Trump’s Most Unexpected Choice

Did you notice how many unusual spur-of-the-moment choices were made by President Donald Trump during last week’s global trip? Throughout his tour of the Middle East and Europe, he seemed to make minor-but-unexpected decisions over and over again.

For instance, in Saudi Arabia, he opted to grab a warrior’s sword and join a dance with a ballroom full of men in traditional Arabic garb. Strange, eh?

In fact, it may have been the most unusual cross-cultural Presidential activity since 1927, when Calvin Coolidge joined a Native American tribe and donned a Chieftain’s Headdress.

And then there were the two moments when the President impulsively reached out to hold his First Lady’s hand while walking to a meeting. Her response? She swatted his hand away.

Ouch! Those were awkward moments indeed.

Of course, a former President once memorably suffered the very same indignity from his First Lady. During the height of the Monica Lewinsky affair, Chelsea Clinton was photographed walking between her parents, holding their hands apart from each other. That was an awkward moment too.

As for President Trump, he made another unusual choice when he posed with his wife and daughter for a formal photograph with Pope Francis. The two women wore black and appeared dreadfully somber, while the Pope dressed in his customary white garb and appeared equally somber.

And the President? He stood for the camera with a bright smile on his face, lighting the room with his joyful countenance.

But his most unexpected choice of all may have occurred in a dark room in Saudi Arabia, when the President posed for a picture with the rulers of the Saudi kingdom and of Egypt. The three men stood together, caressing a brilliantly lit globe of the planet Earth.

Why was that choice especially unusual? Because the image of a ruler fondling the Earth is forever associated with a scene from the classic Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator. It was a brilliantly brutal comedy that lampooned Adolph Hitler at the very moment that the Nazi nation was vanquishing its European neighbors.

Indeed, it’s an image that most American Presidents would never wish to invoke, either explicitly or implicitly. And yet there was President Trump, choosing to do so. Now that was an unexpected decision!

In retrospect, should the President have made different choices? For the most part, perhaps not. After all, if one is attending a party and the hosts begin to dance, it is probably smart to join them. And if one’s wife wishes to walk alone, it is likely wise to allow her a little privacy.

And who could blame any one for breaking into an unrestrained smile while meeting the Pope in the Vatican? It’s difficult to criticize a person who chooses to share his pleasure at such a thrilling moment.

But considering that the President enjoys watching television in the evening, perhaps he should decide to see Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. It would only consume a couple of hours of his time.

After he does so, he might opt to establish a new personal policy. As the leader of the Free World, it might be wise for him to avoid brightly lit globes of the Earth. Or, at the very least, to avoid fondling them for the cameras.

Pope Francis: Style vs Substance

Here in the United States, Catholics and other people of goodwill are eagerly awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival from Cuba this week. Considering how thoroughly he has seized the imagination of individuals around the world, it’s difficult to believe that he has only served as Pope for a mere two years.

Oddly enough, though, individuals who believe that Francis is fundamentally changing the doctrine of the Catholic Church have not been paying close attention to his statements. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that such individuals did not pay close attention to the statements of his predecessor Pope Benedict, or of prior pontiffs.

That’s because, even though he has dramatically modified the tone and style of the papacy, he has not deviated from traditional Church doctrine. Indeed, “the visible differences in style and personality between Francis and Benedict XVI mask a deeper theological and ideological continuity.”

But those who support this point of view must nevertheless acknowledge the critical importance of style and personality in today’s global culture. And they might well pause and think critically about the value of any doctrine that is not presented in a manner that wins over the hearts and minds of its audience.

In other words, Benedict supporters who complain that the current Pope is being praised for expressing positions that don’t vary from his predecessor’s positions may be missing a crucial point. It’s not that style may be more important than substance; rather, it’s that substance may be ineffective without style.