How to Be Prophetic in the Age of Trump

How to Be Prophetic in the Age of Trump December 1, 2016

prophet and trumpThe Donald Trump presidency will lead us into a new age – especially for those who want to be prophetic. Indeed, those of us who are concerned about justice issues centered around economics, race, gender, and sexual identity have good reason to be vigilant in the Age of Trump.

But I recently recorded an interview with Jay Alberg about scandal and the impending Trump presidency. Jay, an important voice in mimetic theory, especially when it comes to scandal, said this –

If you get scandalized by him, you are playing his game.

I’d like to give you a personal example of how I played Trump’s game. I’m sure you remember one of Trump’s most scandalous statements about immigration –

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and their bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

I was scandalized by the statement. It doesn’t ring true to my experience with immigrants from Mexico or other areas of Latin America. In response, I wrote an article called, “Donald Trump, Immigration, and the Politics of Satan.

In Hebrew, the word for Satan means “Accuser.” Satan is the one who lead us into dividing the world into “us and them,” “good and evil,” through accusations against one another. That’s exactly what Trump did during his campaign.

Other progressives called Trump out for his divisive rhetoric. We were being prophetic. But here’s the problem: overtly naming it didn’t work. He didn’t repent. In fact, it had the opposite affect of what we wanted. It only seemed to reinforce his positions. The more we tried to be prophetic by attacking Trump’s rhetoric, the more political power he gained. Indeed, as Jay said, “If you get scandalized by him, you are playing his game.”

Trump baited us into criticizing him. Why? Because he knows how to play the victim card. He gained power with his base by claiming to be the victim of the liberal elite. By being prophetic, we played right into his hands.

Of course, Trump is not a victim. But that doesn’t matter. All you have to do to gain victimary status is play one on TV.

How to Be Prophetic in the Age of Trump

Fortunately, there are different models for how to be prophetic with political leaders. Take the prophet Nathan, for example. He lived during the reign of King David, the most important king in the Hebrew Bible.

You may remember that one night David was on his roof looking out over the city. As he looked around, he saw a woman taking a bath. He demanded that the married woman, named Bathsheba, come to his chambers so he could have sex with her. It’s important to note the obvious – this was an abuse of power. If Bathsheba said no, he could have killed her. So, David raped Bathsheba, who became pregnant. To cover up this injustice, David sent Bathsheba’s husband to the front lines of war, where he would surely be killed. After his death, David married Bathsheba and believed the injustice was behind him. For a moment, he’d gotten away with rape and murder.

But the prophet Nathan didn’t let it slide. Nathan knew that if he confronted David by shaking his fist and excoriating him, it wouldn’t work. David wouldn’t be able to hear Nathan’s concerns, and he might even kill Nathan for confronting him. He’d just killed Bathsheba’s husband, after all.

Telling Prophetic Stories

Nathan found a different way to be prophet. He opened David’s eyes and heart to his victims by telling him a story. I’ll paraphrase the story here –

A rich man and a poor man lived next to each other. The rich man threw a party for some guests when the poor man was away. But the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his sheep for the meal, so he stole the poor man’s only sheep and cooked it for his guests.

At this point, David tore his clothes in anger (a weird practice in ancient Israel that meant someone was really pissed.) He then said, “How dare he! He deserves to die!”

At which point, Nathan said, “You are that man.”

David saw the truth. He wept and repented of his sins.

Nathan was prophetic. He didn’t allow David to get away with the injustice. He called David out, but he did it in a way David could see the great harm he caused.

Prophetic Creativity

Nathan’s prophetic method of storytelling was highly creative. I’ll admit that it’s much easier for me to rage against the machine – to just be pissed and channel my anger against the walking scandal that is Donald Trump.

But then I’m playing his game. If we are to be prophetic in the age of Trump, we need an alternative way that won’t feed the beast. We need Nathan as a model for prophetic creativity. We need to tell new stories that will open eyes, including our own, to threats of justice that permeate our world.

Images: Prophet Nathan by 18 century icon painter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Donald Trump Flickr, photo by Gage Skidmore, some changes made.

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