Time to Defend the Stupid…
…But Rebuke the Foolish
The right reason to rebuke Trump and his supporters isn’t that they’re stupid. It’s that they’re foolish.
Some readers may be confused, thinking that stupidity and foolishness are the same. Don’t be stupid: stupidity has to do with intellectual horsepower. Foolishness has to do with life choices. Stupidity can be measured with an I.Q. test. Foolishness shows itself in your character and how you treat others. You would be cruel to blame someone for his stupidity, but you’d be foolish to exonerate the fool. Stupidity is an inheritance; foolishness is a choice.
History is rife with highly intelligent fools. Bill Clinton and David Petraeus are, by all accounts, brilliant men who made very bad choices about their personal affairs. Every pastor and Christian leader caught in scandal falls in the same category. A darker version of the intelligent fool is the typical tyrant: Vladimir Lenin and Pol Pot used their extraordinary intelligence to murder and enslave millions in the foolish belief that history has sides and anything is justified in service to the right side.
In the Bible, the fool is the opposite of the wise man. According to the Book of Proverbs, the wise man listens to advice, accepts rebuke, hears instruction, lays up knowledge, is cautious, speaks judiciously, and has a quiet spirit. He sounds alarmingly low-energy.
By contrast, the fool slanders others, jokes about wrongdoing, babbles, insists he is right about everything, refuses to listen to advice, is wise in his own eyes, gives full vent to his spirit, is hasty with words, is reckless and careless, despises instruction, and provokes others.
Don’t Suffer Fools for President
It would be foolish to elect Trump president. “Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard” (Proverbs 26:10). Hiring Trump as president would be as devastating to our body politic as walking around stabbing your fellow citizens at random.
It would be foolish to trust Trump with the responsibilities of international diplomacy. “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating” (18:6). Trump’s bellicose rhetoric is likely to provoke unnecessary fights and trade wars. His open admiration for the dictators of Russia and China is likely to “invite a beating” through appeasement.
It would be foolish to make Trump the symbol of and spokesman for the United States. “Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence” (26:6). The president is the foremost messenger for America to the world. America will not be great again with a fool as her chief spokesman, diplomat, and symbol. Other nations will oscillate between contempt, disgust, and fear—not the good kind of fear, the grudging respect you win through grit and achievement, but the bad kind, the kind of fear you have for a spider that may or may not be poisonous, or the fear you have entering a building that feels like it might collapse.
If Trump is a fool, so are his supporters and enablers, especially those in the media and the party establishment who abet his success. In the words of a different sacred scripture: “Who’s the more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?”
How to Combat a Fool
That leaves us with a conundrum. What do we do in a world where fools are rich, famous, and powerful and we feel an obligation to say or do something about it? Worse, what do we do when friends, family, and loved ones are making foolish choices? How do you sustain friendships in the age of Trump?
There is a risk in taking on a fool directly, but also a risk in taking the high road and leaving him alone. Proverbs 26:4-5 illustrates the dilemma perfectly. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” If you sink to his level, you get sullied in the mud. If you ignore him, he goes unanswered: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Biblical scholars call this the “Rubio paradox.”
Perhaps one of the most effective rebuttals of Trump and Trumpism was John Oliver’s tour de force in February. Oliver crosses the line a few times, dipping his toes into the mud, but he is a professional comedian so he has a little more latitude. He reached tens of millions more people than National Review did. His 20-minute monologue was impressively researched while also being hilarious.
Pity the Fool, and Pray for Us
So: pray. Pray for our country, for our fellow citizens, for Trump’s supporters, and yes, for Trump. Paul reminds us to pray “for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Whether or not Trump is elected president, he is certainly in a “high position” by virtue of his fame and wealth and probably will be no matter the outcome of the election. The more our public square deteriorates, the more my ambition has focused on a desire to simply “lead a peaceful and quiet life.” I hope The Donald lets me.
Pray for all the writers and scribblers like me. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). Trump gives us so much material to rail against that it is tempting to indulge every occasion with a snarky Tweet or bilious blog post. Worse, it is easy to give up even trying to understand, to listen to our friends or family caught up in Trumpism. Letting Trump dull our minds and wreck our relationships would be a foolish waste.
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