Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Can We Really Listen to Donald Trump?

A neighbor's timely sign.
"In Jesus every one of God's promises is a 'Yes.'"
2 Corinthians 1:20

Rereading the chapter “Learning to Listen” in Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Everyday People, the question came to me, can I really listen to President Trump?

Just as I wrote that sentence, my mind jumped back to Anne Lamott’s clever observation that, in learning to forgive, we might not want to start with Adolph Hitler. Of course I don’t equate Trump with Hitler, but in terms of extremes, Trump is harder to listen to, say, than a neighbor who is a Trump supporter.

And a personal friend or family member who is a Trump supporter is harder to listen to than a neighbor because I have more invested emotionally, expecting them to be “better.”

That’s also why it is hard for me to listen to fellow Christians who resist the rights of women and gay and transgender people, fail to welcome refugees and immigrants, endorse harsh foreign and domestic policies, hinder proper stewardship of creation, and give uncritical support for military exploits. I expect more from Christians, more compassion, more understanding—including those who call themselves “evangelical,” who claim to bring “good news.”

Let me clarify that for the purposes of this post, Donald Trump is an example of our most troubling political leaders and commentators. He is not a scapegoat, however; he is simply the most prominent among many disturbing figures in this country and the world. He’s a bipartisan choice because he has riled conservatives, liberals, and moderates alike, Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and independents.

Reading the paper I often skip Trump news stories, as well as commentaries railing against him. As a result, reading other articles, I’ve learned more about science, culture, religion, and even government and citizenship. My attitude has been, “This too shall pass.”

Nonetheless, I have daily prayed for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—by name—more than any previous president and vice president in my lifetime. I have prayed for them compassion, wisdom, and knowledge, and I extend that prayer to our electorate, as well as other leaders of our country and the world. Also, religious leaders.

I do read analyses of why we are so divided by political opinions, often posting them for Facebook friends. I am particularly taken with the notion that our vehement opposition is not simply because we disagree, but because we either don’t trust the other side’s motives or don’t share the other side’s values. I also appreciate articles that suggest ways to reach across our differences.

I return to the question, can I really listen to Donald Trump?

The antagonistic and bullying tone of his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks conveys insecurity and insult and incitement rather than thoughtful and wise and helpful analysis. Some commentators have suggested he may be “crazy like a fox,” manipulating the news cycle to some kind of advantage (crazy like Fox News?). I just find him erratic, fragmented, contradictory, and phony.

President Trump makes many of us knee-jerk reactionaries. His supporters automatically cheer, his detractors automatically boo. When we cheer or boo, can we really listen?

Again, never intending to equate the two, for me, trying to listen to Donald Trump is like trying to forgive Adolph Hitler. It is “above my pay grade,” beyond my spiritual capacity.

After all, the Torah teaches us to love our neighbor and confront Pharaoh. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor and give the emperor only what’s required. Early Christians were considered subversive because they refused to recognize Caesar as a god.

So, listening to my neighbors, friends, and family members may be the best I can do in this moment.

I believe if we really listen to one another, we can find in our hearts what we truly value and believe, as well as common ground, then act and vote accordingly. And we can demonstrate love for neighbors by real engagement, not merely getting along.

Saint Benedict’s Rule for monks recommends restraint in speech, not silence. And it’s helpful to remember that, as one interpreter suggests, our speech often “sides with the part of us that resists grace.”

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  1. Like you, I skim right past a lot of Trump coverage because my heart and my stomach cannot handle it. But I knew you would have insight on all this, so I read this post despite the subject matter. LOL Your generosity of spirit is greater than mine. The only lessons I can manage to take away from Trump, even when I manage to listen to him, are in messages from those who resist him and his nightmare of an administration -- the women's march, the children of Parkland, the transgender service members. I do believe, at least, that many of us have found "common ground" in that resistance, and maybe a greater understanding of patience, fortitude, and even our constitution. Having said this, I know how partisan I sound. With 80% of Republicans in full support of Trump, I'm afraid that's where we have found ourselves, in the midst of a great political divide. But thank you for giving me a few minutes to reflect on how I might, however unlikely it might be, draw a bit of grace from the views and the words of others. I promise I will try to listen, but I'll probably keep cheering and booing a lot, too.

    1. Thanks, Mark, for such a thought-full reply. I agree with everything you've said, especially how The Resistance has galvanized under this administration. I hope it gets people not only to the polls, but to elected office and further activism.

  2. I am a Trump supporter,(I can almost hear the "gasp"). I think that I am a reasonable person who is trying to follow God, as you are. I see things differently. Let me see if I can help to elucidate you.
    You wrote, "The antagonistic and bullying tone of his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks conveys insecurity and insult and incitement rather than thoughtful and wise and helpful analysis". . . I see his off-the cuff remarks as in situ thoughts, some funny, some polemic, but all convey a realness. For me, and others like me, these tweets are what makes him not a politician, but a regular Joe who, like all of us, comment of the vicissitudes of life.
    You continue, "Some commentators have suggested he may be “crazy like a fox. . . I just find him erratic, fragmented, contradictory, and phony."
    I agree with "erratic, fragmented, contradictory", but not "phony". But for me that is ok. I do not expect--or desire--a president who is "cookie cutter", who possess a high degree of deference and sophistication. I want someone effective. As for phony, many of us saw the last several presidents as rather phony. There were many things that they did not because they were for the good, or even what they desired to do, but because they gave into the greater political impulses. That is phony. Many of us did not really believe it when Obama said that he changed his mind on Gay marriage. Perhaps he did, but it seemed like political expediency. That is just one example . .Trump is not politically expedient. He doesn't care about those things, and thus is more real than the others. Our nation was not founded upon the concept that the presidency is based on an entitlement (how many graduates of Ivy League do we need), but rather that of a citizen governor, who serves and then returns to regular life. That is why we supported Trump. We do not want a polished politician removed from the messiness of life. Trump is messy. Obama was messy--but did not want to show it. We are all likewise messy. But it works. .Peace

    1. Thank you, Scott, for your comment. I regret I haven't been able to comment till now, being away from my laptop for a week's retreat. I am grateful for the civil way in which you express a different view of President Trump. I agree with your hope that politicians could be more honest, more themselves. I also look for statesman and stateswoman type qualities in candidates. I'm glad to have your views represented on my blog. I long debated whether to run my post, and rewrote it at least a dozen times, trying to be honest as well as clear that I am willing to listen to those who support the President. I supported President Obama partly because of the dignity and serenity he brought to the office, to government, and I hope for more of that from office holders as well as the electorate. Again, thanks for reading my post and taking the time to express your views.