I struggle daily with the tension between being vehemently opposed to and repulsed by pretty much everything Donald Trump is and stands for, and knowing that he is a human being made in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect and care. Almost every day, it seems like there is some new statement or action by him (or his surrogates) to horrify and worry me, and confirm that he should not be president and in fact could be dangerous for the country and the world. To me he is the personification of the emperor with new clothes, a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder, and he lacks the thoughtfulness, humility, compassion, and temperate personality that I look for in a president.
The list of things he’s done and said that offend everything I believe in is long: derogatory comments about women, Muslims, Mexicans, people with disabilities, and others; a penchant for schoolyard bullying tactics and personal insults; stoking the flames of conspiracy theories (e.g., that President Obama was not born in the U.S.); inciting, condoning, and not condemning violence at his rallies; shameless lying, even after repeated fact-checkers have proven statements to be pants-on-fire false; shameless pandering to various groups (e.g., to evangelical Christians) to get votes; support for torture that is morally wrong not to mention illegal; promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico; suggestions that he might ban Muslims from entering the U.S. or require U.S. Muslims to register; support for white supremacists and authoritarian (dictator) leaders; playing to our worst fears, especially of “the other.” This list doesn’t even include his well-documented questionable business practices and multiple affairs.
I keep thinking I can’t be surprised or shocked by anything else Trump will say or do, but then there he goes again, with some new thing to outrage me. Or, he gives a speech that is completely incoherent (with sentences that defy any kind of grammatical structure that could actually be diagrammed!), all about himself, and devoid of any actual policy content. Journalists repeatedly ask him to explain how he would actually implement something, and he deflects their questions with some version of “believe me, I’ll do it, and it will be the greatest” but he gives no details.
Part of me understands Trump’s appeal, because I can understand the frustration, fear, and anger of people who feel they have been left behind in the new global economy or feel like the world they felt comfortable in is slipping away. I also understand frustration with “politics as usual” and the inability of Congress to work together to get anything done, and the hope that someone from outside the political system can make a difference. But a large part of me continues to be genuinely flummoxed by his appeal. Surely we are better than this, I think. Surely the American people don’t want someone representing our country on the world stage, or making decisions with potentially devastating consequences, with his temperament, unchecked narcissism, tendency to lash back at anyone with petty insults and name-calling, and repeated habit of saying whatever comes to mind without regard for how it might inflame a situation.
I also suffer from a significant case of cognitive dissonance when I hear many evangelical Christians unreservedly support him. I’m not so much bothered that he might not be one himself or that he can’t speak religious language that sounds convincing to those of us who have grown up in the church. After all, there is no constitutional requirement that the president be a Christian. Rather, I am bothered that many Christians seem to overlook (and in some cases even condone implicitly if not explicitly) so much of what he says and how he acts that is antithetical to many of the values we hold. I am deeply saddened by the undertones of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and mean-spiritedness that have come out in the open and threaten the monumental efforts the United States has made to welcome and embrace everyone. Think Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” Not being politically correct has come to mean it’s now okay to express out loud the worst that’s in us. (See my earlier post, “A Defense of Political Correctness.”)
BUT: Donald Trump is a human being; he is made in the image of God, just as I am. He is someone’s son, husband, brother, father, grandfather, and friend. As members of his family have demonstrated in their speeches at the Republican National Convention this week, there are people who know a different side of him than what he has shown to the public before and during this campaign and who seem to genuinely respect, care for, and love him. He feels like an enemy to so much of what I believe is right, but Jesus said I am to love my enemies.
What do I do with my daily struggle? How do I reconcile the need to show respect and care for Donald Trump the human being who has faults just like the rest of us with the importance of speaking out against the no-holds-barred campaign he has run, the nasty way he has behaved toward others, the policies he has proposed that I believe are wrong and/or immoral, and the kind of president I fear he would be if he stays true to form? How do I deal with the internal struggle of knowing that as a Christian I am obligated to love a person I really really dislike and who I believe is wrong on so many levels?
I recently wrote an article for our denominational publication called “Heart Check,” in which I analyzed one of my favorite Bible verses: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). In that article, I noted, “Simultaneously comforting and convicting, the verse challenges me to pursue peace when it feels difficult or even impossible. With such extreme division, polarization, violence, and hateful speech these days, the challenge to live at peace with everyone feels greater than ever.” I went on, “I constantly ask myself: do I truly value all human life? Am I choosing to value those who seem unlovable, who commit unspeakably cruel and evil acts, who don’t value life themselves? What difference might it make if I do?”