In the early days of his presidency, some dubbed him the nation’s “Tweeter in Chief.” And not without cause. Donald Trump’s prolific (and often uncensored) use of social media has revolutionized the way we view the presidential office. Gone are the days of having to wait for a few brief and measured statements at an occasional White House press conference. Now we have free access to unfiltered presidential musings. Sent out to the whole world. Multiple times a day. With lots of unnecessary capital letters and exclamation points.
There are those who think this is a bad thing. It’s not very presidential, they say. And frankly, they have a point. It’s hard to nurture reverence and respect for a leader who props up his own self-image by gleefully poking fun at the stature of “Rocket Man” over in North Korea or the credibility of “fake news” outlets that happen to question him. One might like to see a tad bit more sobriety from the man occupying the esteemed office of Washington and Lincoln.
But although Donald Trump’s narcissistic Twitter habits may not be entirely presidential, I can’t help but appreciate the fact that they’re profoundly human.
I’ve never met President Trump, and barring developments that would be wildly unforeseen for both of us, I suspect I never will. Even from a distance, though, I think I get him. That may sound audacious, and perhaps even a bit condescending. But there’s just something about him that makes sense to me. The tweets, the boasting, the perpetual air of self-congratulation—they’re all strikingly familiar. As if I’ve seen them before. In the mirror.
Frederick Buechner makes an insightful observation about human communication that is remarkably relevant:
The truth of it is that if you really listen to another person, whether on the surface he is talking about the weather or predicting the outcome of the World Series or even preaching a sermon, if you really listen, you begin to realize that what he is really talking about is himself. He is saying, “Love me” or maybe “Hate me” or “Pity me,” but always he is saying one way or another, “Listen to me. Know me.” (The Hungering Dark)
Buechner is putting his finger on a pervasive and universal feature of human experience. Whether we’re introverts or extroverts, boomers or millennials, presidents or pastors, we all have an innate longing to be known. We want people to see us, understand us, appreciate us. Perhaps it manifests itself differently depending upon any number of variables that are unique to our individual situation. But deep down, we all want to be meaningful participants in a world where it’s all too easy to get lost.
You might think the so-called leader of the free world would be above such longings. But the thing about human nature is that it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of position. One can have 47.5 million followers on Twitter and his name on the White House mailbox, and yet the lingering questions remain. Do people respect me? Is someone paying attention? Have I done a good job? Am I loved?
If you’re honest, you’ll admit that you’ve heard those same questions whispered in the privacy of your own thoughts. You’ve hungered for affirmation. You’ve searched for significance. You may not have a habit of retweeting every Fox News compliment of yourself. But you desperately want someone to notice, don’t you? I know I do. Why else would I be taking the time to write an article like this and post it on the worldwide web for everyone to see? I want to be known and appreciated, just like you.
We may not have much else in common with President Trump, but when it comes to an innate weakness for vanity, we’re all cut from the same cloth. (Didn’t someone say something about a government of the people, by the people, for the people?)
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of human insecurity. In this world, we’re all on a quest to craft a self-made identity that satisfies our longings and quiets our fears. And the vast majority of us are failing miserably. We’re as empty and insecure as ever. We’re realizing the chilling truth that Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel point out, namely that the more we try to control our identity, the more we end up losing it.
This is the great irony of seeking to define personhood through power. In our pursuit to be more than, to transcend our weaknesses and frailty, we are reduced. When we seek to create a self through our professional abilities and success, we are dehumanized, becoming less than God has called us to be. When we grasp for control of our identity to generate value and significance, we shrink our identity. We easily give in to the temptation to reduce our identities down to certain gifts, our professions, or the approval of others. The entire endeavor to create a self in our own power results in an empty, superficial self. (The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb)
Propping up one’s own ego is a lonely and exhausting endeavor. And in the end, it never works.
Thankfully, Goggin and Strobel don’t just diagnose the illness; they also prescribe the remedy: “It is only in Christ that we find a foundation that can support the weight of our selves. In Christ we learn that we do not have to generate a self in our power, but we can find ourselves in him.”
To that, I say, “Amen.”
I may not be a needy, self-conscious Twitter addict. But I’m still plenty needy. And fairly self-conscious. (And come to think of it, I do like Twitter.)
But resting in Jesus brings true freedom. For me and for anyone else. It’s not that we lose the desire to be noticed, known, and loved. Instead, we learn to rest in the One who alone can satisfy this desire.
Before we got our first social media account, before we had even been born, before the very universe itself had been fashioned—we were called out and given an identity. We might try to search for a better one in the company of friends, in the admiration of coworkers, or in the applause of the crowds. But we were always made for more than any of these things can provide.
When it comes to the inner yearnings of our heart, we’re all Donald Trump at 3:30am, phone in hand, finger hovering over the “Tweet” button. And maybe that’s okay. Because it’s in our deepest longings to be known and loved that we can most clearly hear the voice of Jesus whispering, “You already are.”