“The Smell of Death”


In last week’s Republican debate, Donald Trump spoke movingly and sincerely about the grim aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. In a bristling display of emotion, he responded to his critics by recounting the “smell of death” which hung in the air for months after 9/11. Witnessing the carnage of that evil day firsthand was a traumatic event for countless people who now suffer from both physical and mental scars that will never fully heal. In the past year, thanks to the efforts of David Daleiden, we have also become witnesses to the true carnage of abortion. We can no longer deny the smell of death which is hanging in the air.

Coincidentally, sometime in the decade after 2001, Donald Trump had a change of heart on the issue of abortion. In 2000, he wrote, “I support a woman’s right to choose, but I am uncomfortable with the procedures. When Tim Russert asked me on Meet the Press if I would ban partial-birth abortion, my pro-choice instincts led me to say no.” A decade later, when he was contemplating a run for the presidency, he had changed his position, telling the attendees of CPAC in 2011 that he was now solidly pro-life.

People can change their minds on abortion. Indeed, your humble writer is a convert himself. However, there are two types of converts: some become zealots for their newfound faith, because they must share the joy it has brought into their lives. Others are lukewarm opportunists who change ideas as easily as they change clothes. It is impossible to know whether Donald Trump, in his heart of hearts, is the former or the latter, but his visceral reaction to the suffering and death of 9/11 is suggestive.

On the question of abortion, Trump’s responses are businesslike and matter-of-fact. When faced with a scale of death tens of thousands times that of the World Trade Center, his answers betray calculation instead of candor. In the debate, he spoke without preparation and from the heart about 9/11, but when pressed for an explanation of his changing views on abortion in interviews, it seems that he has a stock answer. When defending his hometown, it is hard not to find his praise of his fellow New Yorkers endearing, but when his views on abortion are likewise informed by the experiences and opinions of other Manhattanites, it is less convincing.

In so much else of the very public and sordid life of Donald Trump, we see a man who is temperamental, incautious, and mercurial. The only constant in his personal and professional life is his very inconstancy. He has discarded wives, changed politics, and bankrupted failed business ventures with equal abandon. It is a leap of faith to believe that his conversion on the question of abortion is genuine or durable, and yet, it is not such a great leap, because we are supremely confident in the justice of our cause. If a person as blustering and tempestuous as Donald Trump can come around to the side of truth, then perhaps this is a sign of hope that the smell of death will not remain with us for much longer after all.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Joshua Bowman joined in full communion with the Catholic Church in 2010 after many years in the spiritual wilderness. He recently moved back to his beloved native Virginia from Columbus, Ohio with his growing family and writes on religion, politics, history, and geographical curiosities.


  1. Ruthann Piepenburg on

    Hi, Joshua. What a surprise to run into you here! Love your thoughtful analysis of what we can and can’t know about Donald Trump’s stand on abortion.

  2. Respectfully, I believe there are more than two types of converts when it comes to abortion. I believe many people, particularly American people have difficulty taking a firm side. A person may know for absolute certain that it is a personal choice they would never make, ever. But we are fully aware that some people do not live under the same circumstances as ourselves and feel it is not our place to judge or decide for her. When I was a young single woman on my own in a big city, you bet I was pro-choice. I knew that I personally would never ever be faced with the decision, but I could see a larger more difficult world than my own and I empathized with women who came from abusive and lonely places. Some situations are poor choices, but some are simply the world you are born to. For these situations, I felt that the option should be available, legal and safe for women to get an abortion. However, as Pope John Paul II warned, the decision to legalize has most definitely led to abortion on such a mass scale that even he may be shocked by the numbers of lives lost. As the middle-aged woman that I am now, I call myself pro-life, because I imagine those women who struggled with making their choice to abort their child and the guilt and other consequences later in their lives they may be experiencing that may hold them back from being active participants in the Church or not feeling they are deserving of a good and full life.

    To say that all these politicians, particularly Mr. Trump, flip-flop on this issue and change their minds is to give them a status above our humanity – this issue of abortion most certainly cannot be decided by one individual. I doubt that Mr. Trump ever really, truly considered abortion and it’s effect on a nation before he considered a run for the Presidency. I hope that he does give it real thought and research, as I hope all individuals in a legislative position do. But to say that because he has difficulty sounding 100% consistent means that he is being opportunistic is something of an overstatement. Our society needs to examine, with eyes wide open, these decisions that our people and our courts are making that run completely counter to the teachings of our churches and our faith — and look at the truth and generally horrifying effect they are having upon our society. I pray for strength of character for all representatives, because I realize they are only human.

  3. Um, Reagan was the only divorced president and also switched political parties.

    I’m not a member of Trump’s fan club, but let’s try to be consistent.

  4. I am sure there is not a human being that has not changed their views about not only Abortion and other critical things that effect all of us. My opinion is to give each the benefit of doubt and remember you are not in a position to be their judge. That is our Lord. My personal feeling is when I study all the candidates I find none to be sinless. I can only hope Mr. Trump who has not been a Washington puppet will get a chance to return our Country to a sane place to live.

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