Tiger Woods is a friend of U.S. President Donald Trump. Over the past several years, they have played numerous rounds of golf together and had meals together. Many Americans now think President Trump is racist, including leading, black, sports figures such as the NBA’s LeBron James and Stephon Curry and many NFL players who disagree with President Trump about not standing at the playing of the national anthem prior to games as a silent protest to mistreatment of U.S. black citizens.
Last Sunday, when Tiger Woods finished his last round of the Northern Trust tournament on the PGA Tour, a news reporter asked him about his relationship with Donald Trump, “what do you say to people who might find it interesting that you have a friendly relationship with him?”
Tiger Woods answered, “He’s the president of the United States. You have to respect the office. No matter who is in the office, you may like, dislike the personality or the politics, but we all must respect the office.” What does that mean?
If I met President Trump, I would call him, “Mr. President.” I might also address him as “Sir.” I believe that would be showing respect for the presidency. But does Tiger mean that U.S. citizens should not ever criticize their president? According to the context in which he delivered that remark, that seems to be what he meant. Perhaps even more so for Tiger Woods, since his father served in the Army as a career, it raises the issue of obedience to authority.
Jack Nicklaus has built some of the Trump golf courses and publicly endorsed Trump as president. Yesterday, Nicklaus said regarding Woods’ above comment, “I couldn’t have agreed with Tiger more. Whether it’s Barack Obama or Donald Trump in the office of the president, you respect the office.”
Of course, I know Jack Nicklaus quite well. I like Jack and I respect him. I have met Tiger Woods. But I think their statement, “respect the office of the president,” in its context is a bit shallow. That is, it lacks what is called in education “critical thinking.”
If Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus had been born Germans in Germany in the early 20th century, would they have said that about Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Nazi Germany? And to have then opposed Hitler likely would have amounted to a life-death situation.
Moreover, in the context in which Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus said, “respect the office” of the U.S presidency, that seems to be a denial of our First Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is the very core of our democracy.
As I have blogged before, I am an independent voter who has voted mostly Republican in my life. And I’m not really all that political. (However, I watched the Congressional hearings about Watergate with much interest.) Yet, soon after Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency until now, I’ve posted perhaps 150 times my critiques of Trump as president. So, I write this post partly in defense of my being a public critic of Trump’s presidency, which is something I’ve defended here before.
I come at this issue from the perspective of not only being a voting U.S. citizen but also as co-founder of the PGA Tour Bible Study, as an author of seven theological books, and as a lifetime student of the biblical prophets, which I liken to being one of their caddies. The Hebrew prophets were commissioned and sent by God to speak to not only the people in general but to power in particular, which was mostly to the king. When they did, they spoke “the word of the LORD.” Sometimes, it was a rebuke of the king’s unethical behavior. And for Bible readers, what I’m saying, here, does not violate what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13.1-7.
I believe every nation needs courageous people who speak truth to power. That is the ultimate of respecting their office. If it is not an actual prophet who does it, such a message can be delivered by others who are well informed by the biblical prophets or have a good sense of what is ethical. After all, evil prevails when good men do nothing.
And it works both ways. The president should respect the office, also. The president is our leading government official who represents our nation to the world. Thus, we U.S. citizens should hold our president accountable for his or her behavior, that it is presidential. When the president acts presidential, only then does he or she respect the office of the president.