What's Tony Thinking

Watching My (Trump) Diet


I’ve never found Norman Peale-esque “positive thinking” or “looking on the bright side” advice particularly compelling. Life is more complicated than that. But there’s a danger of going too far in the other direction — a danger in dwelling on the dark side, if you will.

These days I find myself struggling (and it’s a real struggle) for balance. Too much news of Donald Trump and his gang is, well, too much. It overwhelms. It bewilders. Large doses puts you at risk for toxic despair.

Almost daily I find myself asking, “How is this even possible?

I have had to put myself on a reduced Trump diet. For a while I was listening to the Podcast “Pod Save America” done by a group of young guys, former Obama staffers, but it was too much. (Too much on Trump’s mendacity, and a bit too much on the ‘hip’ factor as well.) Most evenings when we are home we watch the PBS Newshour, but I can’t overdo that either. I don’t know how the people who work at a place like CNN, or maybe any part of the news business today, keep their sanity.

How do we keep our sanity? How do we keep hope alive for this nation of ours?

In a recent interview with Vox the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, Marilynn Robinson, offered perspective. She notes that most of our ordinary interactions are marked by the decency of the people involved. Moreover, she finds a great deal that is worthy of respect. Here’s an excerpt from that interview starting with a question from interviewer Eric Allen Been, then Robinson’s response.

“You write that ‘one is expected to bemoan the present time, to say something about decline and the loss of values,’ but that you ‘ … find a great deal to respect.’ What do you respect in our present moment?

Marilynne Robinson

“We were just talking about the young people in Florida, and young people all over the country. My experience, day to day, with people I deal with is that they are fair, they are charming and courteous people. I have virtually never had any moments of unpleasantness with a student of mine, for example.

“I really do believe that you could stop 300 people on the street and you would have a better House of Representatives than we do now. We filter out people who are, perhaps, the most humane, the most rational, the most uncorrupted, in the process of electing so many of our politicians.”

That is either quite a testament of faith in ordinary Americans, or quite an indictment of the members of Congress. Probably both. (Of course, taking 300 people we meet on the street would leave us 135 short in the House, but that’s beside her point.)

Still, there is a larger question here, particularly for the kind of people who are a part of the liberal Protestant tradition in America. That tradition, though not uncritical of America, has engaged in a lover’s quarrel with our country. We have lamented our nation’s sins and failures, and yet we have believed there was something to the American experiment and story that is good and noble.
Now, amid these troubled times, the larger question is, “Shall we give up on America?”

Rod Dreher, from the conservative side, argues yes, the time has come — give up on America. In his much-discussed 2017 book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Dreher urges, Christians to step back and build our own more intentional communities. Christians are to “embrace ‘exile-in-place’ and form a vibrant counterculture.” While I think there is something to this proposal, I’m also wary.

A similar response comes from many on the left, the opposite end of the spectrum from Dreher. In the book, Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump, which I reviewed recently in The Christian Century, a number of the contributors argue that white supremacy and racism are the core, and irredeemable, truth of this nation. Again, while I think there is some truth to that, it is not the whole truth.

Marilynn Robinson offers a different response to the, “Shall we give up on America?” question. While clear-sighted about threats (read the whole interview), she takes a more hopeful view. This is rooted partly in experience and observation, as evidenced by her proposal to draft people off the street to make up a new-and-improved House of Representatives. She also seems to think cynicism and despair are just too easy. I think she’s right about that. Besides, cynicism is a prominent feature of what got us Trump in the first place.

Still, I do find that keeping hope alive requires that I limit my Trump diet/ consumption while augmenting my civic diet with other and better nourishment. One better source of nourishment is interaction with fellow citizens of the type which I wrote about in my previous post. Other sources of balance and encouragement for me are my family, my children and grandchildren, and friends. As I age sustaining friendship requires more intentionality, but it’s worth every effort. The beauty of the natural world remains a source of hope and inspiration. And of course my religious tradition. I need all these and more to stay balanced in this strange, sad time.

I close with some words of counsel for such a time from that religious tradition. Here St. Paul urges not quite positive thinking, but paying attention to what we focus on as well as sustaining daily practice of faith and kindness. In concluding his letter to the early Christian congregation in Philippi nearly 2,000 years ago, he writes,

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, what is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4: 8 – 9).

Keep the faith, beloved, and watch your diet!

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