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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Boys to men

Past behavior may predict future results, but it doesn’t have to be that way

Boys to men

(Kevin Dietsch/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)

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. 

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  • dawntreader
    Posted: Sun, 02/05/2017 12:20 pm

    It is refreshing for me to have our nation's leader articulate more transparently their thoughts. The positive actions to restore a sense of what is good and what is wrong is a welcome change from previous administrations. An old saying drives my thoughts on this: Keep silent and be considered wise, open your mouth and remove all doubt. I believe if we were to know the thoughts of most people, especially with those who have aspirations to exercise power in our nation, we would be equally appalled. It seems that many people in this last election have focused on a "speck", and ignored the "plank" of politicians that have learned to hide their thoughts, or at least intimidate those who would report on them in the same manner as a competitor in another party.  The actions and behavior (fruit) of an individual are where Christians are encouraged to judge, not so much their words. Evidence for this approach is also found in the "sheep and goats" passages where those who spoke on behalf of God did not find a similar standing before God as those who performed the works of God. Could the root of this error be a theology that is shaped more by one's personal moral choices rather than the nature and finality of our Creator's character?
    A renewing process should be a vital part of our Christian walk as mentioned by Joel Belz in the article, which transforms our thoughts, our words and our actions as we pray. Could it be with this new American leader that God is telling us that our thoughts and conversation to Him during these last few decades have been repugnant due to our actions as a nation, and He has promoted one to leadership who will do the work of separating good and evil in a fundemental sense that is closer to God's way of thinking, than our morally corrupt premises that have been increasingly enshrined in our nations laws these past 50 years? Could it be that the vocally offended could learn that God is offended in the same way by our mishandling of the means of His judgement, mercy, and His love and care for "the least of these"?

  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Mon, 02/06/2017 06:35 pm

    Parents, especially fathers, teach both by style and substance. Children "catch" more that they are often able to articulate but they often don't "turn out" in predictable ways either. We are sinners, both parents and children, in need of God's loving hand and word in our lives.

    It is interesting how some people rise to leadership because of or inspite of the influence of their fathers. Truly the Lord raises up and lowers as he chooses - may we be blessed and he be praised in the process. 

  • DWBrown
    Posted: Tue, 02/07/2017 08:05 am

    I'll tell you how I see them. Obama was a puppet and willing accomplish to exhibit nice while undermining this Country and it's people far beyond any of our knowledge. Trump exihibits the determination engrained in his "Complete" life in this Country with the knowledge of  how far off track this Country has gone and the education he has learned to place qualified people in important positions to stabilize and upright this sinking ship we call America. As you said his parents brought him up in Church, I have seen him setting in Dr. David Jerimiah's audience, he has heard about Jesus all his life. When Ronald Reagan was elected, the pubilc did not know he had the Christian values and standards that came to light and the news media came after him continually. The difference between Reagan and Trump, Reagan made fun and Jokes of the media and evil nut cases, Trump hits back. America needed a scrapper, evil is not going to give up willingly and without a fight. Pray for him, Pence and their families people and thank God everyday he gave us leaders that seek his council.

  • VT
    Posted: Tue, 02/07/2017 04:52 pm

    Great article! Bravo Mindy!