A Word About Smugness

“Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess.”

-G. K. Chesterton

 

For the last year or more I have engaged in something of a social endeavor. I have been a supporter of Donald Trump since July of 2015 and have advocated since then that he would be the next President of the United States of America. While most people I met have been ardent naysayers, I have encountered a small number of people who have shared this opinion. Due to the egregious behaviors of Trump’s many haters, my first thought was not to express my support in an especially outward fashion. But then the haters became legion, and I decided to stand up to them.

What began as mere public expression of support for Trump has turned into something more outward. I have plastered the front of my apartment with Trump signs, and I now wear my “Make American Great Again” hat almost daily. The opposition mainly began back in March when a couple of guys tried to fight with me over my hat. Since then, several conversations have erupted over the hat, and I have had to deescalate a few before they got too heated.

In the environments I often put myself, it is basically anathema to be a Trump supporter. So many people are rooted in identity politics. In lieu of formulating independent thoughts and seeking to understand the opinions of others, they have this grotesque tendency to flock to some slew of perspectives wrapped up in their social groups. I wear the hat for three reasons.

The first reason is that I am a huge supporter of Donald Trump for President. It is very important not to self-censor out of fear of reprisal from our peers. Self-censorship is so very dangerous because the standards demanding censorship are always eroding. What is dignified today is bigotry tomorrow. There is little sense to any of it because it is all drawn from the well of whatever modern narrative is fashionable.

The second reason I wear that hat is to embolden others to express their own opinions openly. I don’t only wish to embolden other Trump supporters, but to embolden any who have a desire to express their opinions, regardless of unpopularity with the status quo. By me choosing not to censor in this little way, I may encourage others to do the same.

The third reason that I wear the hat is that I want to force others to challenge their own assumptions that are driven by their identity politics. Last week I went out to see a band I used to listen to in high-school. During the show, I was shown that someone had snapped a picture of the back of my head- on which I was wearing a backwards MAGA hat- and posted it to Instagram. Once I discovered it, I commented on the photo cheekily and approached her in person and had a little laugh. She asked if I wore the hat ironically. After I told her it was not ironic, she expressed her utter disarray that I could both be a Trump supporter and attend a “punk show.”

I receive this question a lot. People frequently ask me if I wear the hat ironically. Sometimes I respond to them with confusion and ask them why on earth I would ironically promote somebody I didn’t like. They never have an answer. You see, in light of their identity politics, I am either a jokester or a total deviant because they think that Trump is non-serious or a deviant. Their perspective hinders them from seeing that reality is much bigger than their narrow view can grasp.

The smugness I see in my peers is among the most disgusting things I have had to witness in my entire life. Whenever I respond to these people with an honest opinion, they almost always respond with rolled eyes or a horrible and snide expression. Whenever I turn the question around on them, they never have anything meaningful to say at all. The takeaway is that because they do not have a candidate that they like that am not allowed to have a candidate that like. Furthermore, it is expected that I should defend myself from their hallucinations about my candidate. But when the question is turned around, they have nothing to say because: cognitive dissonance.

I enjoy the fact that the hat can lend itself to discussion. I have greatly enjoyed some of the discussions I have had with Trump opponents and supporters alike. What I will never regard is the abhorrent smugness of the people of my generation who cannot conceive of a diversity of opinions amongst their social sects. They judge any divergent opinion as bigotry but never realize that their demands for censorship and their group-think are bigotry defined.

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God’s Politics

 

I am going to tell you who Jesus would vote for.

Previously we discussed how framing every episode of our lives in terms of “What Would Jesus Do” is potentially banal because our roles on earth are very different from that of the incarnate God-Messiah. Christ’s mission was to come to earth and die for sinners. While in the throes of this mission, He provided us ample teachings and set an example by which we ought to live. His Gospel is inherently designed to penetrate individual hearts within their unique circumstances.

Because Jesus is chiefly concerned with the individual and their relationship to God and His Kingdom, He made particularly clear that he was not necessarily concerned with taking a sides in earthly matters. While it might be argued that Christ would not have paid much mind to politics, it is grossly incorrect to say that He is not political. Jesus is a King, and we cannot ask ourselves what Jesus would do without regarding His concern for His Kingdom.

