The Clown or the Ring Master?
I don’t know Donald Trump.
It’s possible that his wealthy extravagance, immeasurable narcissism, outrageous statements and obnoxious style are a public persona which he has honed to perfection for the sole purpose of drawing attention to himself. He is, after all, a salesman whose primary product is Trump. It’s possible that behind the power-hungry, bragging bully there is a compassionate human heart. It’s possible that hiding inside the clown costume there is a real human being whom I might even like if I got to know him. It’s possible.
The problem is that we have to assume that what we see is what we get. We have to buy what he is selling. Or not. It isn’t pretty.
I practiced the personal discipline of ignoring him when he was just the dark clown who portrayed the sinister underbelly of American pride, arrogance and greed. I took seriously the warning that when you mud wrestle with a pig you both get dirty, but the pig enjoys it. But now that the clown is running for Ring Master, he’s a lot harder to ignore, particularly in light of the support he has drawn from a segment of the fans in the bleachers.
Our Worst Angels
For a number of reasons, this is a good time to remember Abraham Lincoln’s closing words in his First Inaugural, addressed to those who were preparing to secede from the Union.
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
That’s what a President ought to do. By contrast, Donald Trump is appealing to “the worst angels of our nature” by touching the chords of fear, racism, xenophobia, greed, and arrogant nationalism. It’s not as if other politicians (of both parties) have not touched those chords before, but that Trump does it so blatantly, without shame and with total disregard for anything like civility or respect for people who see things differently. To Trump, they’re all “losers.”
The good news is that Trump has not played the political “God-card.” To this point, he hasn’t attempted to dress himself up as the bearer of biblical truth or the preacher of evangelical values. The bad news is that some self-defined “evangelicals” share the same political convictions but hide them more effectively. Which brings me to my problem with Trump.
My Problem with Trump
Evangelical social activist, Jim Wallis simply said, “Everything about Donald Trump’s life indicates that Jesus is a stranger to him.” I can find nothing in his public persona that bears witness to Jesus’ way of life revealed in the Sermon on the Mount. By contrast, he personifies the values and attitudes that the Old Testament books of Amos, Hosea, and Jonah were written to mock or condemn.
Sadly, I can find nothing in his public persona that evidences the “fruits of the Spirit” which Paul named as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) He would blast any “loser” who suggested that “humility” is a virtue. If those things are there, they are very effectively hidden behind the clown costume.
All of which leads me to the deepest and most challenging problem I have with Donald Tump. My problem is that all of the sins that are so blatantly on display in Trump are the same temptations that in more subtle ways are present in all of us.
For followers of Christ, watching Trump’s performance should lead not simply to the kind of condemnation that every responsible politician and editorial writer has expressed, but to confession.
Wherever we are along the way that leads toward “Christian perfection,” we are called to confess the ways in which we are infected by the same sin and to pray with David in Psalm 51:
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
I don’t know Donald Trump. I’d never vote for him. But I know myself and I know that I constantly need the purging fire of God’s love to flow through my heart and life. I’ll bet you do, too.
Grace and peace,