Donald Trump, Our Mirror

Alternately animated and annoyed, my Facebook friends have encountered plenty of posts over the past several years offering critiques of the political career and presidential administration of Donald J. Trump. I have, I believe, striven to make sure that my posts were substantive in nature, void of shallow and spiteful polemics, and open to critical inquiry. I don’t claim any sort of perfection in that regard, but that was the goal. This was what I offered recently as what I hope will be, for the time being, some closing thoughts:

*****

A last word about Trump that really isn’t about Trump, but about all of us. And then I’ll stop talking about this particular symptom going forward and start talking more about the diseases. Especially the disease of praise and blame. This Politico article is a return interview with the same Trump biographers who were first quizzed in 2016 for insight into the man. The portrait they painted was a vivid and troubling one. It has certainly been borne out by the facts of the past four years, despite efforts to recast Trump in virtuous terms as a righteous crusader unfairly maligned by the press. In short, Trump is a remarkably damaged individual, bearing the wounds of his upbringing and the way he was taught the nature of business. As one of the biographers puts it in the article:

Donald can’t see the truth about himself. He can’t see the truth about the country or about other people. He’s just lost in this bu*****t of his own creation. And I don’t think that he has any ability to get out of it. I think if you were to somehow see daylight, it might blind him forever. So he’s fully committed to it, and this is who he was from the very beginning.

Our church held a prayer service the evening prior to the 2016 inauguration. I spoke at that service and made a plea to reject the politics of denouncing others. I made the same point as the quote above; Trump is who he is, he was shaped into who he is by forces beyond his control, and he isn’t going to change.I have been frustrated, saddened, and bewildered over the past five years. But I never hated Trump. I can’t stress this enough for his supporters who are looking for reasons to summarily dismiss critiques of his tenure. If anything, I lament how the person he became was unavoidable. What he ultimately offers is a gigantic funhouse mirror that, in all its fascinating contortions, better reveals us to ourselves, should we take the time to look closely. For we are no different than he is, molded and defined by the constrictions of genetics and environment, pressed into decisions by the subterranean workings of our unconscious minds. The more I study the human condition, the more this is clearer to me.

I have been reading Shankar Vedantam’s The Hidden Brain recently, just as I have been listening to his NPR podcast of the same name for several months. It is extraordinary to realize how deeply our social and political problems – racial tensions, partisan fragmentation, etc. – are driven by processes beneath our awareness. And how mistaken we are to ascribe these a moral and intellective valence as matters of faulty will.So I want to spend more time sharing and reflecting on these insights into the human mind. These are as much insights of contemplative spirituality as they are of neuroscience and psychology. The end result is the same: we are not who we think we are. But when we uncover more of the truth, there can arise the remarkable gift of deeper understanding, broader patience, and fuller compassion.That is how I think we might have a chance to get out of this mess. Because the truth really does set us free.

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