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Learning to love Donald Trump

Posted by Ron George on December 10, 2017

President Donald J. Trump: Elected by We the People, like it or not

It’s high time I learned to love our president; otherwise, my ranting ego may drag me into hell.

I was touched last week while reading Gregory Boyle’s book, Barking to the Choir, which I’m reading with a group of friends. (Boyle is a compassionate Jesuit priest whose best friends are former gang members in Los Angeles, Calif. Highly recommended.) I’m sure Greg Boyle knows how to love Donald Trump. I’m sure Boyle doesn’t like Trump’s politics or his public persona any more than I do; but surely, he must love Donald Trump as a person, that which is, in Judeo-Christian tradition, created in the image of God. In what way? Hell if I know, but it’s clear that the Jesus Tradition mandates love for all, so maybe unpacking that – which seems so improbable – leads to an outcome worth pursuing.

Who is that person, then, the one named Donald J. Trump, our president whom We and People elected. Yes, we did, as a nation, by the rule of law, all of us together, whether we voted for him or not. We elected Mr. Trump, and we didn’t elect Hillary Clinton. Maybe Step No. 1 for pulling ourselves together as a nation is to begin understanding ourselves as a collective rather than a scrabbling mass of individuals. That way, perhaps, we can begin to have constructive discourse – even loud and rambunctious constructive discourse, but without hating each other, which often seems to be the case nowadays.

Learning to love Mr. Trump implies that I ought to learn to love his supporters, perhaps even those who seem married to hate and violence as political tools. Nazis? Ku Klux Klan? White supremacists? What kind of love would that be? What would it look like? Hell if I know.

We The People, 2015, by Hank Willis Thomas
Photo by Jeff Warrin

Whatever kind of love it is, it certainly will not be a feeling, because my guts tell me to hate Donald Trump, not only his policies but also his public persona – and, by implication, himself, personally. And that’s not OK with me. Despite having all but quit Christianity, I simply can’t find my best self in hating people; and more, despite having all but quit Christianity, I still find wisdom in the Christian love ethic, which lies at the very roots of the Jesus Tradition: Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, give ‘em your cloak; and, then, there’s the love tradition of the early church: love is patient, kind, believing all things, hoping all things, etc. Is this doormat theology? Well, it sounds like it from the outside, but in all my years, I’ve not found anything but love that truly heals the wounds we inflict on one another. If God there be, then God be there. (I have many dear friends who assure me that God is there.)

Love is a multi-morphic term, especially in English. The Jesus Tradition roots “love” (agape) in self-sacrifice, giving up something if not all of one’s self for the sake of others. In that case, the “love” of I Corinthians 13 is not a feeling but an act, a kind of behavior, and, presumably, it can be learned or, at least, performed.

(I’ll probably have to settle for the latter. I don’t seem to be able to get the hang of being a loving person – and there’s nothing wrong with performing, as long as the outcome is beneficial; moreover, performing actually forms one, right? So, training one’s self may lead to formation, which may lead to transformation, to being that for which one is trained. That was my hope for many years as a practicing Christian, but I didn’t have the character to follow through. Texans have a saying for it: All hat and no cattle.)

So, I may not feel as though I’m loving Donald Trump, but I can perform acts of love that will be, in fact, loving and caring. Praying for the president? Well, I don’t pray much anymore. How about regarding him with the respect he’s due as a person and as president while laying off all the disrespect I’ve shown, for example, on Facebook. OK, that’s a start. It doesn’t mean I’ll approve of what he does, but I can at least stop calling him President Twitter. From now on, it’s Mr. Trump or Mr. President; and, as regards the person Mr. Trump seems to be, I’ll just have to keep in mind that I, too, am a sinner in need of redemption, not from eternal damnation but from myself – from whatever egotism blinds me to Jesus’ expectation that I will live in hope for a society in which we seek kinship and not victory over one another and where we are competitive in doing good, as we care for the least and share with the most.

Agape, by Sandra Jane Suleski

Yes, that goes to policy, and I don’t believe love requires that I give that up. It’s just that I’m not going to make the world a better place by hating Donald Trump. The Jesus Tradition, which, admittedly, I’ve cherry-picked to concoct an ethic by which to live my life, seeks a better life for the downtrodden, here and now; and, even though I don’t share Jesus’ belief that the world will end soon, it’s quality of life that we ought to seek for those less fortunate than ourselves, those whom we’re called to love without qualification.

