Being a Canadian living in Sioux Center, Iowa during the political primaries has been an interesting cultural experience. To take in that experience I have attended several talks given by candidates who have visited Dordt College. As a college informed by that great statesman and theologian, Abraham Kuyper, it seems appropriate to host folks that we may not necessarily agree with to join in the wider dialogue in the public square. But none of the political candidates raised more controversy than the visit of Donald Trump to Dordt’s campus on January 23. Braving the sub-zero temperatures, people waited in line in front of the BJ Haan auditorium, which was quickly filled to capacity (about 1,500 persons). There were perhaps another couple hundred people gathered in an overflow area in the Recreation Center which was equipped with video screens. A small group of protesters peacefully stood outside the auditorium equipped with signs that read things like “Don’t confuse Trump Values with Christian values” and “Our immigrant neighbours are not criminals.” There were people I knew among the protesters; and I also recognized someone among those wearing Trump shirts and handing out Trump brochures.
As a curious Canadian, I quietly watched the video feed in the overflow. The Trump rally began with a pastor who opened in prayer before Trump appeared to loud cheers and applause. Trump did not appear to have notes and spoke for about an hour. He didn’t provide many details on how he would make America great again, but I suppose such is the case with many political candidates. Much of his talk centred around the polls and dismissing his opponents. At one point he went so far as to suggest he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and he wouldn’t lose voters. At other points he described those he disagreed with as “stupid,” “weak,” “pathetic” and a “loser.” It brought to mind the wise words of Richard Mouw who has encouraged Christians to adopt a posture of “convicted civility” – having convictions along with a posture of civility, also towards those with whom one disagrees.
I was disappointed that Trump did not take any questions. A few thoughtful questions, spoken with “convicted civility,” might have contributed to the ongoing national dialogue. I was reminded of Neil Postman’s words written decades ago in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death, about how in an age of television politics would become a type of show business. But the impact of modern media is bigger than the Trump phenomena and extends beyond America to other places too. Postman’s words now seem prophetic: “. . . when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments . . . when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk.”
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