Trigger Warning: This is an overtly political piece, a piece about America, freedom, and the dead end of democracy. If you’re prone to fits of violence over political issues, feel free to move along.
It’s Independence Week, the week we celebrate our nation’s birth. It’s a festive week, a week to wallow in and indulge our freedoms–the freedom to grill meat, launch miniature missiles made in China, and overeat Aunt Maude’s famous apple pie. Freedom–ain’t it grand?
It’s an American tradition, this annual celebration. It’s Democracy’s birthday, an unabashed celebration of our freedoms of speech, assembly, and commercial enterprise. We light the candles on the cake of our free press, free elections, and free government provisions. We open the presents of the free market. Freedom, freedom, freedom–it’s the only thing that unifies us these days.
Yet, with all these freedoms, it seems our version of democracy has taken an ugly turn. It’s become more polarized, more vitriolic, perhaps more violent than ever. Yesterday, our President used his own freedoms to take the spotlight off the great history and tradition of our country; he used his freedoms to turn the spotlight toward himself. (Could anything be more American?) He kicked off this Independence week with a tweet that portrayed him as some sort of hero beating down the free press. It was an indefensible GIF.
Of course, the President is free to tweet this sort of violent propaganda (tweeting isn’t directly proscribed by the Constitution, see). What good is freedom, though, without the constraints of character, wisdom, and civility? How beautiful is the exercise of freedom if it induces some loon with an assault rifle (owned pursuant to his Second Amendment freedoms) to act on the President’s propaganda, to take aim at a reporter or two? When freedom slashes the jugular of common decency and social norms, when it lets civility bleed out on the kitchen floor, when it mocks death, freedom is an ugly thing.
The greatest freedom enjoyed by any citizen in any democracy is the freedom to constrain his own personal freedoms. The freedom to act in ways that serve and protect our neighbors, to restrain our speech for the sake of civil discourse, to govern our behavior to create liberty and justice for all (even the press)–these are the freedoms exercised by true statesmen. When we indulge every freedom, when we elevate personal agendas (or Twitter rants) over the collective good, when we wallow in self-indulgence, we undercut the foundational principles of our country’s democracy; we show ourselves to be anything but statesmen.
It’s Independence week, and I’m thinking about modern America. I’m afraid we’ve reached a dead end in this great experiment in democracy. It’s the dead end born of a freedom our founding father’s never contemplated–the freedom to wallow in our own narcissism. And if you’re prone to think this is an unfounded conclusion, allow me to offer this exhibit into evidence: the Twitter feed of President Donald J. Trump.
Our personal failures provide a unique opportunity, I suppose. Don’t our collective failures provide the same sort of opportunity?
Months ago, our country found itself drunk on self-importance and self-interest, on single-issue politics, on reactionary rage. So many put aside their civil scruples (81% of evangelical Christians, in fact), closed their moral compasses and voted for a new sort of mix-it-up, social media, reality television, kingpin president. Drunk on his promises, they excused his past failures–misogynism, xenophobia, jingoism, a history of racism–failures from which he never learned. And so, as President of the United States (an office deserving of dignity), Donald Trump continues to repeat the brash mistakes of his past. Yesterday, he engaged in the petty slander he’s come to be known for, attacking the appearance of yet another female cable news anchor.
Our collective failure as people of faith, our inability to see past our own self-interest for the good of our country has led to the sorts of indignities we see coming from the White House. And though we cannot make the President of the United States sober up, though we cannot make him learn from his own mistakes, we can tend to our own sobriety. We can confess the drunkenness that resulted in him becoming the Chief Executive.
Failures are an opportunity to recollect, to refine, to course correct. If this is true–and I think it is–our country has not seen a more opportune time to recollect, refine, and course-correct in my lifetime. Our failure is our drunkenness. It’s time to sober up.
