The Trump Conundrum
Political commentary is not my forte. I have no need or desire to write in favor or against President Donald Trump, any more than I did for his predecessors. Rather, for those of us who believe the world we see outside ourselves is a reflection of the world within, Donald Trump provides an interesting and humbling self-reflection. The American political system is awash in seemingly unresolvable conflict, and the current face of that system is Donald J. Trump. My interest is not so much in Mr. Trump’s strengths or fallacies, however, but in what his strengths or fallacies, as perceived by me (and you), reveal about me (and you). Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditation for June 12, 2017, wrote, “All the conflicts and contradictions of life must find resolution in us before we can resolve anything outside ourselves.” I (reluctantly) agree.
Beyond a reasonable doubt, I know the qualities that bother me most in others are qualities in me that I try desperately to hide and deny. A characteristic of Trump I find bothersome is his narcissism – his seeming self-centeredness and need for self-promotion. Of course, some of his popularity stems from exactly that quality, so I try not to cast it too negatively. Any admission on my part that his narcissism is troubling is more a confession of my own repressed narcissism than criticism of his behavior, anyway.
The more interesting questions to me stem from the observation that we, as a collective, voted a person with the distinct characteristics of Donald Trump (or name a predecessor, if you prefer) to be our president. Assuming we can agree he is narcissistic, we can begin to consider what about us put him in such a high office (including those who did not vote for him). For starters, I would argue that we are a narcissistic nation. Further, the vast majority of us are narcissistic individuals. There is something within me that always focuses on me. How will this event affect me? How can this person enrich my life? How can I turn this situation to my benefit? It is self-preservation, and it is necessary to a point; but have we carried it too far?
Where does our narcissism originate? One interesting allegory is found in Genesis 3:4-5, where the serpent tries to convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit: But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This story is at the heart of what some Christians consider the original sin. Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly need in the Garden of Eden. Only one thing was forbidden – eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. To do so would make them like God. Does our narcissism stem from a craving to be like God? Do we desire power over our circumstances? Do we want to be the judge over who and what is good and evil? Do we need to be set apart from and over others? I think our political realities suggest that may be the case. Every day in Washington, DC, we find our elected representatives promoting their political parties and ideological leanings over working together to address the pressing problems in our country and our world. Political ideologies have become the idols of our age, and too often we find ourselves worshiping at the feet of divisive dogma while children starve, addicts overdose, our environment decays, and civil wars rage. Has our need to be right – as we define it and to the exclusion of what others believe – overridden our desire to live in peaceable relationship with others?
At least in part, Donald Trump represents a large group of people who feel left behind, unappreciated, disenfranchised, and forgotten. My observation is that every four or eight years, the delighted and disappointed groups trade places. We swing back and forth like a pendulum, preserving our dualistic obsession with believing if one thing is good, the other thing must be bad. There is no effort to make the pendulum move in an ever-widening circle, where all ideals and peoples are included, honored, and respected.
My friend, Bryan Welch, commented that “the explicit anti-narcissistic message implicit to Christianity is missed, altogether, by (so many of us) who self-identify as Christians.” If we are to move our country and our world forward, no one can be left behind – no nationality, no culture, no religion, no age group, and no orientation. We are all in this together, and the Trump conundrum is this: When we look in the mirror and see Donald Trump, what aspect of ourselves is being reflected? More importantly, seeing ourselves exposed, what are we going to do about it?
Note: Next week I will return to the series, The Faces of God.