To whom shall we liken Donald Trump?
Nimrod, founder of Babel, and Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, we suggested in Part 1. All are noted tower-builders — Nimrod and Trump in a literal as well as figurative sense, and Roosevelt politically. All three were enthusiastic proponents of populist progressivism.
In this installment we examine a second Trump characteristic evidenced in the August 6 Republican presidential debate and other statements: judgment-impairing presumptuousness.
Donald Trump could surprise everyone and be a great American president. He is by no means an empty suit. The nation would not be leaderless. Trump would be a president with convictions — some of them actually right. He would be decisive and ready and willing to act.
Just like John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, and Barack H. Obama.
And King Saul. The son of a leading family in ancient Israel, Saul was "a choice and handsome man" — in fact, the stand-out in the whole country (1 Samuel 9:1-2). Samuel the kingmaker, under the Lord's command, makes Saul the ruler. People are impressed. There's a new day in the land, with much promise.
Before Saul is done, his stature and office have gone to his head, and presumptuousness has robbed him of judgment. Like the judicial branch in our time presuming to the legislative role, or a president usurping both the courts and the Congress, Saul, at one point, imposes himself in Samuel's prophetic position. After Samuel is dead, and his counsel no longer available, Saul presumes to consult a medium, trampling the prohibitions given in Deuteronomy. Slowly Saul's presumptuousness strips him of his capacities for good judgment. He loses his kingdom.
As Kennedy, Nixon, Obama and King Saul reveal, great promise is shattered by judgment-impairing presumptuousness, described in Proverbs 21:24 as "boundless arrogance" (New Living Translation). King David may have had Saul, his predecessor, in mind, when David prayed, "keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins ... let them not rule over me ... Then I will be blameless" (Psalm 19:13 NASB).
Presumptuousness leads to a serious lack of judgment, causing leaders to presume their own estimate of things is right, to shun wise counsel, and lead nations and other corporate entities into disaster.
John F. Kennedy and his inner circle were clouded by presumptuousness. He jousted with Nikita Khrushchev almost immediately, on the heady conviction he could master the wily old Soviet boss. Khrushchev saw through the flim-flam and eventually the whole world was at the precipice of nuclear war.
Richard Nixon, my boss, wounded the nation and brought down his own presidency because of presumptuousness. It was evident one day when a fellow White House aide apologized to Nixon for a press-gaffe. "Don't worry about it, because the people forget in six weeks," said the President.
Barack Obama would be repulsed by being categorized as a latter-day Nixonian. However, many can see what he and his cloistered sycophants cannot, that his judgment about the nation, the state of the geopolitical situation, and much more is terribly clouded by his presumptuousness.
In 2008, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank was covering the first Obama campaign, and gave an inside look at the presumptuousness behind it.
"This is the moment the world is waiting for," Obama told a congressional group, reported Milbank. "I have become a symbol for the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," said the presidential candidate. Later, Obama tried to tone down the presumptuousness. "It has become increasingly clear in my travel," he said, "that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol."
So much for humility.
And so now we have Donald Trump. He reminds us that he doesn't have to go around with his hand out begging for campaign funds. "I don't care," he says. "I'm really rich." Further, he can solve the Mexican immigrant problem by walling off the borders. He would expect Mexico to pay the tab, but if they didn't, "I would build it. I'm very good at building things."
Donald Trump is appealing because he is confident, and believes in the America of his own vision. So were Kennedy, Nixon, and Obama. All presumptuous presidents are confident in the rightness — if not the righteousness — of their causes, and not easily dissuaded from them.
In 1972, when, simultaneously, the Watergate scandal and Nixon's lead over George McGovern were widening daily, several White House aides, including those on the lowest levels, like the one I occupied, wrote memoranda to the President, urging that, for the sake of the nation as well as his presidency, he personally take the lead in reforming his own campaign.
Nixon perhaps never knew there was a movement within his staff to urge him to take the point. This was because when a chief executive is presumptuous he creates an atmosphere of presumptuousness. All the memos had to go first to Bob Haldeman, White House chief of staff. Rather than being forwarded into the Oval Office, they were trashed. The presumptuousness had convinced the inner circle the problem wasn't that critical.
John Kennedy returns from Vienna and his meeting with Khrushchev like a spanked little boy. Nixon ultimately speaks to the nation, not announcing he's reforming his campaign and cleaning out the White House, but to resign. We have yet to experience the full impact of Barack Obama's presumptuousness: Will it be the collapse of the America economy, or a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv?
"So the people will pay the penalty for their king's presumption," said Hesiod, the Greek poet. That's why Trump's tower and his dizzying presumptuousness are so troubling.