Jana Riess: Retired BYU professor denounces Donald Trump in viral video
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez) President Donald Trump speaks during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden.
At 80 years old, Frank Fox says he’s not savvy about social media, but that hasn’t stopped the retired Brigham Young University history professor from using YouTube and Facebook to explain to his fellow Latter-day Saints why he’s voting against Donald Trump.
“Listen up, Cougars,” Fox says at the beginning of his video, which has been shared on Facebook more than 6,000 times and viewed more than 450,000 times.
“2020 is why you took American Heritage.” American Heritage is the course Fox co-founded in the late 1970s for students at the church-owned Provo university. Its goal is to teach students to appreciate the Constitution, revere the nation’s founding principles, and become informed citizens.
If anything, the course has been criticized in some quarters as having a conservative bias
, so it’s surprising to find its co-creator advocating so publicly for Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
And indeed, Fox, who retired from teaching in 2006, identifies himself as a proud conservative. “Real conservatives are those who want to advance the principles and ideals of the founding of America in the first place,” he said in an interview with Religion News Service. “Things like the rule of law, political responsibility, civic virtue and personal integrity. Those are the things that made the American experiment work.”
And those are emphatically not values he has seen demonstrated by Donald Trump or his administration.
In Fox’s video, called “An Open Letter
,” he outlines five reasons why he thinks Trump is a threat to America’s democratic principles. He does not mince words:
Trump does not tell the truth. “No president of the United States can make falsehood a common daily practice,” he says in the video. The lies of Donald Trump are not business as usual for politicians, Fox maintains; they are more akin to the patterns of deception practiced by would-be dictators.
He creates fear and divisiveness.
Trump has sown discord among Americans through fearmongering and then “used these emotions to create a mindless, militant personal following” that functions like a private army. That is how other democracies in history have met their end
, says Fox.
No one can be above the law in a democracy.
“People have gone to prison for the violations he instigated,” including one (Roger Stone) whose crimes on Trump’s behalf were “cynically pardoned” by Trump
. Fox believes that Trump was rightly impeached and would have been removed from office “if senators had been free to vote their consciences.”
He has dangerous relationships with foreign adversaries. Fox says there is overwhelming evidence that Trump’s cozy relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin resulted in a foreign power disrupting a U.S. election.
He is not protecting the people. “President Trump’s handling of the COVID pandemic,” Fox said, “cannot be seen in any other light than a callous disregard for the safety of the American people in the sole interest of furthering his own political advantage.”
Fox’s main video has been shared thousands of times by proud BYU alumni who in some cases are so fed up with the president’s chaos and narcissism that they are voting for a Democrat for the first time.
Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in America identify as Republican and have voted strongly for the GOP in past elections, though their support of Trump in 2016 was down by double digits from the votes they gave previous GOP candidates
. In recent weeks there has been considerable discussion
of whether there may be enough of a defection among Latter-day Saint voters in battleground Western states like Arizona and Nevada that it helps to turn those states blue.
But if there are fans of Fox’s outspoken denunciation of Trump within the Latter-day Saint community, it has also ignited its share of outrage, including a deranged-sounding rejoinder from a Trump fanatic who believes the president has been ordained by God. (I’m not going to dignify it here with a link, but it’s available on YouTube.)
Fox is saddened and worried about the stark polarization he sees among Latter-day Saints. In our interview, he discussed a recent conversation with a Provo neighbor, who informed him that the Second Coming was nigh. “The end of times has come,” the neighbor said, “and Donald Trump has been selected by God to take Jesus by the hand and lead him down from the cloud.”
Fox hoped this was a joke but soon realized the neighbor was “deadly serious.” Some version of that over-the-top sacred devotion to Trump, he said, “resonates with more than a few of my neighbors.”
Taking a stand has caused him to lose friends in his conservative religious community – people who don’t understand how he, as a fellow conservative and an anti-abortion advocate, could cast a vote for Biden. To answer that, Fox has posted a special short video just about the abortion question
, but he wonders how many fellow conservatives will listen if they have already “bought into the myth of Donald Trump.” By criticizing Trump so openly, Fox is “a little bit like the kid poking a stick into a hornet’s nest. Sure enough, out come hornets.”
But he hopes that positive things will come out of his decision to take a stand, even if he loses some friends in the process. “If I can actually do some good, I will be justified in all of this,” he said. “I hope it helps Mormons to understand who and what Donald Trump really is.”
Editor’s note • The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.