Tuesday, June 06, 2017

This is What I Mean

You all know that I've got more than a few disagreements with Donald Trump. I really need to stop commenting on political things, because, while it's fun, I don't really care. My personality is super rational, which makes me a pretty poor match for electoral anything, where rationality is the least of anyone's concern. I like following elections and government the same way I like following basketball or the Tour de France - it's entertainment. I don't think any of this is nearly as important as the participants do and certainly much less than the people I tend to piss off or excite with whatever back room comments I might make.

I've also probably got to stop because I really do believe theologically that participation by Christians in the business of elections and governing is harmful and counter-productive. I don't mind commenting and such, but I suspect I may be encouraging the very engagement I hope to discourage and for that, I apologize.

I believe the Church is called to represent an alternative politic. I really do. We're not called to influence anything or anyone, least of all nations and governments, but to live out the calling to which we've committed our lives in a way that might present people a more attractive means of living together. Yes, there's influence inherent in that ideal, I suppose, but influence is not a motivating factor. That's when we get into trouble (as just about any person less than excited about Christianity will tell you) - we're at our worst when we're trying to tell people what to do.

Don't get me wrong, I think making theological counter arguments to the theology of power and fear inherent in any national government is vitally important. I don't think we should keep our heads in the sand - but me putting forth my critiques of the policies and decisions of people in government probably isn't helping that cause. I respect Brian Zahnd greatly as a pastoral example of prophetic witness. He's got his own opinions about what government should do, policy-wise, and those occasionally sneak out, but for the most part he simply proclaims the gospel, the Christ-like way of living in the world, and points out the ways in which statements or decisions made by elected leaders contradict those things.

You may call it a fine line, but I see it, and far too often cross over. I let my love of logic and reason hold the same place in my heart as my love of God and the Church and the purposes to which we've been called.

I've been critical of some of the decisions Trump's made and I think a lot of the policies being pushed are short-sighted and outrageously ill-conceived. I'd like to think I'd've been similarly critical of Clinton, had she been elected, it just would likely have been on very different issues. This is the type of discussion that's probably best left to in-person debate or, at least, less public venues (don't worry, I somehow consider this blog to be 'less public' for some entirely illogical and irrational reason).

At the same time, my biggest issue with Donald Trump, from the moment his campaign became serious, was his lack of concern for morality. I don't call the man immoral, but amoral - he doesn't seem to understand right and wrong as concepts. Trump tends to base those judgement either on later outcomes or on the feedback he gets from the people around him. Because of this, he doesn't seem to be the kind of person who thinks twice about hurting people if it serves an agenda.

I'm particularly troubled by the illustrative tweets he sent out in response to the London terror attacks in recent days. While I could see many of our recent Presidents saying things like this in private, to friends or co-workers; I can't imagine a scenario in which even Richard Nixon (our resident modern Presidential boogeyman) would think it proper to make such comments in a public forum - not that might be politically incorrect (which they are), but because they're not sensitive to the events of the day, nor are they particularly representative of the nation a President purports to lead.

Here Trump decides to interject a divisive US issue into a comment on terrorism in the UK - which has largely settled for themselves how they feel about guns. It's unfeeling and callous and completely tone deaf, not only to substance, but perception. Worse: the fact that this tweet still exists. It wasn't deleted after the fact, showing a real misunderstanding of both people and the world.

It's this inability to apologize, to admit fallibility - even for a typo - that makes Trump so impossible to support, not as a politician, but as a person of any influence at all. I get that he's a human being and a beloved child of God - I don't wish ill will towards him or his family - but I do believe he's dangerous, not just because his actions violate just about every value I hold true in the world, but because they violate generally held societal beliefs - I do still think a majority of people in the country he purports to lead embrace compassion and kindness - and also the good of the country.

I believe George W Bush made some of the most horrendous political decisions of my lifetime. I think, outside his massively important, flourishing program to fight AIDS in Africa, there's nothing of value he provided, policy-wise, to the US in eight years. I'd argue he's genuinely among the three worst Presidents we've ever had. I wrote in John McCain in 2000 AND 2004. Still, I believe he was and is a kind person who understood the weight of his responsibility in profound ways. He's the one President in the last 60 years or so who I couldn't imagine even thinking the things Trump says in these tweets (c'mon, you don't think the Obama snark doesn't rear its ugly head in private?). In other words, I don't have any moral qualms with the man, just the decisions he made.

The same isn't true for Trump. To me, this isn't about politics or policies - it's about decency and responsibility. The President just isn't supposed to use the part of his office that speaks for the country to advance personal or political agendas. Media outlets make a lot of money using manipulative reporting tactics to push political buttons, but we expect more from a President - shoot, I expect more from a human being.

This is either an ill-informed regurgitation of some conservative media talking point or a genuinely nefarious means of undermining a religion. Even I hope Trump was just ignorant of the actual text of the muslim mayor of London's statement and not that he was trying to smear a foreign leader the day after a terrorist attack to score political points. I can give the benefit of the doubt here - even if that benefit still makes him look terrible.

For reference:

My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today. You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers. There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.  --Sadiq Kahn

He wasn't saying people shouldn't be alarmed by a terrorist attack, but that they shouldn't be alarmed by the increased police presence following an attack. That our President waded into this with anything other than compassion illustrates how unfit he is for the position. This, more than any alleged Russian collusion, failure to divest from his businesses, even downright unwillingness to put effort into educating himself on the issues with which he deals, is reason to be rid of him. Everything else is a choice he made; this is a reflection of who he is.

I believe all people can change, but I'm not sure it makes sense to let an amoral, irresponsible person with no stated aim towards self-improvement, try to do so in a position of power.

When I say he's not fit to serve - despite whatever disagreement I might have with him on policies or decisions - this is really what I mean. To me, it's far more important than any of the other stuff - and so I'll try to adjust my words to reflect as much. Let's all pray Donald Trump does too.

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