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A squandered legacy

 F. LaGard Smith
Courtesy of F. LaGard Smith

As Trump’s presidency comes to an end, now marred by his election intransigence and the deplorable Capitol riot, how does one assess the 45th President of the United States?  On the positive side, Trump was an extraordinarily productive President with a list of accomplishments to match any other in that high office. 

Merely consider Trump’s booming (deregulated) economy prior to COVID.  Never before has the rising economic tide floated so many boats, including people of color on the lower decks of society.  Speaking of COVID, despite criticism of his initial leadership, Trump’s Operation Warp Speed has to be given due credit for the unprecedented speed in which vital vaccines have been developed. 

In foreign policy, Trump silenced the pugnacious bully in North Korea, maintained a lid on ISIS, kept Iran in check, refused to get us entangled in further wars, and (never to be properly credited) orchestrated multiple Middle East accords. 

Of utmost importance, Trump was a champion of religious liberty, a defender of the unborn, and an advocate for constitutional originalism with his many judicial appointments at every level.  Although not strictly in a Kingdom sense, much of what Trump upheld (whether consciously or not) could be considered “God’s work.”

If only Trump’s persona had matched his policies!  As the whole world knows, Trump was arrogant, bombastic, petty, rude (often crude), caustically divisive, and woefully unChristlike.  While I can’t thank Trump enough for his bold leadership on a vast array of important policies, I cannot (in a non-Christian sense) forgive Trump for squandering it all away by his boorish temperament.  Had he been a truly decent, humble man (not meaning milquetoast), Trump undoubtedly would have remained in office, and his faith-supportive influence, in particular, would have continued unabated.

Do you know who had Trump perfectly pegged?  The prophet Haggai.  Recall when God’s people returned from Exile to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem?  Called by God to spur on the work, Haggai asked the priests two hypothetical questions (2:10-14).  First, “If a person carries consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and it touches bread, stew, wine, oil or other food, does that item become holy?”  No, answered the priests.  Second, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches any of these things, does it become defiled?”  Yes, they said.  Meaning?  Just because someone is engaged in doing “God’s work” doesn’t make them personally righteous; but personal unrighteousness defiles whatever “God’s work” one is doing.

While upholding “God’s work” clearly did not make Trump a virtuous person, his ignoble character has greatly diminished the prospect of America remaining a God-honoring nation.  Imagine what a powerful, lasting force for good a truly godly President might have been!

Which brings the conversation closer to home.  Looking into the mirror that Trump provides, what do we see in ourselves?  Does “going to church” and doing “God’s work” make us personally righteous?  Too easy.  The more compelling question is that second one: How might our own unrighteousness besmirch whatever “God’s work” we might attempt to do? 

F. LaGard Smith is a retired law school professor (Pepperdine, Liberty, and Faulkner law schools), and is the author of some 35 books, touching on law, faith, and social issues.  He is the compiler and narrator of The Daily Bible (the NIV and NLT arranged in chronological order), and posts weekly devotionals on Facebook, drawing spiritual applications from current events.

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