Taking a Break from Trump

trump-and-melania
Debby Wong

Yes, yes, I know. It’s horrible, but one can’t look away. The slow-motion car wreck that, for many of us, is the U.S. presidency fascinates us with new footage popping up seemingly every day.

Trump offending here. Trump kowtowing there. Trump saying something one day while his staff then say the opposite the next. Or vice versa.

Trump not keeping his word. Trump keeping his word.

It’s all wonderfully terrifying.

Meanwhile, for others of us, the relentless media scrutiny has for a long time now seemed poisonously absurd. The president can’t say anything, do anything, go anywhere, or meet anyone without some pack of the left-leaning press howling about how gauche, or hypocritical, or imperious he is—as if Donald Trump was elected for his politesse rather than his politics.

So let’s take a break.

Keeping track of what Mr. Trump says he will do is clearly pointless, although only just more obviously pointless than meticulously recording what any other politician says he or she will do. What matters, of course, is what the president actually does and what he actually gets the rest of the U.S. government to do.

And what actually happens in policy will be reported in due course—less excitingly, but far more significantly.

Americans therefore can safely ignore the majority of news stories about President Trump, since they detail thises and thats the importance of which is impossible to gauge at the time—or perhaps ever.

And only a fraction of whatever he actually does will trickle down to affect Canadian lives—the lives of most readers of this post.

We must beware the “politics porn” being peddled even by the mainstream, “respectable” media. Breathless, close-up focus on Trump’s every gesture is, frankly, silly at best and prurient at worst.

No one thinks Mr. Trump is a refined person, an exemplar of elegance, subtlety, and grace. Quite the contrary—and he is alternately loved or hated, supported or condemned, precisely because he is indeed a bull in a china shop.

What do we learn, therefore, by watching him thrash around yet another day? How is our grasp of anything significant improved by scrutinizing and then endlessly discussing whether his wife snubs him, or he pushes to the front of a line, or his children cash in on his prominence? Don’t we all know what we all need to know about all that by now?

The Apostle Paul, living under a ruler who was himself hardly a moral paragon (namely, the Roman emperor Nero), encouraged Christians “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs” (I Thessalonians 4:11).

It is in the particular zone of our personal influence that we can make a positive difference. It is here and now, in this place and time God has given us to inhabit, that we have any opportunity to influence anything for the better.

Let’s beware then, of the rationalization of “being responsibly informed” when all we’re really doing is “keeping up with the Trumps.” Let’s spend most of our time, and attention, and emotion, and energy on the people around us, the people God has literally given to us to love.

And, if we’re going to pay attention to Mr. Trump, let’s do so the way Christians ought: not with gossip, but with prayer.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 700 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book is scheduled for release later this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).