Should conservatives care when politicians commit adultery?

One glaring distinction between conservatism and liberalism is that conservatives believe there is usually a clear right and wrong on most social questions, or at the very least a more virtuous way to behave in difficult situations. Whether at first glance or after careful study, we find very few actual gray areas in our mostly black and white world.

In fact, Russell Kirk considered this understanding to be our movement’s initial principle.

“First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order,” Kirk wrote in his famous summation of conservatism. “That order is made for man, and man made for it; human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.”

Loyalty. Fidelity. Honesty. These are but a few virtues found within this enduring moral order. While some may cast them aside as relics of a puritan past, we are governed by them no less than our ancestors were. For who wants to be betrayed, cheated upon, or lied to? As Kirk said, they are permanent, and we cannot change them no more than we can change human nature itself.

When we ignore them, or worse, accept their opposite as a fact of life, we take a chisel to the foundation of society and chip away a bit of something very important.

That’s why it’s extremely disheartening to read that most Republicans suddenly don’t care if our president cheated on his wife. And to add insult to injury, it appears that Democrats have taken the high-ground on the matter.

“Republicans and Democrats have significantly altered their views on the acceptability of affairs,” read a recent survey compilation by the Deseret News. “Republicans today are 15 points more likely to say an affair wouldn’t matter as compared to 2007.”

When asked if they would support a candidate who had an extramarital affair, 57-percent of Republicans said it wouldn’t matter – the first recorded time that it’s ever been more than half of our party. Democrats, on the other hand, had a 22-point swing in the other direction. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats didn’t care if our president was unfaithful to his wife 10-years ago, but now more than half say it matters indeed.

President Donald Trump is clearly the reason for this, and while I can understand why Democrats made such a partisan swing, Republicans, at least the conservatives among them, should be utterly ashamed. But perhaps the greatest scorn should be heaped upon evangelicals. They were a big voting bloc for Trump, and now 53-percent of them say that it doesn’t matter if a presidential candidate cheated on his wife.

Is that what they teach their children?

To borrow the title of Judge Robert Bork’s excellent book on the decline of Western morality, this seismic shift on the question of infidelity is no less than slouching towards Gomorrah.

“A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society,” Kirk wrote. “While a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society – no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.”

Kirk explained that this order isn’t so much a method of restraint than a means to harmony, and that it exists both in the inner order of the soul and the outer order of government. In short, there is no real difference between our private and public faces – unless one is a mask.

Liberals, libertarians, and I guess now a bunch of Republicans say this still shouldn’t matter. We have serious problems, and better to have an unapologetic adulterer in the White House advancing our agenda than someone there opposing it.

Sure, but must we sell our souls in the bargain?

People are imperfect, and repentant adulterers deserve forgiveness just like everyone else, but remember: just a quarter century ago conservatives asked how anyone could trust Bill Clinton to be faithful to the voters if he was serially unfaithful to his wife.

Now, with Trump in office, I guess we’ve finally answered: pretty easily.