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No middle of the road

People want a leader who knows what he thinks

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Of all the criticisms President Trump has to live with, you don’t often hear him called a cowardly middle-of-the-roader. You may not like his position on any particular issue, but you probably know what he thinks.

Immigration? The Washington “swamp”? Free trade with China? Prisoners of war like the late John McCain? No hugging the stripe at the center of the road. You know what your president thinks. Or at least what, on the record, he says he thinks!

My guess is that this Trumpian straightforwardness is one of the main reasons for whatever popularity he enjoys. Here at WORLD, we get mail every week saying something like this: “I don’t have to agree with all his policies. I just like the fact that he knows what he believes.” Or, as an Iowa farmer told me last week, “I like it that he doesn’t beat around the bush. I don’t have to guess what he thinks.” For my farmer friend, it doesn’t even matter much that the Trump record (like that of most presidents) includes almost self-contradictory positions on issues of agricultural trade.

This Trump certainty has won the support of large numbers of evangelical Christians along the way. These folks are tired of leaders who constantly seek the mushy middle of the road and who equivocate on issue after issue—leaders (in both parties) who may be found not just in secular settings but more and more within evangelical academia and media.

My guess is that this Trumpian straight­forwardness is one of the main reasons for whatever popularity he enjoys.

These opinion shapers are constantly nudging their followers to move to the middle, to trim the sharp edges off their thinking processes. But hordes of voters worry that in the process of trimming those sharp edges they may also be saying goodbye to their cutting edge. I think those hordes of voters include substantial numbers who voted for Trump four years ago and many loyalists who will vote for him again a few weeks from now.

In choosing that route, these folks will be largely rejecting the counsel of what we might call the “evangelical intelligentsia.” Colleges, universities, and seminaries, on the one hand, and a variety of media sources, on the other, over the last generation called us to espouse more “open-minded” ideas on matters such as the origin of man and the world around us, social behavioral patterns including sexual mores and the meaning of marriage, economic structures, and issues like patriotism and nationalism. Indeed, this move from “right” to “left” on such issues is historically much more likely to spring from society’s intelligentsia than from the grassroots. And who can deny that the same pattern is true within evangelicalism as well?

By itself, of course, that proves nothing. In terms of what is Biblically right and wrong, grassroots folks are no more likely than the eggheads to be on target. But the direction of the flow of ideas is worth noting—and it is a direction as true of the Christian community as it is of society at large. Theological liberalism, like its secular counterparts, has historically been born in classrooms and nurtured in academic journals.

Why is that so? By their very nature, professors and writers are creative folks unwilling to accept the status quo. Always, they’re looking for new explanations. “Why?” is their constant theme, and existing answers rarely satisfy. And we should be thankful God made some people that way, because in the right context such a spirit keeps us looking for His truth.

In all that unsettled scheme of things, it’s easy to see why significant numbers of voters find themselves saying: “Forget it! Give me a leader who knows what he thinks!”

Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things. Visit WORLD’s memorial tribute page.


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