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Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence addresses the Hillsdale College class of 2018 at com­mencement cer­emony. Col­legian // Brooke Conrad

Conor Frieder­sdorf is a pro­fes­sional Trump hater. A quick scroll through his Twitter feed quickly proves that he spends quite a bit of time crit­i­cizing the Pres­ident. His recent articles in the Atlantic are variant screeds against Donald Trump and his agenda. And now he has turned his obsessive atten­tions to Hillsdale College for the audacity of having Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence speak at com­mencement in May.

His new article carries a ten­den­tious title: “Is Hillsdale College Gaining The World And Losing Its Soul?” Its argument is wholly uno­riginal. Imagine, for a moment, if you took the article and replaced every ref­erence to Hillsdale with the words “Trump’s evan­gelical base” — that piece has been written at least a hundred times. It reads more like the squeals of a high school spat than serious jour­nalism: Trump is “obvi­ously prideful, avowedly greedy, famously lustful, some­times wrathful.”

In sum: Frieder­sdorf argues that Donald Trump has not lived his life in alignment with Christian values, Mike Pence has enabled and empowered him, and asso­ciates of Hillsdale College are hyp­ocrites for openly sup­porting the pres­ident and inviting Pence to speak at com­mencement. It’s nothing new. Some Beltway pundit puts out a “hard-hitting” piece like this almost every week. Boring!

Not one of the argu­ments con­trived against Trump’s char­acter can be applied to Mike Pence. As a man, Pence is per­fectly unob­jec­tionable. After the initial leftist outrage, his per­sonal policy of dining only with his wife seems more and more pre­scient in the #MeToo era. And, to the good-natured chagrin of some of the campus fra­ter­nities, he opts for an ice-cold O’Doul’s non-alco­holic beer over a Busch Light when trying to unwind on a Friday evening. Pence lives a life of faith, evident throughout his career as a prominent con­ser­v­ative con­gressman, gov­ernor, and now vice pres­ident.

But like Shakespeare’s Lear, Pence is subject to gross ingrat­itude — truly, a man “more sinned against than sinning.” His only con­ceivable fault is his asso­ci­ation with the pres­ident, and thus we arrive at the whole point of the Atlantic piece: Trump is a bad man, those who enable him are bad people, and Chris­tians who support him are hyp­ocrites.

Of course, Donald Trump was not Hillsdale College’s 2018 com­mencement speaker. Mike Pence was. As Coper­nicus saw the sun rather than the Earth as the center of the uni­verse, today’s Wash­ington, D.C., jour­nalists see Donald Trump. Anyone and any­thing remotely tied to the pres­ident becomes its own headline.

The problem is that Frieder­sdorf does not even try to hide his political bias, as a good reporter does in the interest of objec­tivity. At times, he is probing a sup­posed tension between Hillsdale College’s simul­ta­neous dis­sem­i­nation of Christian prin­ciples and asso­ci­ation with the Trump admin­is­tration. But else­where in the article, he makes explicitly political, rather than moral, claims: Mike Pence “works on behalf of a pres­ident who extols author­i­tarians” and “[under­mines] NATO.” This is why Friedersdorf’s argument is so insidious: He flows back and forth between his own crit­i­cisms of policies and charges of moral hypocrisy against the college. But yes, by all means, let’s pretend this is an honest inquiry into Hillsdale College and not a polit­i­cally-moti­vated hit job.

Frieder­sdorf goes on to label Trump “a man with no credible reli­gious con­vic­tions.” This may very well be true and cer­tainly seems to be the case in light of Trump’s past. I do not know Trump as a man, and I don’t know his soul any more than Frieder­sdorf does. What we do know is that a number of prominent Christian leaders have met with Trump and tes­tified to his “born again” con­version. But whether Trump has any reli­gious con­vic­tions is irrel­evant and even ignores the argument at hand; the “irre­li­gious” Trump has done more to assert Christian values in pol­itics than all the pious GOP mouth­pieces have in decades.

(As an aside, I will note that I am glad to see The Atlantic’s sudden concern with a sexual ethic. After all, it was not long ago they were pub­lishing articles alarm­ingly char­i­table towards pedophilia. But now, they rank among the Puritans on sexual mores — the culture war must be going better than I thought!)

The pro-Trump argument has never been that Trump was a model Christian. Even his most ardent sup­porters — myself included — readily acknowledge his short­comings. The pro-Trump argument is that Trump has tremendous political instincts and the right stances on the most pressing issues of the day. In short, Trump is a man of pru­dence — and after all, the Ancients teach us that pru­dence, not chastity, is the virtue of the statesman. What he lacks in per­sonal virtue, he makes up for with tremendous political courage.

Fallen men can espouse timeless truths, and perhaps more impor­tantly, apply those truths to the tests of today. Statesmen are revered for applying per­manent prin­ciples to changing cir­cum­stances in times of exi­gency, and in this sense, Trump has delivered.

His record is as con­ser­v­ative and pro-Christian as it gets. He has nom­i­nated two cham­pions of reli­gious liberty for the Supreme Court and filled the Circuit Courts at a rate unprece­dented in history. He has eased Johnson Amendment restric­tions on political speech from the pulpit and rein­stated the Mexico City Policy to ensure that American tax dollars don’t go overseas to non-gov­ern­mental orga­ni­za­tions that promote abortion. He was the first pres­ident to speak to the March for Life, and just recently, he has slapped sanc­tions on Turkey for impris­oning a Christian pastor. The list goes on.

