This article originally appeared on TheHumanist.com
Both supporters and opponents of President Donald Trump often say his frequent tweets are not “presidential,” a poorly defined word. I don’t think presidents must always follow presidential tradition. For example, I’m pleased that Theodore Roosevelt didn’t use a Bible when taking the oath in 1901. I’m fine with President Barack Obama not always wearing a coat and tie in the Oval Office. I also liked that Obama didn’t mention God in a Thanksgiving address; instead he expressed gratitude to US troops serving abroad and thanked volunteers at soup kitchens and shelters. Unfortunately, after much criticism from religious conservatives, he went back to ending speeches with the politically correct “God bless you and God bless America.”
My concern with Trump is not his delivery system, but what he delivers. Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” Trump, with his limited vocabulary, understandably chooses the tweet medium to deliver his message. Twitter plays to Trump’s strengths—a short public attention span, captivating sound bites, and unchallenged simplistic solutions to complex problems. He is comfortable conveying his thoughts and thoughtlessness in 140 characters or less. Trump’s unscripted campaign rallies and appearances on Fox News sound to me much like a string of Trump tweets to an adoring public.
Just as fireside chats by President Franklin D. Roosevelt became presidential on a new medium called radio, so tweets by President Trump have become presidential. The difference is that Roosevelt used his medium to calm fears and unite our country, while Trump uses his to create fears, divide our country, and promote himself at the expense of others.
Ancient religions now try to keep up with the times by using modern technology. Orthodox Jews consider the Western Wall holy because of its connection to the Temple Mount. Some even believe that God is more likely to answer prayers written on slips of paper placed into the cracks of the Western Wall. But what if you can’t travel to Jerusalem? No problem. You can tweet your prayer request to someone else who will place it in the wall. I personally believe that God hears tweet prayers as much he hears other prayers—which is not at all because he doesn’t exist. But if tweeted prayers comfort believers, so be it.
When Trump visited Israel, he placed a note in the Western Wall instead of tweeting directly to God. Though we don’t know its contents, there were many amusing and unflattering Twitter speculations about what Trump might have said in his note.
Not to be outdone, the Vatican created a modern form of indulgence to forgive sins. At least it doesn’t involve giving large sums of money to the Catholic Church. The Vatican now confers time off purgatory to followers of Pope Francis’s tweets. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I’m especially puzzled by purgatory—which God forgot to mention in the Bible. I suppose God corrected the omission by giving a detailed description of purgatory to Catholic leaders. Apparently, it’s a halfway house for punishment until you’ve suffered enough to go to heaven.
Here are a couple of questions I’d like to tweet to Pope Francis: Would a reduction of a thousand purgatory years be based on earth time? And how does the pope (or God) calculate “time” in eternity?
Much of the fake news put out by the Catholic Church (like purgatory) can’t be proved false. On the other hand, lots of fake news coming from President Trump through tweets or otherwise can easily be shown to be demonstrably false by those who rely on real facts instead of “alternative” facts.
I usually disagree with positions of the Catholic Church, so I never thought I’d see the day when I agreed more with positions of a pope than an American president. Current examples include the need for social justice and help for the least among us; welcoming refugees; listening to those with whom you disagree, and not belittling them; opposing capital punishment and prevalence of guns; promoting peace; accepting global warming and showing respect for science; and not having financial gain as a top priority.
There are even some days when I wish Pope Francis had been eligible to run for US president in 2016. I don’t know if he could have beaten Donald Trump, but I bet a ruble or two that the Russians would have had some tweeting fun there.