By Clifton Jolley & Robert Rees
Donald Trump lives in a tower.
Whether at home or on the road, Donald Trump lives many floors above the rest of us in towers he unimaginatively names for himself. Except in Washington, D.C., where the White House is not “Trump House.”
To say that these grand, gaudy, gold filigreed palaces of poor taste are monuments to one man’s narcissism is at once too obvious and too easy. Even if these ostentatious obelisks were not so spectacularly ugly, the purpose of their construction would condemn both the building and the builder.nce upon a time—back when people had beliefs bigger than their buildings—the tallest structure in a town was the church. In fact, the US Height of Buildings Act of 1899 dictated that except for churches, no building in the District of Columbia was to exceed 75 feet. In part, the Act was initiated for fear the newly developed iron frameworks would not last, decayed by rust or sparked by shorts in the newly-installed electrical systems. But the act also reminded people of where God lives: high above even 19th-century Donald Trumps, the supremacy of the ineffable symbolized by the spires, domes and minarets of our worship. And requiring us to build nearer the earth perhaps reminded us of how big are the bad things that happen when we test our egos against God’s.
The story of the Tower of Babel, as recounted in Genesis, tells of a people who, following the Great Flood, came to the Plains of Shinar where they pridefully declared, “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name…” Indeed. But while Trump’s architectural and financial ambitions appear to have been self-promotional as much as practical, the building of Babel may have been motivated by fear of another flood or perhaps the builders intended to construct a stairway by which to storm the heavens and usurp God’s power.
So, God took pre-emptive action, confounded their language, and “Babel” came to be synonymous with babble: a scene of noisy confusion, which is what we’ve come to expect every time our president speaks. And often the confusion is so great that the facts get lost in the rhetoric, even to the point of our being unable to trust the meaning of the words themselves. No statement is so apparently plain and clear that it cannot be redacted to a babble meaning something other than what everyone understood it to mean. Thus, when Master Builder Trump tweeted, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones,” he did not mean his phones had been tapped because he did not mean President Obama had personally snuck into Trump Towers to do it. In other words, because of a misunderstanding had by no one, an understanding had by everyone is to be understood as a misunderstanding!
Whereas the Master Builder of Babel was stopped at half a tower, Trump has built or branded dozens of them all over the world. Which causes one to wonder. Precisely where was the Almighty when all this tower building was going on? And when Trump had built a couple of them more than 75 feet tall, did it occur to anyone in heaven to say,
“Hey! This has gone far enough! Who does this guy think he is, the president?!”
Or maybe some angel did argue that taking on Trump in a war of words is too risky:
“You know, the guy owns the Internet. What would happen if he were to send out a tweet saying the Bible is fake news? Besides, it’s only a couple of towers, and they’re way too little to come anywhere close to heaven. C’mon! How many towers can the guy build?”
The Jewish Midrash provides a variation of the Biblical story of Babel. Obadiah Sforno, a medieval rabbi, envisioned the people building a tower that would be seen by all people as the world’s tallest. He imagined the Master Builder placing an idol at the top of the tower which would be worshipped by humankind. And the inhabitant of the tower would become ruler of the world.
In the Manhattan Trump Tower, the top three floors are Donald Trump’s penthouse. An elevator connects the floors, permitting him to rise higher and higher as he looks down on Central Park.
And all the people said, “Amen!”
And all the people said, “Make Babylon great again!”