How Trump’s State of the Union Guests Embodied His Politics of Fear and Dread

Trump is certainly not the first President to shape a story by inviting people to be lauded during his State of the Union address. Barack Obama invited twenty-three different people to his last address, in 2016; at least fifteen of them were activists, working on causes including homelessness, opioid addiction, access to education, same-sex marriage, discrimination against Muslims, and more. The stories they embodied were ones of overcoming adversity but also of working with others toward a better future. Trump’s guests, on the other hand, were all survivors.

They survived D Day.

They survived decades in American prisons and, through the study of religion, earned second chances in their late middle age.

They survived unimaginable grief.

They survived immigration.

They survived cancer. (Notably, although one of Trump’s more ambitious promises was to eliminate new H.I.V. infections within ten years, there was no guest with a story of surviving with H.I.V.)

They survived losing a child.

They survived a mass shooting.

And they survived the Holocaust.

The sole exception to this narrative was the astronaut whose achievement was fifty years old.

Living with a sense of danger so profound and so constant, a people would be unable to think of much beyond immediate survival. They could have little ambition for technological or scientific achievement. They could have no vision of organizing their society in a better, more equitable way. With fear as their only political motivator, their only goal could be a united front. If they felt constantly on the brink of extinction, that might help explain why, on the one hand, they armed themselves obsessively, and, on the other, they put people behind bars for decades at a time. And, living in this constant state of dread, they could not have the presence of mind, or the imagination, to tackle the longer-term danger of climate change—which, of course, makes it less likely that a future historian will be looking at Trump’s State of the Union address at all.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Knowledge of Good and Evil

The first step toward healing is truthfully acknowledging evil, while trusting the inherent goodness of reality. 

Knowing and naming brokenness is essential in the journey toward wholeness. We will not be well by denying the wrongs that we carry within us as nations and religions and communities. Nor will we be well by downplaying them or projecting them onto others. The path to wholeness will take us not around such awareness but through it, confronting the depths of our brokenness. . . . As Hildegard of Bingen [1098–1179] says, we need two wings with which to fly. One is the “knowledge of good,” and the other is the “knowledge of evil.” [1] If we lack one or the other, we will be like an eagle with only one wing. We will fall to the ground instead of rising to the heights of unitary vision. . . .

.. In July 1942, the same month that the Nazis began their first big street roundups of Jews in Amsterdam, Etty Hillesum wrote in her diary, “I am with the hungry, with the ill-treated and the dying, every day, but I am also with the jasmine and with that piece of sky beyond my window; . . . It is a question of living life from minute to minute and taking suffering into the bargain. And it is certainly no small bargain these days.” [3] Etty was looking at suffering straight in the face. Her friends, her family, and she herself were under the sentence of extermination. It was now beginning to be carried out. And yet Etty held within herself the “handsome mixture” of pain at the plight of her people, and of what one people can do to another people, along with a continued delight in the gift of life and its ineffable wonder. “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end, which has already begun in so many small ways in our daily life, straight in the eye . . .” she writes, “and my love of life has not been diminished.” [4] To look life straight in the eye, to see its pain and to see its beauty—this is an essential part of glimpsing the way forward.

Krista Tippett: Heart, Mind and Spirit

Krista Tippett, Host, “On Being”; Author, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living; Twitter @kristatippett

Rev. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus, Grace Cathedral San Francisco—Moderator

  • Religious but not spiritual.  Interest in actions and embodying, not just belief.
  • Rabbi’s definition of orthodoxy: If you were in charge, would I be safe?
  • Dietrich Bonhoffer: Christians prattle on. The man who is not listening to his neighbor will not be able to listen to God.
  • Humility of Child is about amazement, discovery, curiosity
  • I’m not interested in anything that is just spiritual, but that it is reality-based, more so than politics and economics.