The U.S.-Mexico border isn’t open, but a migrant surge and a mishmash of messages and policies have created another crisis
For all you armchair psychiatrists out there, here’s a midwinter assignment: Just how much of President Donald Trump’s sometimes bizarre behavior can be traced to his boyhood?
The question came to mind a few days ago when journalist Jason Riley applied something of the same test to Barack Obama, Trump’s immediate predecessor. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Riley went back to a 2013 Obama speech at Morehouse College where then-President Obama challenged graduating seniors at the historically black school: “Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend, or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.”
Riley quoted Obama still further: “The President went on to praise the ‘heroic single mom’ and ‘wonderful grandparents’ who raised him, but said he never got over not having his father around while growing up. ‘I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home—where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter.’”
‘I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present but involved.’ —Barack Obama
There’s apparently no such excuse for President Trump. By all accounts, he grew up in an intact and churchgoing family in Queens, N.Y. He was the fourth of five children. Trump’s father was very much part of the family picture, involved in his children’s affairs and respected by them for that involvement. And although no one could have predicted just how far it might go, an entrepreneurial mindset was encouraged for all. Trump is reported to have been a quick learner at the New York Military Academy, where his parents sent him at the age of 13, hoping to channel and discipline his sometimes independent spirit. The experiment seemed to work. Trump became a star athlete and student leader, and he graduated on schedule.
So is there any sense in which such very brief bio summaries are useful? Any sense in which they helpfully explain the behavior of a man or predict the future of a boy?
You might well object vigorously, as I do, to Obama’s eight-year counter-Constitutional approach to governmental policymaking. You might, as I say, object to that and still appreciate the grace he often brought to the office of the presidency. Even Donald Trump publicly applauded Obama for the private letter he left for Trump on the desk in the Oval Office. And the simple but profound good manners instinctively demonstrated by Mr. and Mrs. Obama as they escorted Mrs. Trump through a Capitol door spoke quietly of a gentle kindness too easily forgotten in our hurly-burly culture of insults and rudeness. Our country would be far healthier today if Mr. Obama, during his two terms, had applied more of that grace across the aisle to his opponents in Congress.
Or you might be disgusted and turned off by some of our new president’s trademark excesses—especially his flip exaggerations and casual lies. “Stop it!” you yell out, only to have him spin off another whopper. But the remarkable Cabinet he has assembled gives you hope for the future, and you hang on. The possibility of a first-rate Supreme Court justice in Neil Gorsuch seems like a worthwhile trade-off.
Besides, there’s always the possibility for change! We don’t have to be the same troubled people as adults that we were as children. Jesus’ redemption proclaims that we can become different people, redrawing ugly patterns for evil and misbehavior that afflicted us as youngsters. We should pray that for ourselves, and we should pray it—with confidence!—for our nation’s officeholders as well.