Mankind is morally corrupted and spiritually alienated from God. While this corruption has estranged us from God and His Heavenly Kingdom, it has yoked us to another, more sinister, kingdom. Christ expressed that all of humanity lives their life in service to someone. By default, we are slaves to our corrupted nature and the kingdom of Satan, the adversary of God. Through various dispensations that met their crescendo in the Gospel of Christ, God provided a means by which people could become reunited with Him- to leave the kingdom of darkness and to be rejoined to the kingdom of light.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Christ foretold that He would soon leave earth, and that He would “come again” (John 14). He promised to send His Spirit to comfort His people and guide them into “all truth.” These people, who would be called “Christians,” would become known as His church. They were to be the body of Christ, empowered by His Spirit, going about His work until He returns. After His resurrection, as He ascended into Heaven He implored His followers to go unto all the ends of the earth and to make “disciples of all men.”

The formative years of the church and the last two thousand years of church history have seen Christians responding to that call. Christ, through His people, perpetuates the magnitude and scope of His Kingdom. He will return one day and reap a harvest of believers who will become completely united with Him, free from the predicaments of our corruption in which we live. Christ works in the individual and uses that individual to act on His behalf to strengthen and to draw more into His Kingdom.

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will….”

Ephesians 1:11 NASB (emphasis mine)

Scripture speaks a lot of about election, but it is a very different sort than which we refer to today. To elect essentially means “to choose.” God has foreordained those whom He has elected for His Kingdom. The common means by which He draws the elect into His Kingdom is through Christians obediently fulfilling their call to evangelize. Many find this to be a hard saying. Why is it that God chooses some but does not choose others? As hard as a saying as it may be, we can take heart that God has chosen any of us. We are all deserving of our estrangement, and it is by the mercy of God that any ever find restoration.

The implication of God’s election is that all who are not elect will remain in their sins and be thus condemned. Many who understandably struggle with this notion will speak of people all the world over who have, seemingly unfairly, never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. They will then regard the dumb luck of those in the West who are overwhelmed with Christianity.

The first thing to consider here is that Scripture makes very clear that God has made Himself known in nature itself, and “none are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). In other words, whether or not someone hears the Gospel, they are fully responsible for their spiritual estate. The second thing to consider is a reframing of sorts. It is no “dumb luck” that Western societies have become such incubators for a flourishing Church and for religious freedom in general. It was God’s providence that provided society to progress unto this point.

Now, there is no doubt that the Church has flourished (sometimes more genuinely) in the presence of oppressive influences and regimes. All the world over, the Church has always been wrought with severe persecution. It persists full-throttle into the present day. The excess we have found in the West has led, in myriad ways, to a complacent and obstinate church. But if we look to the Scriptures we see that even the suffering early church was met with these same components of human influence.

Regardless of the various contexts in which Christianity can thrive, it is critical to observe the ways in which Christianity has the ability to transform society from the inside out. These benefits are advantageous, but they are not the end in itself. The goal of believers ought to be the proliferation, the health, and the growth of the kingdom of God. Every decision that we make should be made in light of the notion that Jesus is the actual King of all of the earth and that He calls us to the service of His actual kingdom.

In terms of our earthly political role, the Christian who lives in a society in which they are allowed to vote ought to consider how their vote would impact the flourishing of the Church. In terms of American politics, which candidate has a tactical advantage at winning an election and is more than likely going to be the candidate who advocates for religious freedoms of Christians? This pertains to what they advocate as policy and, in terms of the presidency, who they are likely to nominate to the Supreme Court. It is in the presence of this freedom that we support the suffering of believers all the world over. If we are not to protect that now, there will come a day when America will suffer the same persecutions of believers throughout the world.

Who would Jesus vote for, if He voted? I truly think it is a silly question. But if I had to answer it, I would say that Jesus would vote for those who would less likely politically hinder the religious liberties of His Church. Of course, God can grow His Kingdom in any way that He sees fit. But if we are to be preoccupied with growing His Kingdom, we ought to be tactfully considering what might help to further that mission.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Proverbs 29:18 KJV

Who Would Jesus Vote For, and What Would He Name His Yacht?

