Over the last year or two trolling Donald Trump seems to have become an (inter)national past time. Saturday Night Live and a host of late night comedy hosts led the way. In fact, Seth Meyers’ epic 2011 roast of Trump is reputed to have contributed to the man’s determination to run for president in 2016.
But perhaps the most provocative example of “trolling” comes from dissident street artists including the Lithuanian street mural of Trump and Putin and “The Emperor has No Balls,” a series of sculptures created last autumn by a group of anarchist/artists which present Trump naked. (And in case you were wondering, yes, “The Emperor has No Balls” sculptures have their own Wikipedia page. Yet one more example of how Wikipedia is not your parents’ set of Encyclopedia Britannica.)
So here is the question. Is it wrong for Christians to troll Trump?
First off, what is trolling? If we turn to dictionary.com, we find the following informal definitions for “troll”:
I have no doubt that some of the incendiary depictions of Trump are trolling in this sense: that is, they are intended simply to upset or provoke others. It seems to me that this act of provoking others with no greater purpose is wrong. And thus when people troll Trump (or his supporters) in this manner, they do engage in behavior which is immoral.
However, in many cases the provocation is intended as social commentary and critique. For example, many people have pointed out that Trump admires demagogues and strongmen the world over. (A case in point, Trump has praised Rodrigo Duterte who has boasted of murdering people and who jokes about his soldiers raping women.) In keeping with his own demagogic tendencies Trump habitually propagates false and conspiratorial claims and seeks to discredit the mainstream fact-based media as “fake news.” At the same time, Trump exhibits what are often considered infantilized tendencies, including an inability to control his behavior, and a need for constant affirmation and to be the center of attention.
From that perspective, a picture such as the one included above is trolling in a very particular way. It is not simply seeking to upset Trump or his supporters. Rather, it is seeking to undermine his own mythos of being a “tough guy” and “the smartest guy in the room” with a “very good brain” by revealing him instead to be an infantilized child wholly lacking in discipline, self-control, and knowledge.
Of course, once we recognize the greater purpose behind such images, one might think that they should not be considered trolling in the first place. Conversely, if one grants that trolling can include incendiary images/commentary for the purpose of spurring elevated social commentary and critique then this could be morally serious and socially important trolling which is fully consistent with Christian conviction.
One final thought: while this kind of incisive and even incendiary commentary can be justified, one suspects that more often than not it leads to further retrenchment across ideological divides. So while these kinds of images can be justified, the question of whether it is wise to promote them still must be asked.