The President Who Never Grew Up

When Donald Trump became President, many people, including my father (who did not vote for Trump) comforted themselves with the thought that upon becoming President the weight of the office would make him more mature, more serious minded, more Presidential.  “The man doesn’t make the office, the office makes the man”, my father said over the phone in our first conversation after the election.  For him and me it was the hope that the worst alternative would turn out to not be quite as bad as we thought.  I comforted myself with the knowledge that Trump’s stance on various issues, namely abortion and gay rights, had been relatively liberal in the past prior to his becoming a Presidential candidate.  Perhaps after being elected he would stop posturing to get votes from the Republican base and act on his own historically more liberal beliefs, I thought.  Those who voted for him but weren’t fond of his less than Presidential demeanor hoped like my father did, that the office would make the man.

Nearly seven weeks into his Presidency we see no signs of his un-Presidential way of doing things slowing down.  Recent twitter accusations by Trump against former President Obama that he had Trump’s phone lines tapped during the election have yet to find any basis in fact anywhere in America’s vast intelligence community.  Some have perceived this, with good reason, as a tactic of Trump’s to distract from the scandal involving Attorney General Jeff Sessions, specifically Sessions’ failure to disclose (or to tell the truth) during his confirmation hearings that he did indeed meet with a Russian government official during the Trump campaign (Sessions was an early supporter and surrogate for Trump).  Trump’s accusation against Obama, though possibly strategic in nature, is nonetheless an outright lie, another in a long line of lies, charades, breaks with tradition, words that directly contradict his actions, unsavory insults, you name it.

So how and why, instead of getting better, is Trump actually getting worse?  Well, why do most of us not do the sorts of things Trump is doing?  We all have a conscience to one degree or another to be sure, but another thing that keeps us from lying, being hypocritical, bullying others to get our way, etc., is the fear of consequences.  No one wants to be caught lying or put in the corner of the classroom because we were misbehaving.  We all learned to behave ourselves and respect others in part because there were consequences if we didn’t do those things.  Consequences teach us invaluable lessons.

Trump has not learned those lessons.  He’s never had to.  In addition to growing up in a wealthy family, once his father gave him the money he used to start his business empire and managed to achieve some success on his own, Trump has used that money and that success to insulate himself from any and all consequences.  If he got sued by a disgruntled contractor, he had the money and the lawyers to sue them back and either win the case or keep appealing the case until his foe couldn’t afford the legal bills any more.  If a business failed, he could file for bankruptcy in such a way and/or use various legal loopholes made possible by his accountants and lawyers that he would barely lose any money at all, and perhaps even make money in some cases.  Failure and being mean to other people never hurt him.  He literally couldn’t lose.  Even when faced with divorce and accusations of marital rape, he has been able to wriggle out of paying any meaningful price for any of it.  During the campaign Trump literally said he could shoot someone in Times Square and not lose a single voter.  Then there was the tape of him from 2005 bragging about being able to sexually assault women with total impunity.

And after all of this and much much more, rather than being punished for these infractions, he was rewarded with the Presidency.  After decades, nearly a lifetime without any real consequences, a life that taught him he could do whatever he wanted without paying the price, Trump had now been given the ultimate reward for his brash, “I’m untouchable” attitude.  The victory itself seemed to be a mandate from the people reaffirming his belief that he could do whatever he wanted.  Now with the legitimacy of the Presidency and the Republican Party behind him, Republicans, White House staff, and even some voters defend him and make excuses for him, and when worst came to worst, Trump can in some cases get his way with an executive order or distract from a scandal by telling lies no one will hold him accountable for anyway.  It’s no wonder then that his behavior has only gotten worse and not better like so many of us hoped.

Trump has never learned that the words you say and the things you do have consequences.  Because for him they never have.  Unfortunately for the American people and the people of the world, his words and actions now have consequences for all of us.  Whether or not his words and actions will catch up with him in the long run is up to congress and the American people.

