Readers Respond

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Several folks have been commenting in the last week or so.  Here are some of the best:

In response to my post “This Video Proves Why Robert Jeffress is the Court of Evangelical of All Court Evangelicals“, reader Tomek Jankowski writes:

But this shows just how much Trump is a symptom, not a cause. He himself is a buffoon and dangerous in some respects, but he is the prop for a segment of this country who sees in him Messianic powers to stop change, to stop the social change, the economic change that they don’t understand and don’t want. They are like latter-day Amish, who want to freeze-dry history at some point in the 1950s and just continue living like we’re in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. They believe that Trump can deliver that world for them. If he’s removed or steps down, they’ll just find another shaman, another magic man who will defeat the evil Liberals who surely brought about all this post-1950s change and take us back to the way things ought to be — the pre-Civil Rights era Southern lifestyle that God clearly wants all humanity to embrace.

Sam Smith comments on my post “Court Evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. Doubles-Down on His Court Evangelicalism“:

John, I have a question. Which bothers you most, Trump’s crass and un-presidential ways, or the many “jokes”about his death, his beheaded likeness, an outdoor drama depicting his assassination, etc.? These vicious things and more have been going on for months, and you say little to nothing about them (at least comparatively). Yet, when some admittedly sophomoric and wrong tweets come along, you go into your own version of culture warrior mode and call for absolute and unqualified condemnation and besmirch (over and over) all “court evangelicals” who will not join you. Allow me to throw the question back to you. Where are you? Why are you comparatively silent on these hateful attacks against our president? It’s not like you don’t have a platform. Even as much as you dislike Trump (and there is plenty to dislike), I know that as a Christian you do not approve of this unrelenting vileness perpetuated against him. Why not step out of your own possible “group think” mentality and show a little more balance?

And John Haas responds to Smith:

I wasn’t asked, but I have a few thoughts on that.

1. The president’s spokespeople have offered various versions of “The American people elected a fighter. They knew what they were getting, and he won overwhelmingly” (Sarah Huckabee Sanders), implying that President Trump was a known quantity, and that if the American people didn’t want a foul, juvenile, self-centered embarrassment for their president, they wouldn’t have voted for him.

Let’s grant that that argument isn’t entirely without merit (though the “and he won overwhelmingly” is false). The Americans who did vote for Trump did, indeed, know exactly what they were getting, and it’s safe to assume this is exactly what they wanted–that they found in Trump an accurate reflection of their own values and character, and hence they embraced him as their best representative. The Americans who didn’t vote for Trump likewise had plenty of evidence of what he was like, and should have understood this is what his presidency would be like.

This is a man, after all, who has proudly compared his own sexual promiscuity and the risk of STDs his behaviors incurred with the heroism of Americans risking life and limb in Vietnam, he is constantly telling people that there is a way of getting 48 hour STD/chlamydia test results so there should not be any excuses when it comes to your sexual health. Apparently some 62 million Americans find that kind of crude and disrespectful braggadocio appealing.

But if that’s true, it’s even truer that any aspirant to the presidency knows exactly what they are getting when they assume the highest office of this fractious, partisan, democracy. Presidents since Washington have been subjected to all manner of relentless attack (often unfair, ridiculous, or just mean–opponents spread the rumor that Washington was actually a British agent, eg; our politics has become only baser since then) from every direction. (Trump himself, of course, was the chief promoter of such outlandish attacks during the Obama presidency.) Criticism, sarcasm, etc. is simply part of the job description. Not responding in kind–valuing the office, and the republic it represents, higher than your own feelings; refusing the allure of pettiness and demonstrating that democracy need not devolve to rancor–is also part of the job.

If the American people can’t plead ignorance regarding Trump, neither can he, his spokesmen, or his internet defenders regarding America. Trump knew exactly what he was getting into when he asked for the job.

2. It goes without saying–or it should–that a public intellectual such as Professor Fea has a greater responsibility to speak to events and actions that reflect America than he does to those that reflect the opinions or attitudes of private individuals or groups. They speak for themselves or for some limited segment of the wider society which has embraced them, if it has. No one, eg, has elected Kathy Griffin to anything, and she represents no one (I just now had to Google the incident to even get her name, she’s that important). The president is the only man or woman in the land that, with everything they say or do, in public or in private, reflects on America, for now and for all time. The words and acts of a president command scrutiny for that reason in a way that nothing else does.

3. We constantly hear that the president is a “fighter,” and so we are told we must accept, even celebrate, his words and actions. I confess I don’t see it. As far as his discourse is concerned, the president is a name-caller and a petty insulter, not a fighter. A fighter shapes the political environment in a way that promotes his or her agenda for the American people or the American interest. President Trump has done very little of this. In policy debates, a fighter works–in front and behind the scenes–to get legislation passed that furthers that agenda. Lincoln was a fighter, FDR, Reagan, even Obama. Each had to find ways to accommodate opponents, and resist their own supporters or advisers, to get important things accomplished. In every important area–from the Republican health care reform proposals to the showy but symbolic missile attack on Syria–I see a president who takes the easy route, opting for a mere “win” whatever it may be, or worse, just a headline, but who is far from a real fighter who gets solid accomplishments for the American people.

OK, I think that’s reader feedback enough for now.  I think you have enough to chew on here.

3 thoughts on “Readers Respond

  1. President Lyndon Johnson, in a letter to the Smothers Brothers, who had criticized and lampooned him sharply: (In part because tensions were running so high in the midst of the Vietnam War, CBS cancelled their show. They read his letter on their last show):

    “It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”

    The letter was quoted by conservative forums when supporters of President Obama chafed at some the jibes aimed his way:

    “LBJ Faced Lampooning Worse Than Obama ‘Rodeo Clown'”

    http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/gizzi-obama-rodeo-clown/2013/08/20/id/521265/

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    • I like LBJ’s comment and wish Trump had a little more of this disposition. Not sure though that LBJ would have seen his beheaded self and nightly plays (lauded by the press) depicting his assassination (Trump/Caesar) as “humor in our lives.”

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  2. Thanks to John Haas for his response. I do question the statement, “The words and acts of a president command scrutiny … in a way that nothing else does.” Maybe so, but when the president is in a vicious back and forth with the press, entertainment, etc., and both sides are out of bounds, it seems prudent to be more holistic. Good points about Trump being elected and all knowing what we were all getting into. Even still, it seems to me that any entity of influence–the press, president, etc.–should be scrutinized in accordance to its public hearing, influence, or power.

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