First of all, I don’t know Donald Trump, except for two things:
1) His public persona, as he and his brand promote it. There is a chance, I guess, that the whole thing could be just an act that he’s putting on. He is a showman and salesman, after all. But I kind of doubt that it’s ALL an act. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the Trump persona and Trump the man. That’s sad. And scary.
2) I lived in New York from the early 80’s to the early 90’s, when Trump was building his empire, and so got to see his pretty shady deals, his egomania and his attacks on enemies.
I am also aware of Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment (thou shall not bear false witness), where he says: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, think and speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
It’s hard to put the best construction on everything Trump does and says! To be honest, I’m not that great at doing that with my wife and daughters! Or even myself! But I will try.
I think that Donald Trump has to have a huge wounding inside of him to be this angry, this vengeful and this hostile. His default seems to always attack: attack opponents, attack the press, attack the “system”. I don’t think you can be that way constantly unless there is a huge hurt inside you that you cannot or will not be reconciled to. Anger, hostility, violence are defense mechanisms, and always defending against an internal threat as well as an external one.
What might be that threat for Trump? What might the wound so fierce he has to always be promoting himself, and doing so at the expense of others?
The easy answer—and this is speculation, of course—is that it has something to do with women. And probably something really early in life, that left a big wound; one that was built on over the years. I’ve read about Fred Trump, his father, quite a bit. But not much about his mother or other female family members. I’m not seeking to blame someone, but doesn’t it seem likely that some woman hurt Donald Trump deeply? Some hurt that is so hard for him to bear—even to admit—that he has to be in control all the time?
I’ve struggled to change that, and to understand that, and have made a lot of progress, but it’s still in me. I do not know if it is something universal to all men, but I can see in myself that being wounded by a woman calls up all sorts of stuff that being wounded by a man doesn’t. This is the place to go into the particulars of what that is for me. But at its core, there lies a feeling of being rejected for who I am. And being ashamed of that.
Trump must have a deep well of shame in his self. Because that’s the currency he deals in: blame and shame. When you call someone a “fat pig” or a “loser”, that’s shame-throwing. And you can’t throw what you don’t have.
Certainly, Trump has tapped into voter discontent in a large chunk of the electorate. Much of that is based on reality: a lot of people have been screwed by the economy and the government, and a lot of people are not that far from being homeless or unable to retire. But I think there’s something deeper in us as a people going on. I think there is a feeling of being rejected, and a big, boiling pile of shame in us. Some of that can be explained by changing demographics, and the fear that provokes in some people. There is certainly a big chunk of racism and sexism in the Trump movement. But I don’t think that’s all that’s there.
We’re approaching Veteran’s Day (which actually started as Armistice Day, celebrating not warriors, but the end of a war). The ads for “honoring our veterans” events seem to be on all the radio stations. I believe that we need to support the people who are coming back from war—including providing means for them to recover from moral injury as well as physical and emotional injury. But it seems to me that the enshrinement of “The Troops” has become almost idolatrous—not to mention, it makes us more likely to get into more wars, because we want to “support our troops.”
At the root of that is a big tangle, I think. Of course, we want to support our brothers and sisters. We want to help them heal. But underneath that is our collective shame about how we treated veterans in the past, especially in Viet Nam. And not just the reality of how we treated returning vets, but our perception of that, stoked by politicians who benefit from war. We feel powerless over that, so to some extent, we overcompensate by lifting up today’s vets as heroes (whether they were actually heroic or not).
But underneath that shame is a deeper shame about our sending our soldiers to Viet Nam in the first place, to fight a war that was wrong, evil, cruel, full of war crimes and completely indefensible. Those who would benefit from war continue to try and make it an honorable cause, which simply can’t be done. Many of our soldiers were victims of that war, but many were perpetrators, especially at the top. That’s messy, and it’s easier to try and keep that tamped down. To ignore it, or justify it, or minimize it. But it won’t stay down. Just like slavery and Jim Crow won’t stay down, or the genocide against native peoples won’t stay down, or the seizure of half of Mexico, the oppression of women and on and on. Those wounds, and the shame attached to them, keep coming up.
What does this have to do with Trump? There is no doubt that Trump has been wounded—deeply, and has great shame about it. He can’t admit it, because that would make him a “loser”. And there is no doubt, in my mind, that he has shame about the wrong he has done and continues to do and has great shame about that. He can’t admit that, because that would make him the problem, and not the great solution.
How about us, these United States? Could we be honest enough to admit that we are really wounded and that we have really wounded others? Will we continue to vote and be ruled by shame and fear, or will we break out of that?
The only way I know to do that is to trust in the grace of forgiveness. A grace that does not wipe away accountability for evil or deny justice. That’s a messy kind of grace sometimes, but there’s great freedom in that too. And it takes great bravery to be that honest and work towards repair and restoration. But hey, aren’t we the land of the free and the home of the brave *?
Be brave. Be free. Be justice. Be beauty.
* Yay, Cubbies!