On Jan. 2, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lost a beloved president and prophet, and everyone lost a man of extraordinary talents and of consummate character and deeply benevolent goodness.
I’m old, and President Monson’s face and voice have been a familiar, friendly presence since he was ordained an apostle when I was 12. His church service and leadership over a long lifetime drew upon and perfected qualities that any attentive observer could see immediately in his not notably handsome but endearing countenance: He combined firmness in the right with a mild and humble solicitude for others; his prodigious memory for faces (and everything else, it seems) and his love and concern for the souls behind those faces were the stuff of true legend.
Not many can project not only Christian love, but dignity and even gravity to an audience of millions while wiggling his ears for the special benefit of one boy. President Monson was a steady anchor to the LDS community and a firm and reasonable representative of LDS beliefs to the world at large. We remember him and his life of service with admiration and gratitude.
It may seem inappropriate, if not obscene, to mention President Donald Trump in the same column with President Monson. Their characters are as unlike as can be imagined. When reports of Michael Wolff’s sensationalist and careless (to say the least) "The Fire and the Fury" first appeared, I didn’t want to believe the depiction of a president who was completely unfit by temperament as well as by intellect. But I admit I was tempted. If you’ve read my columns over the last year and a half, you know that, while avoiding the somewhat facile “high ground” of Never-Trumpism, I’ve never been any kind of fan.
When Mitt Romney harshly criticized candidate Trump as a vulgar and immoral bully, someone who bragged about his sexual exploits and who mocked a disabled reporter as well as John McCain’s heroism as a prisoner of war, I immediately sympathized, even though I saw Romney’s political limitations. I resonated with Romney’s criticisms because Trump’s character defects had been on full display for decades.
Wolff’s reporting, it turns out, is very sloppy, even mendacious. And we have to be open to the possibility — indeed, we have to pray — that Trump is actually in the process of growing up. In any case, the left’s gathering project to throw out Trump on supposed 25th Amendment grounds of mental incompetence is far more alarming than the president’s lack of experience and his childish and destructive tweeting addiction.
Meanwhile, there is The New York Times obituary for President Monson. I am by no means offended and certainly not surprised that the Times chose to consider President Monson’s life in the context of its relentless progressive-liberationist agenda. We already knew that elite bi-coastal opinion regards anyone who believes what President Monson and I believe about sexuality, marriage and male-female complementarity, to be hopelessly retrograde and bigoted. So the whole theme of the obituary had to be that, while showing some glimmers of progress in some areas (women missionaries, openness to historical research), President Monson sadly continued the church’s repression of radical feminists and sexual liberationists, groups the Times wishes to believe or pretend represent a major emerging movement in the Mormon ranks.
What has this to do with Trump? Well, for all his conspicuous vices, Trump has the temperament to flout the authority of the elite represented by the Times. For now he is the main thing that stands between retrogrades like me and President Monson and a politically correct establishment impatient to consolidate its rule. The fact that the Times despises both President Monson and President Trump is no reason to ignore the vast moral and spiritual chasm that separates these men. But, alas, it is a fact that matters. We must hope and pray for a future leader who would combine Trump’s disregard for The New York Times’ approval with wisdom and virtue just a little more like President Monson’s.