I’ve not read Ben Rhode’s new book on the reaction of former President Obama on Donald Trump’s presidential win, and I probably won’t. But, why should that stop me from commenting on it?
I am glad to hear, based on the CBS review of the book, that Obama encouraged his staff to assist in a smooth transition and that, “We’re all rooting for his [Trumps’] success in uniting the country.” That statement was gracious and patriotic, and I remember thinking how well Obama presented himself during Trump’s inauguration ceremony.
The thing that strikes most reviewers about the book is how it reveals the genuine lack of awareness so many in politics, particularly Washington politics, exhibit about the country as a whole. Ensconced tightly behind their walls, surrounded by political sycophants, they are clueless about what is going on in the country, which is why they’re so often surprised by the backlash. While so many people were suffering extended unemployment, for instance, the Obama administration was focused on school bathrooms for transgender kids. He just didn’t get why so many people were so angry.
Apparently, Obama didn’t have much faith in the intelligence of the American people, either, for though he had campaigned against Hillary Clinton eight years earlier as a corrupt insider, he somehow thought that his support of her now as the president the country needed wouldn’t be interpreted as somewhat disingenuous.
A statement Rhodes attributes to Obama, such as, “Maybe we pushed too far, maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe,” suggests an elitist notion of trying to pull these small-minded hacks into a greater vision of America, but they’re just too stupid to appreciate it. It’s no wonder Obama and his cohorts were stunned by Trump’s upset victory. They never saw it coming because they kept the shutters closed.
This is a risk for politicians, and other leaders, as well, including those in the Church. The temptation is to remove themselves from the larger reality, to listen only to those voices that support their worldview. Their very small bubbles become the extent of their reality, and they begin to think that the borders of their bubbles represent the parameters of the real world. They also run the risk of hyper-inflating their own influence and significance in the lives of others. This, I think, was especially why so many in the mainstream media were caught off-guard by Trump’s victory. They were all-in for Clinton and, assuming that the country hung on their every word and took them as seriously as they took themselves, they figured Clinton’s victory was in the bag. It’s not too hard to see the Trump Derangement Syndrome manifested by many in the media, the constant negative reporting and unabashed efforts to take Trump down, turning everything, even every positive, into a negative about the president, as the media’s attempt at revenge on the American people for failing to heed their wisdom in the 2016 election.
There is a lesson here for all leaders, including those in the Church. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t remove yourself from the real world. Don’t isolate yourself from the people you serve. Don’t surround yourself with sycophants more eager to please you than to do what is right and speak the truth with courage. It’s a difficult thing, but a necessary trait in all true great leaders.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.