“It Looks Just As Stupid When You Do It.” That was the caption on an anti-tobacco refrigerator magnet I was given in junior high.

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Anti-Tobacco Ad

Whoever wrote the ad was either untrained in persuasion or was trying to subliminally create a positive association with cigarette smoking. One’s first thought at this ad is that, despite how silly the creatures look, they do at least look pretty cool. If nothing else, it created an indelible mental association between cute and innocent animals and cigarettes.

More importantly, people (especially young ones) do not care about whether or not they look stupid unless looking stupid makes them uncool. Studies prove that the addition of a cigarette in one’s hand often does make them appear cooler to the bystander. Albeit, it seems that there is a coolness threshold, wherein a nicotine-slave fiendishly sucking down a chain of cigarettes crosses the parabola into unsavory (uncool) territory. I’m not even going to address the blatant uncoolness of electronic cigarettes.

The point is, nobody cares about appearing stupid unless appearing stupid is a barrier to their social acceptance. If one is preoccupied with impressing others and must do so via means of stupidity, then they will not think twice. “Not thinking twice” is actually a pretty good definition of stupidity.

The other inherent silliness of the ad is that it presupposes a similarity of social roles between humans and non-humans. And this is my main point.

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Tell me this chimp doesn’t look cool!

The animals don’t look silly because they somehow know better than to smoke cigarettes. They look silly, because their civilizations have not advanced to the level of establishing complex structures, such as a tobacco industry that generates three quarters of a trillion dollars annually, for instance. Animals, it turns out, enjoy cigarettes too. They just were never clever enough to invent them and skilled enough to make them, but that’s not to say they were never unwise enough to habitually smoke them.

Another slogan that was popular in my youth was “What Would Jesus Do?” People would wear bracelets with the slogan. It became a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon.

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And apparently Kanye West still sports one?

The original intent of the bracelets (other than financial profit) seemed innocent enough. They could be used as a reminder to “do the right thing” throughout the day. While it is asinine for someone to need a bracelet to remind them about what they should be meditating on already, sometimes infants need their milk. The bracelets became no more than a fad and an unoffensive context for a Christian subcultural foray into the mainstream.

“Would Would Jesus Do?” as a fad was pretty harmless, but as a theological principle it is incredibly unhelpful if taken to its logical conclusions. You see, the fad did not end with bracelets. After George W. Bush began sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 I started seeing bumper stickers on people’s cars that read “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Then in subsequent elections “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” started appearing. The trend continues.

I should make a bumper sticker that says “What Would Jesus Name His Yacht?” or “What Would Jesus Name His Firstborn Daughter?” Imagine contexts in which Jesus might be purchasing a yacht or being married and having children. It’s a funny thought, isn’t it? Is it a sin to own a yacht? Some people probably think so, but no, not if you have the means. Is it a sin to bear offspring? On the contrary, the Scriptures tell us to “be fruitful and multiply.” So why is it a funny thought? Because Jesus had a different social role and function than other people do.

The anti-tobacco ad is silly because it unfairly associates human civilization and capacity with animal civilization and capacity. Jesus is fully man and fully God. As peers in Christ’s human nature, we are able to laterally relate our experience with His. Herein, Jesus refers to us as His “friends” (John 15). But as subjects unto His divine nature, our relation to Him is quite different.

Jesus came to earth with a very specific purpose and role. The example He has set before us and the lessons He has taught us provide us with the instruction for leading lives of holiness, but they do not define the nuances of our daily experience. Because of Christ’s Messianic role He lived in such a way that promoted His mission.  Although our Christian mission is to proliferate His, our earthly role is not materially the same. It is of the same Spirit, but of different functions. The body performs a different set of tasks from the Head (1 Corinthians 12).

