There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak, observes Qoheleth, the voice of the Book of Ecclesiastes (3:7). Proverbs talks about the wise man using words with restraint; about those who have understanding being even-tempered: even a fool is thought to be wise when he is is silent (17:27f). And when the mouth has to be opened, we are told that gentle answers turn away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger (15:1).
The Trump Twitter feed gushes with condemnation, disapprobation and division: if you’re not for him, you’re against him, and if you’re against him, you’re “dishonest”, “Fake News”, “phony”, “sick”, “DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!”, “highly slanted”, with an “agenda of hate”, “phony sources”, “fabricated lies” and “the enemy of the American People.”
Trump Twitter insults abound: as of 15th August 2017, there were 359 people, places and things. No doubt the past week has added a dozen more. He is thought to be on track for 650 by the end of his first term:
Mr. Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to denigrate the law, calling it “failing”, “broken”, “dead”, a “disaster”, “in a death spiral”, “bad healthcare”, “imploding fast”, “a complete and total disaster,” “torturing the American People,” among other things.
…Insults have included “Witch Hunt”, “phony”, “Sad!”, “fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election”, a “taxpayer funded charade”, “a total hoax”, “A total scam!”, “FAKE NEWS”, “the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history.”
It is therefore unsurprising that even when Trump is preaching peace and reconciliation, the dominant response is that of jeering and scorn. The medium is the message, and the Trump Twitter feed is basically belligerent and bellicose, and contempt breeds hate. It’s hard to preach love in a war zone: bullets and bombs have to be met with tanks and missiles. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ doesn’t pass muster in Aleppo: it’s kill or be killed. That’s basically Twitter, except the ammo is verbiage.
If President Trump isn’t inclined to soft words and gentle answers, how about a period of Twitter Trappism? Silence is golden, after all. It can move people to shame (Jn 8:1-11); impart knowledge (Lk 22:63-65); and express mercy (22:54-62). You don’t have to give a verbal answer to everything in order to make your thoughts known: silence can speak.
And silence transcends: it makes us more attentive to God; more able to hear what He might be saying.
In politics, of course, silence may be construed as weakness, acquiescence or admission: ‘If you don’t rebut this, you must be guilty’, and so the taunts escalate in the media until the pressure can be contained no more. And that’s essentially the function of the Trump Twitter feed: it’s a pressure valve for the many millions of Americans who have long felt abandoned, ignored and sidelined by the liberal political elites of the global secular enlightenment. By his harsh tweets against the vested interests of the status quo, President Trump believes he is forging a successful relationship with this vast American constituency – even liberating them from decades of suffering and oppression. Whether or not he is, of course, is a matter of robust debate, but that doesn’t stop the Trump Twitter feed singing a song of hope and pride for those who have ears.
It isn’t too late for President Trump to heal America and make it great again, but he needs to learn when to make a noise and when to be silent; when to slap down the pompous twit and when to turn the other cheek . Dr Clarence Jones – the African-American speechwriter who helped Martin Luther King craft his 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech – was asked what the civil rights legend would say to the current incumbent of the White House. He answered softly and gently:
“I have no question,” says Dr Jones, “that the pre-eminent apostle of love and non-violence in the 20th Century would remind President Trump he has a responsibility to indicate to the nation what is right and what is wrong.
“This is not a time to engage in moral relativity.
“I really believe that President Trump is not beyond redemption, that he still has an opportunity to rise to the majesty of the office.”
There is majesty in dignified silence: ‘Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise: and he that shuts his lips is esteemed a man of understanding‘ (Prov 17:28). Twitter’s tinkling cymbal isn’t the best medium for moral illumination.