First up from the God Machine this week is a new argument from Donald Trump about how – and whether – he should be seen not only as a political leader, but a moral one, too.
Traditionally, the president’s allies have defended his moral failings by questioning their relevance. Shortly before the 2016 election, for example, when Americans heard the “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, Corey Lewandowski, the Republican’s former campaign manager, argued, “We’re not choosing a Sunday school teacher here.”
It was a concession of sorts, acknowledging Trump’s character flaws and messy personal life, while simultaneously making the case that voters need not concern themselves with his morality.
Politically conservative evangelical Christians have made the same calculus throughout the Trump presidency: they don’t need him to be moral, the argument goes, so much as they need him to help advance what they see as their moral agenda.
It therefore came as something of a surprise this week when Trump was asked directly about this aspect of his presidency.
Q: How do you see your role as a moral leader?
TRUMP: I think I am a great moral leader, and I love our country.
Whether or not Trump deserves to be seen as a “great moral leader” is a matter of perspective, though the Republican’s argument is very much at odds with the line his defenders – who say they back him despite his moral compass – usually tout.
But the president’s line turned out to be poorly timed. Two days after boasting of his moral standing, the Wall Street Journal published a new, thoroughly detailed report on Trump’s direct role in making legally dubious hush-money payments to women, including a former porn star, all of which he repeatedly lied to the public about.
“The Wall Street Journal found that Mr. Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements,” the article read. “He directed deals in phone calls and meetings with his self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, and others. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has gathered evidence of Mr. Trump’s participation in the transactions.”
Perhaps it wasn’t the ideal week for, “I think I am a great moral leader.”