Wednesday, May 18, 2016

In defense of Trump (and Sanders and Clinton)

Today's column in the Grand Haven Tribune, reprinted below. 
This past week, I was in Toledo, Ohio, being trained in mediation skills by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. As I got ready for each day, I listened to CNN in my room. It wasn’t a terribly intentional decision (though maybe listening to a 24-hour news channel is good motivation to want to learn more about mediation!).

One morning, I watched an interview with the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Trump was complaining that the interviewer, Chris Cuomo, was mischaracterizing his speech by only asking about his remarks about Clinton and not dealing with the many other substantive points he made. He also argued that Cuomo was being disrespectful (or poorly mannered, perhaps) by not first congratulating him on having become the Republican Party presumptive nominee.

At first, I was tempted to block it out. Trump has consistently played the victim card with the news media, often quite skillfully and in a way that increases his support.

But the more I thought about it, the more unsettled I became — though I could not put my finger on it.

The next day, Trump was at the top of the news again, this time for a report that, 25 years ago, he had a habit of pretending to be a publicist when calling news agencies. Trump denied the allegations, but also pointed out how going back to something like this 25 years ago seemed pretty ridiculous and low.

Now I would like to write five words I thought I would never write in print: I agree with Donald Trump.

Let me be clear, I have significant and substantive policy disagreements with the presumptive Republican Party nominee. I have these disagreements as someone who was literally a card-carrying Republican only a decade ago and who, since then, would consider myself an independent with both Democratic and Republican leanings on different issues.

And I do think Trump has played the victim card — something many candidates have done over recent years whenever they have received negative press.

All that said, I agree with Trump that the way the media is engaging with his campaign is ridiculous and wrong-headed. I don’t care if he pretended to be a publicist 25 years ago. Honestly, I do not. Likewise, though I find his remarks about Clinton often off-putting, they are not at the heart of my disagreement with many of his positions.

This campaign has been the worst example of how a 24-hour news cycle can focus on the latest and most arcane tidbit of information, gossip or sound bite and then analyze it all to death — all the while declining to address the actual substance of the positions of the various candidates.

I think candidates being mean or condescending or offensive is unfortunate. It is not reflective of the posture I would hope a presidential candidate would have. But what the media needs to focus on are the actual positions candidates have. Trump spoke for several hours and outlined several general policy positions — that is what CNN should report on. That is what our country needs to hear.

These next several months of presidential election politics will, I believe, be some of the strongest, fiercest and most contested we have seen for a while. And it is tempting for those on all sides of the current political spectrum to resort to ad hominem attacks or silly rumor-mongering that has nothing to do with the substance of the actual campaigns.

Whether you love or hate Donald Trump (or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton), I urge you as my fellow citizens to resist the media’s attempt to reduce each one to an easily identified caricature. Do your homework. Listen to what each candidate actually says. Make use of the many non-partisan websites out there that list the positions of candidates. One of the best tools to get started is “I Side With” — a quiz that you can do either at a simple level or at a very detailed level to find out which candidates actually share your values and vision for our country.

This is a much more responsible approach than voting for who is nice or mean, who you’d like to have a beer with, or who seems more presidential when she or he talks.

It’s good practice, particularly for us Christians. Just like everyone else, we tend to reduce people to caricatures that can be dismissed. But as those who believe the image of God rests in every person —  no matter how distorted by sin — we cannot discard people. We cannot vilify them.

We may be called to disagree with someone, when we consider the core tenets of our faith. But let our disagreement be substantive and only chosen after a truly intentional desire to listen to what the candidate actually believes — not just the media’s picture of the candidate.

— By The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer, Tribune community columnist who serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan.