt eventually rids herself of Jane by sending her to Lowood School, an Evangelical school for girls. The school is an unspeakably cruel place in which the girls are systematically starved and otherwise abused.
The school’s headmaster and treasure, the Reverend Brocklehurst mouths Bible pieties to justify scourging the girls’ souls in this way. At the same time, although he is not a technically immoral man (he does not violate any of the Bible’s Ten Commandments), he treats his own family with a kindness and generosity he denies the girls. Eventually, Jane’s young mentor at the school dies at the same time a typhoid epidemic kills several other girls, exposing the school to condemnation and resulting in positive reform.
I’ll pause here to say that this part of the book was strictly autobiographical. When Charlotte was only eight, she and three of her sisters (two older sisters and Emily, her younger sister) were sent to be educated at Cowan Bridge School, an Evangelical boarding school. Neither of her older sisters, both of whom Charlotte adored, survived the school’s harsh regimen, and a typhoid epidemic killed several students, causing unwanted publicity and leading to reform. Charlotte modeled Brocklehurst on the Rev. Carus Wilson. And now back to the book….
Jane remains at the now-reformed school until she is 18, when she is sent as a governess to Thornfield Hall. There, she takes care of Adèle, the orphaned daughter of a French opera singer, and the ward of Edward Rochester, the owner of Thornfield Hall. Jane immediately understands that Adèle is a bastard and assumes wrongly that Rochester is the father — but Jane’s fundamental morality, which does not include punishing children for matters outside the control, means that she does not hold the child responsible for the sins of her parents.
Rochester, when he appears on the scene, is obviously a libertine — or at least once lived the life of a libertine. Even when he establishes that Adèle is not his daughter, he does not hide from Jane the fact that he lived a louche life, consorting with — and obviously behaving like — the most disreputable characters in France’s demimonde. Just as Jane did not hold Adèle’s birth against the child, she does not instantly condemn Rochester but, instead, takes him on his own terms.
What Jane sees is that, on his own terms, Rochester is a good man: Although he is not Adèle’s father, he would not leave Adèle to die. Instead, he gives the child a home and an education and, as well as he is able, treats Adèle her with personal kindness. The Rev. Brocklehurst, for all his Biblical morality, would never have done so.
Rochester also treats his servants well. They are not slaves or automatons; they are people. To him, Jane is not just a colorless flunkie caring for an opera singer’s bastard. She is a person in her own right.
Eventually, Jane and Rochester fall in love and Jane agrees to marry him. It is at the wedding, in dramatic fashion, that Rochester’s true sin is revealed: he is trying to commit bigamy.
Bertha, the madwoman of whose existence Jane learned when Bertha tried to set Rochester on fire, is in fact Rochester’s wife. Bertha’s family knew of her madness but nevertheless foisted her on a naive Rochester. Once her madness was manifest, he could have sent her to a far away asylum. He did not, however, in an age when asylum residents were chained to walls, tortured, and displayed like animals. Bertha would probably have died quickly there, leaving him free to marry again. Instead, he assured that she was well and kindly cared for.
Rochester could also simply have killed her, with no one being the wiser. But again, because he is fundamentally a good man, he refuses to commit that heinous sin.
It is the promise of love with Jane that is too much for him. He prepares to take upon himself the sin of adultery and the crime of bigamy. He is saved from doing so, though, when Bertha’s brother stops Jane’s and Rochester’s wedding and the whole truth emerges.
Jane, shattered, runs away, only to be rescued by St. John Eyre Rivers, who just happens to be her distant cousin. Rivers is perfection: He’s as handsome as an angel, completely devout, and lives his life in accordance with true Christian charity. He also has no heart. His is a faith and morality purely of the intellect. He is good, but completely cold; a mechanical saint, if you will. When he offers to marry Jane, she refuses the offer because his pattern-perfect morality cannot be the basis for a strong, loving relationship.
Eventually, having recovered physically and mentally from events at Thornfield Hall, Jane returns there to find out what happened. She learns that Bertha set the house on fire — and that Rochester, despite the horrors Bertha had visited on his life, nevertheless tried to save her. He failed in his efforts. He also lost a hand and his vision.
In other words, Charlotte, that stern, albeit humanist, moralist, made her beloved character pay for his bad decisions in life. Only now, a widower now, and chastened, is he ready to be Jane’s husband.
“Reader, I married him.” The implication is that these two people, one, an innocent who would not judge and, the other, a reprobate who reformed, will live happily ever after.
Prager’s argument is essentially that he would rather have a Rochester in the White House than a Brocklehurst or even a Rivers. While both Brocklehurst and Rivers abide by the 10 Commandments, neither is an appropriate man to lead.
Brocklehurst is a truly bad human being despite hewing to Biblical precepts. He is the perfect avatar of a Leftist, such as Hillary, who stays married and seems to avoid big, obvious sins, but nevertheless wishes to visit evil on others, disguising this evil under the uplifting rhetoric of Leftism (mixed in with misused Biblical aphorisms). We only have to look at the Leftist world, from hard Left nations such as North Korea and the Soviet Union, to soft Left nations in Europe (which are now showing their true colors as America’s Cold War funding dries up and the Muslim hordes arrive).
Rivers, too, can be analogized to today’s political scene. He’s the NeverTrumper. His standards are so exquisite that he will never be able to function in the real world. People whose motto is “all must be perfect” will always be enemies of the functional good. They’ll never achieve any goal, either perfection or goodness.
And then there’s Mr. Rochester: He’s a flawed man who led an immoral life, but he is the only one of the three who acknowledges that all people are God’s creations and are entitled, at a bare minimum, to life and, through his efforts, to a decent life. Even as to Bertha, he was fundamentally humane. He neither killed nor institutionalized her, and genuinely believed that his bigamy, while it would be a stain on his soul, would not touch her. Rochester is analogous to Trump: He has done wrong, acknowledges his sins, but has a vision of the world that contemplates the betterment of his fellow man and woman.
No one — no one — has ever read Jane Eyre and come away thinking, “Wow, that Mr. Brocklehurst is a true hero” or “Gee, I really love the Rev. St. John Rivers.” Instead, they know who is the true hero of the book, all his faults and sins notwithstanding — because, in the end, it is Rochester who makes a positive difference in the lives of those around him.
The same is true for Trump. His private sins are his private business, notwithstanding the Leftist media’s attempt to tie Stormy Daniels around his neck like some sort of human albatross. On the world stage, however, despite his feisty crudeness, he is a very good man and ought to be acknowledged and treated as such.