It used to be heresy to even mention the words “Trump” and “con­ser­v­ative” in the same sen­tence, and to some it still is. Whatever. Trump enjoys the highest in-party pres­i­dential approval rating at the 500-day mark since World War II (with the exception of George W. Bush imme­di­ately after 9/11). I don’t even know what “con­ser­v­ative” means anymore, and frankly, I don’t care. But “con­ser­v­ative” or not, Trump is uni­fying the GOP around his agenda. This is a debate long settled in the minds of the Repub­lican voter base, although it lives on in a small few.

Sup­posedly, Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn sold the soul of the college in a sort of Faustian bargain by per­sonally sup­porting Donald Trump. I remember an instance in which an inquirer posed the question: “Dr. Arnn, you, sir, are a scholar of the great Winston Churchill — how can you support a man as crude as Donald Trump?” Arnn’s eye twinkled and, betraying himself with ever-so-slight a grin, he simply replied, “I didn’t know Churchill was running.” Arnn (like most Trump sup­porters) acknowl­edges that Trump is imperfect but under­stands that he remains the best political option nonetheless.

Hillsdale posits itself as the inheritor of the American political tra­dition, the tra­dition of the Founding Fathers. If it’s hyp­o­critical to invite a man in such prox­imity to an adul­terer as Mike Pence to campus, then what does that say about America’s founders them­selves?  Are Hillsdale’s statues of George Wash­ington and Thomas Jef­ferson so tainted by the stench of slavery that they need to be imme­di­ately torn down? Ought the wisdom of Alexander Hamilton and Ben­jamin Franklin be scrubbed from the American Her­itage readers because of their adul­terous affairs? I suspect the reply will be, “Well, that’s dif­ferent.”

Frieder­sdorf implies that Hillsdale asso­ciates shouldn’t have cheered when Mike Pence said during his com­mencement speech: “Faith in America is rising once again” — because Pence said it, and Pence is asso­ciated with Trump, and Trump is bad. Herein lies as flawless a syl­logism as one can con­struct.

If Frieder­sdorf were ever to visit Hillsdale he might learn some­thing. He’d be able to probe the minds of the great men who have thought deeply about his claims, rather than simply solic­iting emails from dis­gruntled alumni and stu­dents (and even those who aren’t stu­dents yet!). Even the con­clusion to his piece reads more like an accu­sation than a question: “Do I have any of this wrong, Hillsdale stu­dents, alumni, and faculty? Do you see any­thing dis­sonant about Mike Pence’s words and his actions, or between his actions and the values that Hillsdale pur­ports to value?”

No, I don’t see any dis­so­nance. I see an excellent college led by excellent people who seek to pursue truth and defend liberty. And I see an asinine jour­nalist reck­lessly impugning the char­acter of good men.

You can quote me on that.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Well stated. If I were Mike Pence I would feel very unap­pre­ciated to have taken time from his busy schedule to speak at a Hillsdale College com­mencement. We read so many unap­pre­ciative posts, mostly from folks who had NO PROBLEM when Obama or Joe Biden did the same. For Dems it’s per­fectly OK, when Repubs do it the pro­fes­sional hand-wringers have heap big angst. Utterly appalling.

    Pres­ident Obama spoke at a Notre Dame Uni­versity com­mencement when he was in office and I don’t recall reading the same whining from Frieder­sdorf or his ilk. How sub­jective their ethics are! Bill Clinton-the Cigar ban­ditto-spoke at EMU com­mencement and all we heard was the love from trolls like Frieder­sdorf and his minions. Bill Clinton-how would you like an ethical dwarf like that to show up at your campus? But the Lefties gush all over him, it’s their shame and not ours.

    Frid­er­sdorf should keep on writing for Atlantic, that Leftist pub­li­cation that nobody east of Boston bothers with. He and his fellow Leftist elites must have not gotten the message in the last election-they had their shot and they didn’t impress. Let Trump/Pence show they can do better.

    VP Pence, thanks for coming to Hillsdale College and you are welcome back anytime. Let the hand-wringers whine, nobody pays much attention to them anyway. They just never quite grew up. You under­stand.

  • Timothy Dexter

    Here, here! Fine piece!

  • Camus53

    Bea hahahaha! Oh boy…the apol­o­gists are out…just read Arnn’s piece attempting to defend his “per­sonal” support for donnie, whilst in the same piece, dis­cretely dis­tance the college from donnie’s political, social and moral stench. Wonder if Arnn will recon­sider adver­tising the college on Rush’s show? Nah. Nor would Arnn ever disown himself from donnie, or truly disown the college from the current WH septic tank of corrupt plu­to­crats.

    Thank­fully Happydale’s stu­dents do think oth­erwise about trump & co., proving them to be both smarter and of higher moral values than the admin­is­tration.

    Sad days for the school. Good thing they’re building that multi-million palace, oops church, to the false gods of money and power. Maybe we can go inside and pray…for the school…and more impor­tantly our nation.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    did he say “faith is rising in America” to mean that “faith” is on the rise within the geo­graphic area of the United States? or that there is becoming more “faith in America” meaning that more people are excited about what our country is doing and what it is capable of?

    One of those is cer­ti­fiably false. The other doesn’t have the infra­structure to measure in the same way and looks +/- across the metrics that I would asso­ciate with it.