With these things in mind, it is not helpful to constantly pose the question of what Jesus would or would not have done. It may be relevant to basic questions of morality, but it is useless in light of complex social scenarios. These questions are not helpful because they miss the point of the Gospel entirely. Christ’s Gospel is good news for condemned sinners. It’s chief aim is to save and internally transform a person (gradually) into the person God designed them to be.

To this end, we are given the instructions for daily living. In addition to being preoccupied with one’s conversion and spiritual growth, Christ’s instruction is also focused on the growth of His Kingdom as promoted through evangelism and discipleship. For that reason, the complex social structures in which we try to retrofit Jesus Christ do not boast the precedence that His Kingdom holds.

That is not to say that Christians are not tasked with engaging with the complex systems of our surrounding societies. At times, many of you have probably felt immense internal conflict regarding that engagement. I will address that at a future date. In the mean time I’m pretty sure I know who Jesus would be vote for, but I’ll address that in my next post.

 

Invisible Oppressors

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“The scribes… were saying, “[Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.”

Mark 3:22-27

The wisdom of Jesus is remarkable. In this particular exchange He is, on the surface, defending the origin of His power. In doing so, He goes on to say a great deal more. A prominent lesson to be inferred here is that internal divisions disrupt unity and pave the way for inevitable defeat. There is strength in numbers acting in solidarity with one another, but when those numbers are broken off into factions there is vulnerability. Jesus teach us also that it takes the greater strength of one to overcome the great strength of another.

Throughout history, civilizations have always been vulnerable to external and internal forces  which have been represented as foreign governments or rulers, business corporations, and political or religious ideologies. Much is said these days regarding the individual person or group’s perceived experience of “oppression.” The blame for societal oppression is often placed on racial, gender, religious, or economic groups. While injustices do occur within these parameters, it seems to me that the majority of systemic injustices are rooted in issues of class and/or ideology.

The human brain likes shortcuts and will seek to ascribe a familiar face to a threat. It could be said that our greatest enemies are those that are invisible to us in our day-to-day. The class ruler or the ideologue makes use of this tendency of the human brain and so seeks to persuade the members of a society to cast blame unreservedly on their own peers (based on superficial identifiers) in an effort to divide them into factions. Once divided, they are more easily brought unto the heel.

The irony of this, of course, is that the members of a society will waste their time bickering or warring with one another all while unwittingly being subjected to shared injustices. There is strength in numbers, and we take on our enemies by “binding the strong man.” but we are so often weakened by division.

While we can draw these lessons from Christ and apply them to our experience of earthly injustices, Jesus is referring more directly to spiritual tormenters. Every human being is alienated from God because of their sin. This alienation renders us vulnerable to Satan and his kingdom- the enemies of our souls. This sinful nature is what drives humanity to act unjustly  in the first place.

Because our sins alienate us from God, they set us on a course to hell where we will forever remain alienated from Him. There is no earthy life or afterlife to be truly cherished unless the terms of this alienation are rectified. Jesus came to earth to do just that. When He died on the cross, He bore the punishment of our sins. He bore injustice that He might justify us before God. When He resurrected from the dead (for death is a curse for sin for which He was not worthy) He made it possible for us to be made spiritually alive- to be restored to our fellowship with God.

Even after this fellowship is restored Christians are still affected by the evil nature of these bodies in which we dwell. With God’s help we fight against this sinful nature all of our lives. The sin has influence in our lives, but it no longer has power to subdue us and to formally separate us from God. Because of that, it removes the power of Satan in our lives. Jesus Christ is greater than the “strong man,” and He gives us authority in Himself to oppose our (invisible) spiritual enemies and to subdue them. Our individual fellowship with God must emerge into corporate fellowship with other believers. God invites us into His kingdom and calls on us to spread His Gospel that others all the world over might know such freedom.

 

Meekness and Free Speech

It’s 12:30 am, and I work tomorrow. But I had to make note of something before I got to bed. Trump won the New Hampshire primary tonight. It was a landslide. I went out to Tuesday night trivia that my friend hosts as I do every Tuesday. I decide to wear my Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” hat. It seemed like a good night to celebrate the win.