Trump: The Un-Christian President

Thousands of article have been, can, and will be written about Trump.  How did he win the election?  What was his appeal to certain voters?  Why do some voters continue to support him despite controversy after controversy, ineptitude after ineptitude?  Today I found myself pondering these questions from the perspective of the disconnect between the Judaeo-Christian values that many conservative voters claim to value so much and the un-Christian candidates they support, in this case Trump.

First off, it’s been said many times that Trump speaks the language of so-called Middle Americans: working class, sometimes rural, almost always Christian, almost always white, generally less educated (not to be confused with less intelligent), and generally people who have not seen much job growth over the last decade.  Over the last eight years under Obama the rights of the LGBTQ community had been fought for, an African American had become President, for the first time a woman won the nomination of a major political party for President, and the fight for the rights and well being of African Americans was heating up like nothing since the 60’s, but all the while these Middle Americans were losing jobs and no one seemed to be fighting on their behalf, only for these other “liberal” causes.  Where was their champion?  What about their cause?   This anger, however misplaced, found voice in Trump.

Trump’s rhetoric does not appeal to intellect.  These Middle Americans didn’t want intellectual explanations or excuses.  They wanted promises and they wanted someone to stand up and sympathize with them.  Trump fulfilled that.  “Fear the outsider”, “look out for yourself, not others”, “America first!”  Feel familiar?  Trump only said the last quote, but the obvious message of that quote and so much of the rest of his rhetoric is in the first two.  His rhetoric, at its most inspiring (at least to his supporters), is almost never about intellect, but about painting a striking and emotional picture that overwhelms the intellect of the listener and causes them to be afraid.  What do we think of when we’re afraid?  We think of our safety and ourselves, nothing else.  Trump’s inauguration speech is a good example:

For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.
But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Trump could not have been more clear: Being generous by caring about and giving to others is bad for you and makes no sense.  One would think American Christians would have been appalled at such talk.  Apparently not.  Naturally the appeal or lack of appeal that Hillary Clinton had to American church goers, particularly evangelical Christians, is important to take into account.  But that’s another discussion.

Why should American Christians have been appalled by Trump’s rhetoric?  Let’s compare it to Jesus and His rhetoric.  Turn the other cheek, judge not lest you yourself be judged, treat others as you yourself would want to be treated, be kind to strangers.  I’m paraphrasing but all of these generous, Christian, and liberal (yes, liberal) sayings that we hear all the time originated with Jesus and are part of the backbone of Christianity.  The Bible, particularly Jesus, challenges us to go beyond our gut reactions to people and situations and transcend our baser instincts of fear, hate and selfishness.  Jesus challenges us to instead respond to the world and its problems by tapping into our love, compassion, inquisitiveness, and acceptance.  Government policies should reflect these Christian values, as conservatives often remind us our country was founded on Judaeo-Christian values after all.  Trump’s rhetoric and his policies contribute to a government and a country of selfishness and fear.

And yet despite these blatantly unchristian policies and rhetoric, the most “Christian” citizens of our country continue to support him.  Why?  Sad to say, the robust intellect of Jesus and of Christianity seems to hold no importance to them any more.  Theology that takes the whole Bible, as opposed to selective excerpts, as its source for reaching conclusions seems to be more and more rare.  What we see more of instead mirrors how some Americans view the Constitution.  The Constitution and Declaration of Independence to some are documents that exist for them to selectively cite so they can uphold their point of view.  What should happen instead is people need to adjust their point of view to uphold the American values of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.  The Bible too is being used to justify preexisting opinions and prejudices (homophobia for example), rather than being examined to shape new, more informed opinions.

Trump has exploited this Biblical misinterpretation, this lazy way of practicing religion.  It’s not natural to forgive or be generous as Jesus taught.  Trump and his policies would have us be our “natural”, “animal” selves, selfish and dog-eat-dog.  Christianity teaches us to transcend these natural instincts and become human beings instead.  We instinctually want to keep our money.  We instinctually want to hate those who hurt us or who we perceive as hurting us.  It’s instinctual for us to fear those people we find strange or don’t understand.  Christianity, when taken as a whole, asks us to be more than that.  We should ask our President and our government to be more than that too.