The news team helicopter hovered overhead capturing every moment. The stolen black limo was careening down the avenue clipping parked cars and running red lights. Police sirens were blaring and their lights were flashing. Fire engines were hopelessly trying to keep up. Then the limo abruptly changes direction and the action all starts moving in a new and unpredictable direction. As viewers we cannot drag ourselves away from the TV screen, any second it could all end in a spectacular fire ball and we don’t want to miss it. I am not describing a live high speed police chase broadcast but a Donald Trump news conference.
I really did not want to write yet another blog about Trump but what is going on in our culture is too big to ignore. A new addiction has surfaced almost overnight and it is affecting millions of people. It’s called HyperTrumpitis. It has deleterious effects on both the Trump fans and detractors alike. It is most easily observed by scanning the US news channels. They no longer cover much of anything else. They follow every word, every Tweet, every dramatic moment of Kelly Anne Conway, Sean Spicer and their boss the Twitter-in-Chief Donald Trump. More perversely they have all but abandoned any sense of objectivity and all have cemented deeply entrenched partisan positions on The Donald. FOX News is Trump’s biggest cheerleader and will defend any and all announcements with little regard to journalistic neutrality. By contrast CNN, MSNBC, and CBS and the like all hold strong oppositional perspectives and are in full attack mode. Rather than reporting the news of the day they engage in lengthy anti-Trump political commentary. They too have jettisoned journalistic principles of objectivity and are just as embarrassing as Fox as to how they report the day’s events. There is no doubt that Trump has provoked them with his continual attacks on the media’s honesty, ethics, character, and sometimes even appearances. He has vilified the American media calling them “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” He is like that kid we all knew growing up that we used to follow into the woods so we could watch him poke a bee’s nest with a stick. We would then all run for our lives and hope we weren’t the one who got stung. Even then we knew it was a bad idea but we went along anyway because we didn’t want to miss anything. Well, that kid grew up and is poking the world’s biggest stick at the world’s biggest bee’s nest and we tune in everyday because we haven’t grown up either.
Just for the record, I am neither fan nor foe of President Trump. Yes, I have been poking fun at The Donald long before he was a Presidential candidate. I found him immensely entertaining and used to unkindly put him in the same category as Donald Duck or other cartoon characters on TV. Clearly I underestimated him, and the American electorate that has chosen him as their leader. Still, I am not convinced that some people are clear as to what they have elected. Trump is not a right wing, left wing or even a populist politician. There is no ideological consistency in his politics. His protectionist policies would be more left wing than right. Union workers in the Rust Belt voted for him on the promise that coal and steel jobs would return to their communities. I am quite sure that ship has sailed. Trade barriers or not, because of the high price of American labour, never again will they be able to produce industrial products in a cost effective way within a global economy. On the other side of the coin, the promises of deregulation and tax cuts appear to be right wing. However if that is the plan, where does the money come from to fulfill the promise to rebuild America’s so called “crumbling infrastructure”? And how does one cut taxes and somehow deal with an out of control national debt approaching 20 trillion dollars? (Check out the debt clock. It is frightening to look at http://www.usdebtclock.org/). Not to be unkind, but anyone that thinks he is a populist leader returning the power to the people needs to give their head a shake. For the most part he has approached the role of US President in much the same manner as being president of the Trump Corporation or host of The Apprentice. He clearly leads as an ‘autocrat’ making bold declarations and executive orders without any measure of accountability to his party or anyone else for that matter. Case in point, his surprise and anger when the courts stepped in and stopped his ‘travel ban’. There is nothing new about America’s long standing balance of power between an Executive branch (Presidential cabinet), the legislative arm (Congress and Senate) and the judiciary system (courts).
My bigger concern is the Christian response to it all. When we align ourselves too closely with either side of this current hysteria we put ourselves in a compromised position. There is no way any political movement can ever reflect the values of the Christian faith. Jesus said My Kingdom is not of this world. That’s because the values of our faith can never fit neatly into any political package. When we read the gospels we see that Jesus did not ignore the political realities of His day (which incidentally were more violent and acrimonious than ours today. They were being occupied by the Roman Empire after all) but He was careful to not align with them either. When asked by the Pharisees if it was lawful to pay taxes unto Caesar, it looked like He was backed into a corner and was going to have to pick a side. Instead he answered, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21) It was of course a brilliant response, which we would expect from the Son of God?
This is not to say that Christians should not be involved in politics. We should always do what we can to positively influence our world. However, I have been saying for the last few years that as a Christian I have no political home. There is no party out there that I would ever be comfortable lending my unqualified support. So when I see believers jumping on the bandwagon of either one of the positions we see playing out with our southern neighbours, I feel they are only contributing to the deepening divisiveness that has now crept across our own borders.
A woman in our congregation recently told me they have three TV’s in their house. All three are always on and tuned to a US news station and her husband cannot seem to drag himself away from the screen. Her concern was that he was increasingly taking on the harsh perspective of what he was listening to. I did not say which channel he was watching, because it doesn’t matter. We eventually become that which we listen to. What we are witnessing is possibly the most polarizing political environment we have seen in our generation. We have not seen protests in the streets at these levels since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The political landscape is so divisive it is driving a wedge between friends, families and whole communities. As Christian people we probably do not want to be part of the problem. I am reluctant to call President Trump’s travel ban from Muslim countries, or plans for a wall along the Mexican border, racist or righteous. Firstly, a nation has the right to exercise their sovereignty and decide who enters their country. Secondly, I do not know what is in the man’s heart. But what I do see is the rhetoric surrounding these discussions is a feeding of the latent shallowly buried racial resentments that are too easily stirred up. It concerns me when I hear Christians speaking ill of people from other cultures and religions in light of Jesus’ non-negotiable commandment to “Love our neighbour as yourself”. The hardening of resentment we see towards other people should never be part of our Christian culture.
We are in for a wild ride in the days ahead for sure. But this is the time for the church to show love and forgiveness, to give ourselves to prayer for our leaders and above all to carefully “guard our hearts for out of it spring the issues of life”. (Prov 4:23)