Steve Jobs and the Trump Reformation

Steve Jobs and the Trump Reformation September 7, 2017


Can you connect these dots?:  Gutenberg, Martin Luther, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump.

In his column Steve Jobs gave us President Trump in the Washington PostDavid Von Drehle argues that just as Gutenberg’s printing press made possible Luther’s Reformation of the church, Steve Job’s smart phone made possible Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency and his new brand of politics.

Von Drehle’s reasoning goes like this:  Gutenberg created a new information medium, which allowed Luther to put the Bible into the hands of the people, by-passing the religious hierarchies and gatekeepers of his time.  Similarly, Steve Jobs created a new information medium that allows Trump to by-pass the political gatekeepers and political party gatekeepers of our time.

The ascension of Trump would have been impossible, he argues, without the new information and entertainment media.  Trump became a celebrity by means of television.  His use of social media, his dominance of the news media’s attention, and his constant tweeting on his cell phone to millions of his followers allowed him to work around the protocols of the Republican party.

Bernie Sanders did this to a certain extent, Von Drehle says, but the Democratic establishment reasserted itself by imposing the power of the old school political machine.  The Republican party, which strenuously opposed Trump, was unable to do so.  And the old school Democratic machine was unable to defeat the upstart celebrity and his cell-phone.

And now Trump is locked into mortal combat with his own party, contending with an old-school Republican congress.  Drehle portrays Mitch McConnell as the abbot of a Benedictine monastery, used to supervising his monks copying out the Bible by hand, swept up in the Gutenberg revolution and helpless to stop the influence of Martin Luther.

Von Drehle draws some interesting and amusing analogies.  But like most of today’s analysts of the “cultural influence” of Martin Luther and like most of today’s analysts of the “political influence” of Donald Trump, he neglects the content of what they stand for and thus why their message became so popular.

John Tetzel also used the printing press.  Gutenberg’s own press was used to print indulgences!  Defenders of the Pope responded to Luther pamphlet for pamphlet.

In Luther’s case, it was not just the medium, but more importantly the message that the medium transmitted:  Namely, the Gospel of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Christ crucified.

Similarly, Democrats probably use the information technology, social media, and cell-phones more than the alienated working class that propelled Trump to victory.  And certainly Steve Jobs was on the liberal side.  Today the liberals are burning up the social media in condemnation of Trump and all he stands for.  But enough voters bought into Trump’s crusade to “make America great again”–a rather old-fashioned pre-technological sentiment–to make him president.

 For better or worse, both politicians and theologians, reformers or revolutionaries, need more than technology.
Illustration:  A purported indulgence signed by Johann Tetzel, translated as follows:  “In warrant of all saints and in mercy, I absolve You from all sins and misdeeds and pardon you from all punishments for ten days.”  Public Domain.
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