As usual, the experience of listening to Donald Trump speak is a mixed bag, made bizarre with music from AC/DC and the Rolling Stones bookending his acceptance speech Thursday night as the Republican presidential nominee. Nothing like “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to stir up a sense of patriotism and optimism, reassuring to evangelicals their endorsement wasn’t wasted.
Even so, Trump gave a powerful speech, very well delivered, even moving at times. I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say, even applauding at certain intersections.
Still, the small voice sends a warning, and a reminder.
Big-government people, like big-talking CEOs, routinely paint pies in the sky. Trump himself admits he tells people what they want to hear. It’s called persuasion, salesmanship, sympathetic communication or, as some would say, manipulation. While we are inspired by some of his rhetoric and love of country, there remains this nagging feeling we’re being played.
Is it realistic for one man to make so many grandiose promises, always with the reminder he will deliver 100 percent results, “very quickly, I can tell you that”? A president is not a CEO. He cannot just snap his fingers and watch people hop to. He must work with entire teams of people in the legislature and the bureaucracy. He is not a king exercising ultimate power, directing the show. He is a public servant, bound by the Constitution and required to coordinate with the other branches of government. No one in such a position can promise instant, pervasive results.
When a man has to urge me to believe him over and over, I begin to suspect there are grounds for disbelief. And when he tells me he is the only answer to our questions, the only solution to our problems, I’m even more convinced the salesman is going for the close.
When throngs of followers condemn all dissent, the sense of manipulation at work becomes a growing concern that the seeds of despotism are being sown.
Nationalism is not patriotism. It can easily become fanaticism, especially when fueled by a worship of personality. People who think a vote for charisma is a vote for deliverance are easily manipulated to prefer emotional highs to dogged devotion to principles.
And therein lays the root of disquiet:
Trump is long on emotionalism, and impatient with principles. He is long on big vision, big promises and bigger plans, but short-tempered with the messy business of engaging representative government, the only mechanism for preserving self-government.
Instead of empowering citizens to work with him in the good fight, he promises to be our champion, to do all the work for us. How can we self-govern if we turn everything over to a CEO?
Trump constantly preaches big-government solutions, and of course, he must be at the helm. As Americans, aren’t we more in line with the Founders’ vision — proven successful — when We the People are self-governing, rather than ceding authority to strong leaders who frequently lead us astray?
Have we learned nothing from the last eight years?
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.”
— Isaiah 6:8-10