It turns out publishers have dramatically under-estimated the appetite for books about Donald Trump. Even if the publishers prefer not to hyper-focus on this president, they have little choice. Trump books, or Trump-adjacent books, sell. Big time. Think Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff.
Meanwhile, at the Jim Acosta press credential revocation, I had been thinking the entire press could be wise to simply not attend any press conferences or give Trump any press. Wouldn’t it be a blessed relief if we all collectively woke up for the next few months (or decades) and read about anything and everything other than Trump?
But the press needs Trump as much as publishers do. Trump sells, which is in large part why articles about Trump find their way to the top of the fold and the top of the news hour.
So all of publishing is in a love/hate relationship with this president. Even if the better angels of their nature would prefer to publish on other topics, the demands of the industry and the attention of the reading public requires that Trump trumps other interests.
As a blogger, I’ve had to contend with this phenomenon as well. I don’t really want to write about Donald Trump, but I also know if I do more of you are likely to read the blog.
Additionally, there’s that delicate balance anyone in the writing and truth-telling business must engage. Even if you think everyone would benefit from ignoring the bully in the room, nevertheless completely ignoring the bully does little to help all those the bully is bullying.
So let me offer three theological insights that I hope can help all readers answer that deepest of existential questions: To Trump, or not to Trump?
Donald Trump Is Cyrus The Great
To understand why many Christians support Donald Trump, it’s important to realize who they compare him to in the biblical tradition. A lot of Christians (and probably some folks of other religious traditions) understand him to be a modern day Cyrus the Great.
Basically, Cyrus the Great wasn’t a Jew, wasn’t religious in the ways the Jews were religious, but he did allow the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls, even supplying the previously pillaged furniture and art for the rebuild, and a cadre of soldiers to protect the Israelites while the construction was in progress.
For this, Cyrus was called a “messiah.” Like, the only other person in the whole of Scripture given that title other than Jesus himself.
Similarly, a lot of religious folk today can stomach all the crazy and immorality, all the lies and incivility, because for them the ends justify the means. Donald Trump is “Great” because he is making America great again, which for this group of believers means more Christian, more moral, etc.
And Trump doesn’t have to practice or enact anything that such a newly great America might be–just like Cyrus the Great didn’t have to become a Jew–in order for them to celebrate him as their savior.
It Really Is Wise To Trump But Not Trump
First, remember another book beat out the books about Trump at year-end, Michelle Obama’s Becoming. So one way to frame things would be to say that what people really want to do is read books by and about Michelle Obama, and really anything about Trump is just “Obama-adjacent.”
Another way to say this: pay attention, but commit to reframing. Even calling Trump “he-who-shall-not-be-named” or giving him some another nickname gives him too much power. A much better response is to remain clear-eyed (rule #1, Believe the autocrat… so pay attention), but then remain calm and move on. For example, here’s a proverb on it (Proverbs 4):
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble [Twitter anyone?].
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know what they stumble over.
20 My child, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
So too an assignment anyone who is over-obsessing over the depravity of Trump might bee to assign themselves to always then read an upbuilding tweet, or an article on something not about politics and not about Trump but about something life-giving and freeing
Lead Differently: Start By Not Lying
There is such a thing as learning from negative example. As all the men around Trump one-by-one are indicted and found guilty (mostly of lying) it can become instructive when we realize it is Trump himself who lies more than anyone.
So leadership matters, and how the leader leads often impacts all those who follow him.
So you may ask yourself… how did you get here? How will you lead, or how do you want to impact those around you?
I have been asking myself this question over the past year, because although I want to oppose this administration in many ways, and although the Christian commitments I hold most dear are threatened and challenged, I do not want to model behaviors that are the mirror image of Trump.
I want to lead differently.
The trick here is that simply acquiescing, or remaining silent, or ignoring the issue, or just doing my own thing, are mostly not options, because so much of what this autocratic, populist president does directly impacts my ministry, and the lives of many around me.
So leading differently means something else.
For one, it means working really hard to tell the truth. It’s not as easy as you think to avoid lying. We all find ourselves lying to ourselves, telling white lies, distorting the truth in our own minds to match our feelings or needs.
Paul Griffiths wrote a crazy little book on this issue, with the title Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity, which convinced me that lying is one of the most important topics in all of Christian theology.
Basically, Christians committed to truth-telling are going to find themselves in awkward situations, because they will be telling the truth in a world that frequently distorts the truth.
First, they’ll catch some resistance to truth-telling by all those defenders of Trump who have gotten used to accepting or ignoring his lies.
But soon after, they’ll catch even more resistance from those who despise Trump and have gotten comfortable with the distortion of truth from the other side. Because if there’s anything true about the debates around fake news, it’s that we both need a free press, and the press makes shit up all the time. Or gets it wrong on first report. Or uses clickbait and distorts things.
A clear-eyed commitment to truth-telling will be our best way forward, because it allows us to call out this president’s abuses and deep immorality without rancor, while also resisting the temptation to join any voices that make claims beyond what is warranted or true.
There’s a reason Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). When you catch onto it, it will shine light into perhaps the deepest insight: it seems to be the case that one of the least free of our present time currently holds the office of president of the United States of America.