I always get occasional weird looks from people. I am well aware of the feelings liberals have associated with Donald Trump. But I am also so well-versed in the guy’s ethos, that I take none of it seriously. And I see no need to censor myself in order to cater to the willful ignorance of others. I understand that wearing the hat might court assumptions that I am a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, chauvinistic, and Islamophobic bigot. The problem with all of those terms is that they mean  very different things to different people. They are unhelpful for thoughtful dialogue, but they are exceedingly helpful in an effort to censor other people.

A tall young man, maybe twenty-five, starts mean-mugging me within inches of my face. I stare back and lock gaze with him. I assume he’s joking. I talk about how Trump won the primary. I ask him if he’s excited. He pouts like a small child. I think he may have been trying to intimidate me. It certainly wasn’t working. Then cue the name-calling. I assume he’s joking. I laugh and pat him on the back. “Don’t fuckin touch me,” he demands. The tensions escalate. My blood pressure begins to rise. My girlfriend chimes in and tells him to chill out. He says, “fuck you,” to a woman half his size.

Meanwhile his short friend chimes in. He calls me all of the buzzwords. He says I am ignorant, racist, homophobic, Islamohophic, etc. He tells me to get rid of my hat. He talks about how he’s a PhD student, hoping to prove how enlightened he is. He goes on. Meanwhile, as my girlfriend cries after the other guy yelled at her I motion for the bartender. I tell her these guys got to go. She comes around and starts talking the taller guy down. The little guy talks about his need for a safe space. I am not even joking.

The bartender, a friend of mine, takes the taller guy over to the other side of the bar to talk him down. I call out the little guy for a little bit. I say nobody cares about his PhD. I say if he wants a safe space he can get the fuck out of there. I tell him I’m not any of those things, and he makes assumptions about a hat that says four words- MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. I tell him he is so enlightened that he tries to censor me. I say this is not way to have a conversation. He starts to calm down and becomes apologetic. He extends an invitation to discuss. I tell him I forgive him, but that this is no time to engage in a discourse. I probably cussed him out more than I should.

This is the second time this week I have somewhat narrowly avoided a physical altercation. The other day I was dealing with a horrific troll at the gym. Fortunately I am pretty good at keeping my cool, but I don’t take well to people trying to censor me. As my nerves calmed down and I headed home I started to reflect.

As an evangelical, how well had I handled this situation? I was glad that I had stood my ground, but certainly I could have been more loving even in the midst of confrontation. I did forgive him. That was the righteous thing to do once the little guy apologized. But I didn’t need to curse at him. I was livid. I am still livid. The way people like this try to censor free speech is incredible. Because they have feelings about a hat, I am supposed to surrender my rights to what I wear or publicly express, even if it is not actively harming anyone? Not only this, their approach to express their indignation is to begin a vicious altercation.

I began to think, “Should I not wear this hat?” Not because of the altercation, but because of what it communicates to these people. The Apostle Paul says he is a Greek to the Greek and a Roman to the Romans. Am I losing evangelistic opportunities because I wear this hat? I don’t think that I am, but it seems a worthy thought. What are my intentions? Am I trying to boast my own courage? I go into an extremely liberal hub and wear a hat that I know will turn heads. It isn’t my primary focus. I like the hat, and I am a big supporter of Trump. I am excited about the election. I have every right to wear it. I have every right to stand my ground in a situation such as this.

I think I do the right thing to wear it. Where the opportunity comes to show the love of Christ is going to be the way in which I respond in the altercations. I didn’t make a total hash of it, but I could have surrendered my ego some more. I could have held my tongue some as I rebutted. With the one guy, things ended on an okay note.

My concern for modern Christianity is that they might see a scenario like this and assume that it might be best to avoid wearing such a hat to prevent the risk of offending others. When I was a teenager I had a t-shirt I got from a thrift store. It was an old black shirt that said “Old Fart.” I thought it was ironic and funny, so I wore it. My grandparents would laugh whenever they saw it. One evening I wore it to youth group, not thinking anything of it. An old lady at the church, notorious for being a stickler, approached my father about my t-shirt. She told me she was offended. My dad made me approach her to apologize that she had been offended by my shirt.

