Rereading the chapter “Learning to Listen” in Dennis Okholm’s Monk Habits for Everyday People, the question came to me, can I really listen to President Trump?
Just as I wrote that sentence, my mind jumped back to Anne Lamott’s clever observation that, in learning to forgive, we might not want to start with Adolf Hitler. Of course I don’t equate Trump with Hitler, but in terms of extremes, Trump is harder to listen to, say, than a neighbor who is a Trump supporter.
And a personal friend or family member who is a Trump supporter is harder to listen to than a neighbor because I have more invested emotionally, expecting them to be “better.”
That’s also why it is hard for me to listen to fellow Christians who resist the rights of women and gay and transgender people, fail to welcome refugees and immigrants, endorse harsh foreign and domestic policies, hinder proper stewardship of creation, and give uncritical support for military exploits.
I expect more from Christians, more compassion, more understanding—including those who call themselves “evangelical,” who claim to bring “good news.”
Let me clarify that for the purposes of this post, Donald Trump is an example of our most troubling political leaders and commentators. He is not a scapegoat, however; he is simply the most prominent among many disturbing figures in this country and the world. He’s a bipartisan choice because he has riled conservatives, liberals, and moderates alike, Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and independents.
Reading the paper I often skip Trump news stories, as well as commentaries railing against him. As a result, reading other articles, I’ve learned more about science, culture, religion, and even government and citizenship. My attitude has been, “This too shall pass.”
Nonetheless, I have daily prayed for President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—by name—more than any previous president and vice president in my lifetime. I have prayed for them compassion, wisdom, and knowledge, and I extend that prayer to our electorate, as well as other leaders of our country and the world. Also, religious leaders.
I do read analyses of why we are so divided by political opinions, often posting them for Facebook friends. I am particularly taken with the notion that our vehement opposition is not simply because we disagree, but because we either don’t trust the other side’s motives or don’t share the other side’s values. I also appreciate articles that suggest ways to reach across our differences.
I return to the question, can I really listen to Donald Trump?
The antagonistic and bullying tone of his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks conveys insecurity and insult and incitement rather than thoughtful and wise and helpful analysis. Some commentators have suggested he may be “crazy like a fox,” manipulating the news cycle to some kind of advantage (crazy like Fox News?). I just find him erratic, fragmented, contradictory, and phony.
President Trump makes many of us knee-jerk reactionaries. His supporters automatically cheer, his detractors automatically boo. When we cheer or boo, can we really listen?
Again, never intending to equate the two, for me, trying to listen to Donald Trump is like trying to forgive Adolf Hitler. It is “above my pay grade,” beyond my spiritual capacity.
After all, the Torah teaches us to love our neighbor and confront Pharaoh. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor and give the emperor only what’s required. Early Christians were considered subversive because they refused to recognize Caesar as a god.
So, listening to my neighbors, friends, and family members may be the best I can do in this moment.
I believe if we really listen to one another, we can find in our hearts what we truly value and believe, as well as common ground, then act and vote accordingly. And we can demonstrate love for neighbors by real engagement, not merely getting along.
Saint Benedict’s Rule for monks recommends restraint in speech, not silence. And it’s helpful to remember that, as one interpreter suggests, our speech often “sides with the part of us that resists grace.”