If Donald Trump makes it to the end of his term, as of today, 934 days of his presidency remain. If he is re-elected… No, I can’t bring myself to go there.
So far, he has been president 526 days. That means that roughly 526 times I have watched the news at the end of the day, overwhelmed by a combination of disbelief and despair. It's not a good way to go to bed at night. I know I’m not alone. There are many of us who wonder how we will survive 934 more days of this.
Let me say that a part of what makes this difficult for me, personally, is the fact that I serve a congregation where we don’t all agree about our current president. And there are people I honestly love and care for who support him. I continue to love them, even though I strongly disagree with them. This is the Jesus Way. We continue to love one another despite our differences. This means that I will not shut them out of my life. But that doesn’t change the responsibility I have to speak God’s truth. It’s my job, as their pastor, to love them and to speak God’s truth to them. And damn, that’s hard these days.
As I read the Scriptures, I see that God is all about mercy and justice. And by justice, I don’t mean that in a law-and-order kind of way. God’s justice can’t be separated from God’s mercy and compassion. God’s justice is about leveling the playing field. Lifting the lowly and toppling the mighty ones from their thrones. So, God’s justice has a bias—a bias for those on the bottom. Jesus embodied that bias in his life, from the manger to the cross. Following the Jesus Way means standing on the side of the poor and marginalized.
For the past 40 years, I have been proclaiming the truth of the gospel no matter who our president happened to be. But preaching the gospel is difficult these days because when I do, people think I’m criticizing our president. I don’t even mention his name, but their minds go there. This makes some people cheer while others are angry with me. Can you see why my stomach is in knots these days?
Now, my friends who are Trump supporters tell me that this is how they felt when Obama was president. But I don’t think so. I would compare the way they felt when Obama was president with the way I felt when Reagan was president. It was disturbing, and I was hanging on, waiting for the pendulum to swing, but that can’t compare to the way I’m feeling now.
If you talk to any therapist, they will tell you that the current political climate in America is good for their business. The despair has created a mental health crisis for many people. Some days I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread, but I’m muddling through it.
There are things I’m finding I must do right now, so that I can continue to function in the world where God has planted me. I have to limit my time on social media as well as CNN and MSNBC. (You might be amused to know that my cable package doesn’t include FOX News. It took me over a year to discover this.) I’ve decided that somewhere between burying my head in the sand and wallowing in 24-hour misery, I can find a place that’s healthy for me.
Instead of watching the same train wreck 100 times, I am re-watching West Wing on Netflix. At the end of every day I see what’s going on in the world for about 20 minutes, and then I escape into a fantasy world where Jed Bartlet is our president.
The weird thing is that this is the third time I’ve watched the entire season and I have never reacted to it as I am now. I have a box of Kleenex beside me because, at the end of every episode, the tears flow. I remember being this way with sappy shows like The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. In the last five minutes they manipulated my emotions. I knew they were doing it, and I cried anyway. But never before has West Wing had this effect on me. I keep putting myself through the tears because it’s a good cry for me. There is an idealism about the show and a patriotism that gives me hope. It’s helping me hold on.
I wonder how many more times I will go through an entire season of West Wing in the next 934 days.