“What I have learned over this last year is that the state of our politics is about the state of our souls. Politics is causing great spiritual harm in Americans lives because Americans are going to politics to have their spiritual needs met. This is the meaning of rising polarization. This is the cause of politics’ burdens on our spirit. Politics does a very poor job of meeting spiritual needs, but politicians will pretend they can do it if it will get your vote.” ~Michael Wear
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In the coffee shop, a fellow asked, “if we stopped giving him so much attention, don’t you think he’d go away?” It was an honest question, one made two weeks before Donald Trump picked up Alabama, Arkansas (my home state), Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Hawaii, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, and perhaps Missouri. It was the question before the wave of violent clashes at Trump rallies, before the cancellation of his Chicago stop due to escalating fears of riots. (Trump won Illinois despite the cancellation of his rally.)
The New York billionaire uses words like mallets–heavy, pounding–beats his opponents into submission, encourages his supporters to resort to bare knuckles and cheap shots. And aren’t his supporters ready for it? Aren’t we all? Aren’t we the throbbing mass of mixed martial arts spectators? Don’t we love a good brawl? Don’t We The People believe that all good things–all things American–come through blood, sweat, and tears? And when’s the last time we saw blood in politics? Bring on the blood.
The people–who are they? Media outlets speak of Middle Class Whites, the great throngs of the disenfranchised. The Mexicans take White jobs. The Blacks take White tax dollars. The Muslims take White babies, White airplanes, our gleaming Twin by-god Towers. These people, says the media, are potential energy, spilt gas waiting for a lit match. Donald Trump is the sulfur striking the side of the box. He’s the spark.
See him, this strongman who stokes the fire he’s lit. And when the fire has done the damage, who then throws the ball toward the surviving hornets’ nest just to see what might happen? (“Why did you throw the ball toward the hornets’ nest,” the responsible adults asks the petulant child. “To see what might happen when the hornets stirred themselves up,” he says, beaming.)
But this is what men like Mr. Trump know (men of power, one might say): fear and violence move people to action. Hollow, vague promises of power are actionable. The people stand behind his violent rants, because the people–the violent, MMA, WWE, Jean-Claude Van Damme people–have violence flowing out of their ears. And knowing this, Mr. Trump prods the violence to action. About not becoming the Republican nominee for the World’s highest office, he says, “I think you would see problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen. I really do. I wouldn’t lead it, but I think bad things would happen.” (Source)
He shrugs his shoulders. “Hey, I’m not telling them to riot, but who can stop the people?”
The people, he says. Invokes. Nudges. Gigs. Directs.
The People–who are they? They are the Latino man providing for his family, giving his pound of flesh to the United States Government, his blood sweat and tears for baby formula and rubber nipples. They are the Black boy in Ferguson, or Baltimore, or Whereverville, the one hoping for a small business in the hand instead of a bullet to the back. They are the Muslim refugee, the one seeking asylum from otherworld dictators (this refugee, trapped between too many dictators). They are the middle class white man typing on the keyboard, asking The People (yes, The People) to please keep shining the light on the demons of fear, the demons of violence, the demons behind both the symptoms and the causes. Shine the light on the problem of men who might foment fear for personal gain, for power, for the lesser kingdoms of men.
The People–we are better than this. And if we are not, God save The People.
This morning I woke to the news that Donald J. Trump had won the Nevada primary, and as I scrolled through the newsfeed, I ran across this headline:
It’s over; Trump is going to be the Republican nominee.
American voters: have you lost your ever-loving minds?
In his victory speech, Trump indicated “We won the evangelicals. We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated. … And you know what I’m really happy about? No. 1 with Hispanics; I’m really happy about that.”
The man who’s threatened to build a wall to curb the advance of southern immigration has won Nevada’s Hispanic population. I have no words for this lunacy.
I get it–Trump speaks his mind, and in this double-speak era of American politics, it’s refreshing to hear an unfiltered opinion. What’s more, when combined with manufactured drama and jingoistic slogans like Make America Great Again!, unfiltered opinions make for good entertainment. And if anyone knows entertainment, it’s Donald J. Trump.
The gears of Donald J. Trump’s mint are greased with the sort of manufactured drama and unfiltered opinions we’ve become accustomed to in this primary season. His is a ship that has risen on the tide of exploitation, drama, bombastic comments, legal threats, and intimidation. And somehow, the great people of this great country keep falling for his schtick.
