To various and sundry perceived attacks.
His responses are particularly notable, because politicians are generally expected to rise above the fray. They are coached to ignore critical articles, appease hostile press reporters, and offer bland vagaries in response to direct attacks by opposing politicians. When President Trump is attacked, he takes to Twitter.
Some people love this behavior: “Finally—someone fights back against the politicized press corps!” Others hate it: “He’s unwilling to own his mistakes!” That is the dilemma that a politician faces when under attack—damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
We mortals on the other side of the flat screen TV constantly deal with the same dilemma. Sometimes, the boss yells at you because you’re clearly not doing your job. Other times, the grounds for criticism are a bit more shaky—you are doing your job, but not to the boss’s specifications or preferences. Then there are those times when the boss is just flat-out wrong. You’re doing your job and he is a jerk for saying you’re not.
Whether the criticism is valid or not, you and I are faced with a decision: Do I fight or do I concede?
I have known few occasions when growing defensive—even legitimately—turns out well. Even if you’re right and everyone else concedes, your quest for vindication still looks incredibly self-consumed. It’s a bad look. That’s why one of the most brutal accusations you can throw at someone is to call them “too defensive.” How can they respond without proving you correct?
Even a valid sense of defensiveness tends to backfire—so why do we do it?
We believe in justice. For ourselves. We do not want the world to unfairly malign us and identify us by our bad qualities. We have good qualities, too! Anyone who attacks us clearly doesn’t know the whole story—whether it be the countless good deeds that we have accumulated over our lives or the good intentions that put our bad deeds in proper context. Clearly, those who attack us don’t really know us.
If we really believed that, then we would not make a defense. The fact is that even the most baseless attack contains a grain of truth. It reaffirms the reality that there is something about that is less than ideal, that cannot appease the strictest standards of justice or truly be defended. If we are honest, we can just as easily survey our inventory of bad deeds to counter the good and reveal the bad intentions that put our good deeds in the proper context.
We believe in justice for ourselves, but we cannot even meet a standard of our own making. Even our self-professed ideals constantly elude our grasp. We make ourselves judge, jury, and executioner and somehow still end up tried, convicted, and condemned.
Donald Trump did not invent defensiveness—he merely made it fashionable again. Instead of defending or excusing him, let’s ponder the role that defensiveness plays in our own lives.
Let us confess the fact that we are stuck in the dizzying hamster wheel of justifying ourselves unsuccessfully over and over.
Then, and only then, will we come to the end of ourselves and confess the need for another who justifies—one who alone was entitled to offer his own defense yet remained silent. He saved his words for those who would truly need them…and him.