Love one another as I have loved you, says the Jesus Tradition. (John 13.34-35) How distant that ideal seems in today’s world; and, in fact, I’m not sure it’s ever been widespread as a governing principle in human society. Why in the world do we think it would work? Well, because our interpersonal experience tells us it’s the only thing that does work, that always makes things better. It’s not a feeling. It’s an act – and in my case, I guess, it’ll have to be an internal act of some kind, because I can’t imagine an external act of mine that would suffice as a loving act benefitting Donald Trump – except publishing something like this on my blog. Big deal. Well, at least it’ll be something other than letting my egotism get in the way of whatever wisdom may come from at least trying to love our president.

So, let’s begin with repentance.

Forgive me, Mr. President, for things I may have said or done that were offensive to you or your supporters. I turn away from all that toward a more loving way of addressing our disagreements – and there are many. Frankly, I don’t know how I’m going to deal with your behavior, but I’m going to try to minimize its impact on the discourse I have with you in my heart and mind as long as you’re in public life. Perhaps by loving you I can acquire insight into my own prejudices and become a more productive citizen not only of the United States but also of the Kingdom of God, whatever that turns out to be. My hope is that love will abate my anger and indignation, and that I will become a person less susceptible to feelings of powerlessness and outrage.

As I hear these words in my mind, I fall back to a previous lifestyle, one in which I acknowledged that none of this is possible without courage and strength engendered by relationship with God or some higher power I know not what. Perhaps Love Itself is the answer, and that that’s all the support I or anyone else would need, but there’s nagging doubt based on past decades of experience and commitment to Christian spiritual practices that without God or something akin to “help from above,” my courage and strength will fail – as it has so very often before.

Do I have the guts to love Donald Trump? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try.

Danse Eternelle, by Karo Alexanian

I wonder, sometimes, what Mr. Trump is like in person when he’s not on camera being Mr. President or the star of his TV show. Is he ever tender? Does he convey kindness and decency among his family and friends? Is he a loving father and husband? Is what we see on Twitter what Mr. Trump is in private? Does he pray? Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I wonder whether it would change those of us who are so opposed to his politics and what seem to be his attitudes in personal life. The short form of the questions seems to be, “Is there something we don’t know about Mr. Trump that would make us even a little sympathetic toward him?” I doubt that I’ll ever get close enough to find out, but I’m going to be looking for it a little harder in future.

Then there’s the other thing: I have dear friends who voted for Mr. Trump, who believe he is good for the nation and the world and that he is a better president than Hillary Clinton would have been. I have amends to make to them, too.

Dear friends: I’ve probably offended you by expressing myself about the president on social media and elsewhere. Please forgive me for being inconsiderate and so egocentric that I didn’t consider how my public expression would affect our relationships.

Which brings up another group: My friends who agree with me about Mr. Trump. It’s likely that they will not be happy hearing me say it’s time – for me, at least – to put down the cudgels and find a more constructive, loving way to regard our president.

Dear friends: Forgive me, if you will. Try to understand that I’m not prescribing but merely expressing my own need to step away from corrosive discourse. I don’t have the heart for it, anymore, at least with regard to how I feel personally about Mr. Trump. Hate is simply not constructive, and though love is not the opposite of hate – that would be “indifference” – it is a remedy for the healing of my interior self with regard to national politics. I’m choosing to be disciplined by love as expressed in the religious tradition I once embraced, as it appears to be not the only way but a promising way that will most likely lead to healing my soul.

(No, not my immortal soul, but that part of me I experience as being greater than the sum of my parts. Nothing I embrace of Christianity, anymore, is rooted in supernatural beliefs. I seem to have become a humanist who embraces certain Christian ethical values rooted in love of neighbor.)

My motives for loving the president may be just plain selfish: I will feel better if I stop hating by learning to love Donald Trump. What am I sacrificing for the sake of another? Not much, except my rancor. Maybe it’s impossible to do what I’m suggesting, and maybe I’m wrapping this up with a lot of words when all I need to say is, I’m tired of eroding my own soul by hating Donald Trump. Ignore him? Not possible. What’s left? Letting be, which is a form of love, and letting Love teach me how to do so.

Maybe it’s just as the Beatles said: Let it be. All you need is love.

Yeah, but I suspect that it’s easier to sing than to do.

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