Now is not the time for suburban Republicans to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Michael Gerson, whom I know and like, is not a fan of this administration, but I was nonetheless surprised by his recent column declaring that the “GOP has reached its sad, inevitable destination” — and not because of his critique of the “anger” of “right-wing populists.” That would be a broader debate for a different venue. Rather, I was struck by the short shrift Gerson gave to the progress President Trump has made towards aims that I know Gerson personally values, along with the “suburban Republicans and independents” to whom his column appeals.
I do not doubt the sincerity of Gerson’s “dejection about the state of public health and of the economy.” If, however, he is going to lament the retreat of Christian social teachings from politics, he must at least acknowledge that the last three and a half years have seen an extraordinary restoration of those very teachings. Considering that the previous administration was weak on the issue of religious liberty, Republicans have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by crossing the aisle to place Barack Obama’s vice president back in the White House.
When Mr. Gerson was a new college graduate, he worked with Chuck Colson and the Prison Fellowship. I, too, knew Chuck Colson well, and came to appreciate the need for serious reform in our massive, pervasive, and too often inhumane correctional system. Yet, it was not President Obama who signed the historic law implementing the kinds of sentencing and recidivism-reduction reforms for which Gerson himself has long advocated— it was President Trump. In fact, Chuck Colson led the effort to pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, and the Obama-Biden administration was very weak in its enforcement.
The law that the Prison Fellowship called “our Christmas miracle,” the FIRST STEP Act, allows for the earlier release of certain non-violent convicts, expands and incentivizes inmate education, and eases the burden of incarceration on inmates, families, and communities by aiming to keep federal convicts closer to their homes. Just as importantly, in the 17 months since FIRST STEP came into effect, there has been no corresponding rise in crime that Gerson himself cited as the biggest potential obstacle to meaningful reform in 2013.
During his time in the Bush administration, Mr. Gerson worked to prevent the modern day slave trade known as “human trafficking.” Here again is a cause about which both Michael and I are passionate, and on which extraordinary progress has been made during Donald Trump’s presidency. The FOSTA-SESTA bill that President Trump signed in 2018, for instance, delivered the single greatest blow yet to the vibrant online traffic in women and girls. In addition, the President has signed four other pieces of legislation targeting the trafficking of human beings, issued an executive order creating a domestic policy team position devoted purely to the issue, and greatly expanded funding for the Homeland Security agencies most closely tasked with combatting the sex trade.
As a final matter, I know that both Mr. Gerson and I have always placed the fate of endangered religious minorities — particularly of Christians in the Middle East — very high on the list of America’s priorities in the world. As I am sure he knows, the Trump administration took very deliberate action to reverse years of tragic failure and get American aid to the persecuted Chrisitians and Yazidis in Iraq.
It is a pattern of progress that holds up elsewhere, including in Nigeria, where the President and the State Department are working to support the fight against the Boko Haram terrorist group that captured the world’s attention in 2014 by kidnapping hundreds of girls from the village of Chibok. And it is a pattern this administration is determined to maintain even when it means criticizing one of the world’s great powers. The U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback, has proven that by taking China to task over its utter disregard for the human rights and religious freedoms of its citizens.
The Chinese government is arresting protestant pastors, oppressing Catholics, and most troublingly, subjecting its entire Uighur Muslim population to systematic and horrific human rights abuses. There are from 1 to 3 million Uighurs who have been forced into detention camps. There is also strong evidence, according to a 2017 Freedom House report, that Falun Gong practitioners are being killed and their organs put up for commercial sale. Standing up to China may soon become the moral issue of our time, and there is no shame in acknowledging that this administration has never shied away from doing so.
The Trump administration is making encouraging progress on the issues most Americans — Republicans, Democrats and Independents — care about, and the alternative entails a return to the leadership team that set our interests back so far last time they held power.
Frank Wolf was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives representing Virginia's 10th district.