But let’s put an end to this foolishness, shall we? Let’s consider this Trumptastic timeline; let’s educate ourselves. Get to know his record, and with a cooler head ask yourself, is this the man we want as our next president?
A Trumptastic Timeline*
1973: After amassing real estate holdings in the mid to late 60s, the United States Justice Department catches wind of Donald Trump. In 1973, the federal government levies charges against Trump, alleging a pattern of discrimination against potential black buyers. (Source)
1986: Under Trump, the United States Football League, competitor to the National Football League, sues the NFL for antitrust violations. The USFL is awarded $1.00 in damages, which is ultimately trebled by the jury to $3.00. (Source)
1989: After the rape of a Central Park jogger, Trump purchases advertisements in New York City newspapers calling for the death penalty for the five non-white teenagers accused of the crime. A decade later, the teenagers were cleared of all charges. (Source)
1991: Trump, businessman extraordinaire, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection relating to the Trump Taj Mahal. As a result, Trump is forced to sell his personal yacht. (Source) In that same year, in his book Trumped, John R. O’Donnell writes that Trump said, “laziness is a trait in blacks.” O’Donnell further attributes this gem to Trump “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” (Source)
1992: Trump files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection relating to Trump Plaza hotel. (Source) Trump divorces his wife, Ivana and immediately takes up with Marla Maples, eventually marrying her in 1993.
1996: Trump purchases the Miss Universe Organization, an organization known for its non-exploitation of women in swimsuits.
1999: Trump divorces Marla Maples.
2003: Trump files a lawsuit against a Native Americans tribe, the Easter Pequot Nation. Although the details of the lawsuit are complicated, news outlets reported the following:
“In separate interviews with the local press, Rosow said the Eastern Pequots had no desire to work with Trump, both because of insulting comments he once made about the related Mashantucket Pequot tribe and because of doubts about the financial soundness of his casino empire. (Source.)“
2004: Trump files for bankruptcy protection relating Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts. (Source) Showcasing his business acumen, Trump debuts “The Apprentice,” in which contestants compete for a career opportunity within one of Trump’s non-bankrupt companies. About the women contestants, Trump famously comments, “It’s certainly not groundbreaking news that the early victories by the women on ‘The Apprentice’ were, to a very large extent, dependent on their sex appeal.” (Source.)
2005: Trump opens “Trump University,” which is eventually shut down due to complaints that it was a scam. (Source) Trump marries Melania Knauss, a model 25 years Trump’s junior.
2006: Trump’s son Barron is born. Unconfirmed rumors indicate the boy’s middle name is Tycoon, and though I fabricated this rumor from whole cloth, would it surprise you? Where’s the birth certificate?
2009: Trump places Trump Entertainment Resorts in bankruptcy, and resigns as the company’s chairman of the board. (Source)
2011: Tump becomes the leader of the “birther” movement, challenging Barack Obama’s citizenship and eligibility to serve as the President of the United States.
2012: Trump offers President Obama $5 million to provide a copy of his birth certificate, and thus end speculation regarding his citizenship.
2015: Trump announces his candidacy for Presidency.
June, 2015: Trump lambasts hispanic immigrants, saying Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Silver-lining guy that he is, Trump throws a bone to a minority of the immigrant population, saying “And some, I assume, are good people.” (Source)
August, 2015: Trump makes reference to Megyn Kelly’s monthly cycle on national television. (Source)
November, 2015: Trump mocks a disabled reporter.
December, 2015: Trump threatens to sue a Jeb Bush donor for running negative campaign ads. (Source) Trump calls for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on….” (Source)
February, 2016: Trump threatens to sue Ted Cruz, calling him an “absolute disgusting liar.” Trump raises questions about whether Cruz is a naturalized citizen eligible to run for the presidency.
February, 2016: Trump retweets a supporter, who raises concerns about Marco Rubio’s eligibility to serve as president. (Source)
February, 2016: Trump threatens to prosecute Hillary Clinton if he becomes the President of the United States.
February 23, 2016: Trump wins the Nevada primary, stating “We won the evangelicals. We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
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