I never agreed with my dad about that. I still don’t . For all I know, he doesn’t anymore either. But at that time, he thought it was right for me to make peace in a situation where someone was offended. I respect his intent in the situation. I really do. But it always rubbed me the wrong way. I always thought the woman was being incredibly self-centered to be offended by the shirt. It wasn’t a statement to her or elderly people like she seemed to assume. It was a silly shirt from the store. I was too young to be deemed an old fart by anyone. So it was funny. This is why my grandparents found the same humor in it. Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate shirt to wear to church, but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that she was offended for reasons of her own insecurities and assumptions about me, and I had to censor myself and even apologize to her when I had done nothing wrong.

The Apostle also talks about not eating meat around other believers who don’t eat meat as the result of a weak conscience. For them, eating meat was akin to stumbling into sin. For Paul to eat meat around them affected their own attempts at righteousness as they desired to serve God. His point is that his eating of meat is worth nothing compared to the development of other believers. This I get. Christians should have a preoccupation with two things- evangelism and discipleship. This tells me that I should only be altering my behaviors if my behaviors are going to cause another person to falter in their walk with Christ.

In other words, there is a time and circumstance where it is righteous to censor our behaviors. But we ought not censor ourself just because another person is being offended. This would inevitably lead to sin. Jesus says himself that he came not to bring peace but a sword. Paul says in Romans that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, to this day, Christians suffer violent loss and death because they refuse to be censored. They refuse to put their light under a bushel.

Certainly this extends further into other areas of our experience. Surely we have to draw a line somewhere. Censorship is a method of Satan. He seeks to censor all truth. It is one thing to alter behaviors for sake of righteousness. It is another to alter them for sake of serving another’s vainglory. My hat may offend others. And when it does, I have a duty to show love and kindness when they poise for attack. But I also have to defend myself and prepare to do whatever necessary to defend myself or deescalate the situation. But fighting against the tyranny of censorship begins with things like this.

Christians are not called to cater to the feelings of the world, whether our matters pertain to religion or not. Our call is to evangelize and disciple the world under the banner of a message that is extremely offensive to many people. It is important that we stand our ground in small ways and that we assert ourselves. But with God’s help, we must never lose focus of the call to love our enemies and to seek every opportunity possible to win souls for Christ.

The Future of Conservatism

“If you are a little different, or a little outrageous,
or if you do things that are bold or controversial,
the press is going to write about you.”
                              Donald Trump, Art of the Deal, page 56

 

Donald Trump is the future of the conservative movement. National Review, with the choir  of conservative voices, has vehemently proposed otherwise. The conservative outlet will no doubt enjoy a significant boost in their online traffic. The Trump brand is effective at courting controversy. But if they stay the course of this war that they have waged, they do so to their own injury. Donald Trump is the juggernaut of the Republican primaries- of this entire presidential election. He is a stalwart. Donald Trump will not be stumped.

In their appeal they seek to portray him as an insincere, liberal demagogue.  They accuse him of leaning liberally in the past. They say he lacks the expertise and experience that career politicians have. They say he is a danger to conservatism and the Republican Party.

Really? What precious gem of Republican conservatism is Donald Trump sullying? And if he is sullying it, than who in the running is preserving this unicorn?

They make some thoughtful points if you take Trump’s approach at face value. Trump’s point is that politicians are “experts” with plans who must bow to special interests and in turn get nothing done. His views and approach to a lot of these things will materialize when he needs to directly address them. He’s a pragmatist.

What I’m not understanding is what conservatism NR is defending. The GOPe is tired and stale. What good are their values if they’re mostly ineffective at best or moulded by corporate interests at worst?

Trump may not be the type of conservative they want, but he’s what the people want. His strong man ethos can help revive the exceptionalist American spirit. And I think most people would prefer a guy who may not feign to know everything, but has a strong record of getting things done (often way under budget and behind schedule), is not controlled by donors, and speaks his mind. This is preferable to weak politicians who pretend to know everything, are controlled by donors, get nothing done (or worse, fall back on their word), and don’t speak a word without a pollster.